5th Sunday of Easter
May 19, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In today’s gospel Jesus tells His apostles at the Last Supper:
“I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This commandment to love each other is, in many ways,
what has made Christianity so attractive to so many people
over the last 20 centuries.
And rightly so: Man, in his very nature, at the core of his being,
is a creature of love: above all else, he longs to be loved and to love.
This is clear both from scripture and just from common sense.
In scripture we read that “God is Love”—that God’s whole life is love,
and that in the beginning this God
created man in His image and likeness,
a creature created to receive God’s love and love him back;
and God says it is not good for man to be alone,
so He creates man as both male and female,
so that they can love each other.
Man is created for love.
But common sense also tells us that no human being can be happy without love.
In fact, all our lives we search and work to be loved by others.
We see this as an infant reaches out her arms to be held by daddy,
or cries at night, not because he’s hungry or wet,
but simply because he wants his mommy.
And we see this in adults as they constantly search for the love of a mate,
or do all sorts of things to win the praises and approval
of colleagues, friends and strangers.
We see it also in the generosity of a child who shares her toys,
the lover who writes poems for his beloved,
the parent who works like a slave to provide good things for their children.
We are created for, and so constantly driven by, love.
But like all good things, the desire for love can be easily corrupted.
Sometimes this happens when the desires to receive love and to give love
become entangled and confused:
love yields to self-love,
as we begin to give love mainly so that we can receive it,
or we confuse receiving love
with receiving what our passions desire
—love becomes reduced to a feeling, and so to pleasure.
So loving is cheapened to mean bringing pleasure
—however passing, temporary or base.
Sometimes this corruption comes about as our desire to be loved
causes us to do whatever it takes to feel that we are being loved.
This can lead to all sorts of strange and abusive situations:
from a wife who will do anything, bear any abuse, to please her husband,
to a man who will sacrifice his family to be loved and praised by a world
that will forget his name tomorrow.
And it can lead to a society where saying the popular thing
becomes more important than telling the truth,
where tolerating or even celebrating flaws and errors in others is more important
than helping them overcome those flaws and errors.
But all this sort of gets things backwards.
The heart of Christian love, is, as Jesus tells His apostles:
“love one another as I have loved you.”
And how did Christ love them?
An ancient Christian definition of love is
“willing and striving for the good of the beloved.”
Love means wanting was is truly good for the beloved
—not what will give them temporary pleasure.
And love means striving, or doing things, that will bring about that good.
In Christ we see this can ultimately mean doing what is good for others
even if they hate you for it:
truly loving another is never directly dependent on
being loved in return by that person.
Jesus loved all mankind, both His own people and the Gentiles.
And so He told them things they needed to hear for their own good,
hard sayings that they often walked away from,
or even that made them to want to kill him–even when they did kill him.
Man is created for love: both receiving love and giving love.
But while he searches to find someone to love him, as is only natural,
he should never confuse being loved by others
with being an object of pleasure to others.
And he—or rather, we—
should never forget that there is one who already truly loves us: God—Jesus.
His love is not selfish, but selfless.
He truly wills and strives for our good without concern for his pleasure:
there was no pleasure when He walked
the length and breadth of Israel preaching;
there was no pleasure on the Cross.
There was only love.
It is true, Scripture teaches that we should try to “please” God.
But God is pleased not in what we do for Him
but in seeing us truly becoming the loving creatures He created us to be
—in seeing His beloved growing in true happiness.
Like parents who delight in their baby’s first step,
not because it reflects well on their parenting
but because they are simply delighted that their child is growing up healthy.
Think about it: how do we please God?
As Jesus tells us, also at the Last Supper,
“if you love me you will keep my commandments”
Does it do God any good if we don’t kill each other,
or if we don’t steal from or lie to each other, or commit adultery?
No, but all these things are contrary to loving each other
and so absolutely opposed to what we all strive for,
what will make us happy.
This points us to the second aspect of love:
man not only seeks to receive love,
but he can not be happy if he does not give love.
Again, this love is not selfish, but selfless: it does not give in order to receive,
it simply gives for the good of the beloved.
And so like Christ’s love there must always be a sacrificial element
to truly human love:
it must be willing to lose everything, even the love of the beloved.
So, if we love, we must love like Christ
and be willing to tell others the truth even when they don’t want to hear it.
Sometimes this involves telling others that
Christ alone loves them perfectly and eternally,
and is the only one who can give them the perfect love of heaven.
Sometimes this means telling them that this or that action or belief is wrong
because it is contrary to true human love
—whether this is the truth about the evils of
greed or socialism,
abortion or pre-marital sex,
racism or homosexuality.
Sometimes it means not only “telling them”
but doing something more tangible.
Sometimes parents have to punish their children for doing wrong.
Voters have to replace public officials for the moral evils they legislate.
And society has to reject, with our pocketbooks, our patronage or our protests
attitudes and behavior contrary to true human love.
Now, if we love, we do all this with love.
Which means we do it not in a way that makes us feel good,
but in the way that will effectively achieve the good for our beloved.
Sometimes maybe a misbehaving child should be spanked
—but not as a way of relieving parental stress.
Love says: should the child be spanked or scolded
or sent to bed without desert
—what will be best in this situation?
And again, not wondering “will my little baby still like me if I do this?”
but “what is best for my beloved?”
Christ Himself showed us this:
remember how He was gentle
with the woman caught in adultery,
or with the Magdalene who wept as His feet,
or even with Peter who denied Him,
and Jesus responded simply: “do you love me?”
But remember that Jesus also harshly and publicly chastised
the scribes and Pharisees:
“Woe to you… you white washed tombs…. you hypocrites…
you brood of vipers…”
And how He once even made a whip
and physically drove the moneychangers from the temple.
But none of this was about making Himself feel good
—but doing what those particular people needed at that particular moment.
This balance between when to be hard and when to be soft,
or when to speak or be silent,
is difficult, to say the least.
And it’s hard to love when we know that
only resentment or even hatred and recrimination will be returned to us.
But Christ knows this, and so in His great love for us He helps us
—in so many ways.
First, He gives us His own personal example all throughout scripture.
And then He calls us to constantly examine our lives,
continuously holding ourselves up to the standard He set.
But most importantly He gives us Himself.
He loves us so much that He not only died for our sins,
He died and rose again so He could give us a share in His own life of love.
In so many ways, but especially in the sacraments,
He pours that life of love into us—the life of grace—
so that we are never alone in any of this:
the God who loves us is with us
to help us to love as we were created to,
to lift us when we’re tired,
to guide us when we’re confused,
to strengthen us when we’re weak,
to remain with us when we feel all alone.
So it doesn’t have to be the way it’s always been:
we don’t have to continue to fail at love and loving.
As he says in today’s 2nd reading from Revelation:
“the old order has passed away…Behold, I make all things new.”
Now, as we move more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist,
let us turn to Our Lord and see in this sacrament
the purity of love that led Him to the cross
and the power of that love that raised Him up from the Tomb.
Let us recognize in this holy mystery
the love that desires nothing more than our good,
and that works, by the power, the grace, of this sacrament,
to achieve that good in our lives.
And filled with the grace of this sacrament, let us follow His example,
and go out into a world desperately seeking and yearning for love,
and boldly proclaim in our words and actions the truth about love.
And in all this, let us keep His tender commandment:
“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”