13 May 2012

Love God, Know God

6th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

 Jesus says good-bye to his disciples with an order: “This I command you: love one another.” He calls his disciples friends and tells them everything that he has heard from His Father. He tells them that they are the chosen not the choosers. To bear fruit and ask of the Father whatever they need. They must be disappointed. Can’t you see the disciples sitting there with him, wide-eyed, expecting another astonishing revelation, some wondrous miracle. And what does he say? He commands them to love one another! Uh? Love one another? Sure. Says you. You’re God. You are Love. Loving is what You do b/c Love is Who You Are. Not so easy for us poor creatures. Have you met these people you want us to love? Have you talked to them?! Do you know what you’re asking? Ah. You see, there’s the problem: he isn’t asking us to love one another. He’s commanding us to love one another. And the difference between asking and commanding tells us all we need to know about the nature of Christian love, of charity in the Spirit. 

Jesus says to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” How does the Father love the Son? The Father and the Son love one another absolutely, without conditions. They are One in the love that we name “Holy Spirit.” Jesus loves us in exactly the same way: perfectly, categorically, without reservation or criticism. When we keep his commandments, we too remain in his love, and we too are One with Him in the love that is the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus commands us to love one another, commands us to live day-to-day in the love of the Blessed Trinity. Why? Why does Jesus command us to love one another? On the face of it, it is a ridiculous command. Love cannot be commanded. It can be encouraged or refused or reciprocated. But commanded? How can a passion be commanded? You either love or you don’t. Simply put: love can be commanded when we understand that love is an act, willing the good for others and doing the best for them. 

Love, charity happens when we move our whole person, body and soul, to do the Good for another, wanting truly and willing deeply what is best for our neighbors. If we limit love to the smallness of a tingling in our bellies, make it into little more than a physical reaction to physical attraction, we make it impossible to obey Christ; essentially, we make it impossible for us to know and live joy. Think about it: if love is only about the passion we have for those we find attractive, then we cannot love one another in the way that the Father loves the Son nor in the way that the Son loves us. We fail in joy. Jesus tells his disciples outright: if you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. He explains: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” The commandment to love is a revelation, it reveals to us the way to perfected joy, our means of achieving complete delight, total peace. Joy is the proper act of charity—joy is what we do when we love God. To fail in joy, then, is spiritual suicide; it is the death of our peace, the impossibility of ever finding delight in the Lord—to fail in joy is to fail to love. 

Ask yourself: how do I fail to love? Do I simply refuse to will the best, refuse to move my body and soul in mercy? Do I limit my love to immediate family and friends? Do I love the unlovable in the way that the Father loves the Son? Who is it that I cannot love, will not love? Who is it that does not deserve my love? Who will I not love until he/she loves me first? Do I withhold my love in exchange for favors, good behavior, attention? Do I use my love as a weapon to hurt enemies and friends? Is my love a public costume or a mask? Ask yourself: did Jesus fail to love? Did he simply refuse to will the good, refuse to move his body and soul in mercy? Did he limit his love to just his immediate family, friends? Did he fail to imitate the Father’s love? Did he fail to love the unlovable? Who is it that Christ cannot love, will not love? Who is it that does not deserve Jesus’ love? Who will Christ not love until he/she loves him first? Does Jesus withhold his love in exchange for favors, good behavior, attention? Does Jesus use his love as a weapon to hurt enemies and friends? Is Christ’s love a public costume or a mask? 

We are commanded to love one another in the same way that the Father loves Jesus and in the same way that Jesus loves us. When we disobey this command, when we choose apathy, we choose the death of our joy; we deliberately kill our peace, our delight, and we rot the fruits of the Spirit. Rushing in to fill the vacuum left by dead and dying fruit: worry, wrath, irritation, a dangerous curiosity for spiritual novelty, despair, melancholy, loneliness, mistrust, pain, and a life lived in constant emergency, constant distress. If love brings perfect joy and you are not joyful in the Lord, then perhaps you need to think seriously about how you love or about how you fail to love. It is not too bold to claim that most, if not all, of our spiritual diseases can be diagnosed as failures to obey our Lord’s commandment to love one another. John writes to us in his letter this morning: “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” No love, no God; no joy, no peace. 

The disease of spiritual apathy, to be without a passion for joy, to be willfully despairing, this is the greatest gift we can give the Devil. He thrives on our disobedience, on our rebellion against the Father’s love. But what he wants more than disobedience is for us to believe that our Father will not forgive us our failures to love. The Devil yearns for us to believe that this or that sin is too big, too deep, too horrible, too frequent to be forgiven. Reach this point in your spiritual life and you have delighted the Devil; his joy, perverse and twisted though it is, is complete when you fail to love, and when you come to believe that God is capable of failing in love. God is love, so believing that God will not, cannot forgive you is atheism. Love one another because you are commanded to love. Love one another because you are made to love. Love one another because you are no longer slaves but friends. Love one another because Christ loved us in his suffering, his death, and his rising again. Love one another because to do anything less, anything smaller or meaner is to delight the Devil and forsake your soul. “The Lord has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.” His justice is that we love one another. 

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