6th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
We are commanded to love. To love God. To love one another as God Himself loves us. This is no easy command to obey. That we must be commanded to love is evidence that we do not love God or one another easily. We do not love God or one another as a matter of course. Love of this sort – divine love – is given to us to distribute so that by distributing it we can be made perfect in it. God loves naturally; that is, as John says in his first letter, “. . .God is love.” Love is what God is and who He is. For us, the matter is more complicated. We are created to love and for love, but b/c we are fallen, our loves get tangled; we too often love the Smaller Things of This World instead of loving Love Himself. When this happens, rather than becoming more and more like Love Himself, we become more like the Smaller Things, growing smaller and weaker and falling into sin. What help do we have in loving as the Lord commanded? How do we prevent ourselves from loving the Smaller Things instead God? With Divine Love always comes Divine Truth. No truth, no love. Without the truth of the faith, we will always fall into loving that which cannot make us perfect; we will always fall.
Love in the 21st century is a terribly diminished passion. Without much fanfare at all, love has been reduced to little more than what my teenaged nieces call lurve. Not being as hip an uncle as I should be, I had to resort to the on-line Urban Dictionary to get a decent definition of lurve. Here's what I found. First, lurve can mean “more than love.” Apparently, Woody Allen coined this usage in his movie, “Annie Hall.” The less we say about Woody Allen the better. Second, lurve can also be a mocking term one uses to suggest that a friend has a crush on another friend. Not helpful. Third, and I haven't confirmed this, lurve is the way Celine Dion pronounces love when she sings. OK. I found 30 different definitions. But here's the one that best fits my point: lurve is being in the limbo between like and love; a giddy/butterfly feeling that arises from mere physical attraction. This is what love – real love – has been reduced to: a merely physical sensation that claims all the rights and privileges of divine love, all the rights and privileges without any messy truths or limits. When I assert my love for X, it is inviolable, total, and deserving of universal attention and absolute respect. No one may question or suggest in any way that my love of X lies outside the truth. To do so is obviously motivated by nothing more than hatred and fear.
What Catholics know and must never forget is that love – divine love – abides with truth. Jesus says to his disciples, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” To understand this passage, we have to see it as a circle. Notice: the Father loves the Son. The Son loves us. Stay with the Son in his love by keeping his commandments. The Son keeps the Father's commandments, thus, remaining in his Father's love. By loving God and one another as Christ commands, we keep his commandments and remain in the Father's love. It's simple! So, where does truth come into play here? The truth is found – as always – in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We cannot – as followers of Christ – claim to love in a way that does violence to his commands; that does violence to our growth in holiness; that does violence to our redeemed human nature. When we claim to love that which inflicts such violence, we deny the truth and love cannot survive in a lie.
With love being defined as lurve in our culture, and accorded all the rights and privileges of divine love, it is more important than ever for us to bear witness to truth of Christ's love. It's not necessary for us to march or protest or organize boycotts. It's not necessary for us to form Catholic ghettos and keep the world from polluting the purity of our truth. Christ's love and truth do not need our protection. We need his protection, that is, we need the protection that divine love and truth afford us. Not protection from the world. But protection from our own inclinations to borrow trouble and beg for compromise. We need to be protected from our own base longings to be included, to be applauded, to be honored by the world. The temptation for us now – right here in 2015 America – is to avoid being seen as backward-looking, ignorant, knuckle-dragging rednecks who just won't “get with the times.” The more colorful the names we're called, the harder we must love as Christ loves us. The heavier the fines, the harder we must love as Christ loves us. The longer we spend in the jail, the harder we must love as Christ loves us. The bloodier the violence (if we ever come to that!), the harder we must love as Christ loves us. We don't love God and one another as Christ loves us in order to win the fight. The fight is won. We love b/c Christ loves us. And by loving him – even imperfectly – we become more and more like him.
Jesus says to his disciples, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” He tells us to love God and one another; to remain in his love; to keep his commandments; he tells us all this so that his joy may be in us and that our joy might be complete. Joy is an effect of love. By loving as we ought, we experience joy, and our completed joy is seeing God face-to-face in the Beatific Vision. Whatever happens “down here,” whatever evolves in our culture, our nation, our response is always, always the same: love harder! Pour out mercy. Proclaim hope. Live in the faith. Our citizenship is with the Lord at his wedding feast. And we are his Bride. There is nothing, no one who can separate us from the love of Christ. . .if we but love as he commands.