Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
The center of our faith, the reason we exist, is Love.
But not just any love: God’s love.
Scripture brings this home to us over and over again.
Today, St. John tells us: “God is love”.
And taking that central truth about who God is,
we remember that Genesis tells us that,
“In the beginning… God created man in His own image.”
So, we are a creature made in the image of a God who IS love.
Which means that we are created fundamentally, to live in the image of God
–to love as God loves.
But in order to know how to love as God loves–to be like God
–God first has to reveal Himself to us, and teach us to love as He does.
So in the Old Testament, when God gives Moses the 10 commandments
we find that they’re not just an arbitrary set of rules,
but a true revelation of who God is
–how He lives and loves,
and how He created us to live and love.
When Christ entered the world He completed the revelation of who God is,
not coming, as He tells us, “to abolish [the law] but to fulfill [it]. ….”
–not to throw it out, but to explain it.
And His explanation comes most sublimely in today’s Gospel.
First He tells us to obey the ten commandments
–“You will live in my love if you keep my commandments,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and live in His love.”
Notice, to Jesus to love and to keep the commandments
are mutually inclusive.
And also notice that Jesus goes on to clarify the commandments of love,
by pointing to Himself who is the Law made flesh, Love made flesh:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another
as I have loved you.”
And Jesus Himself teaches us how to love by His own example,
first by keeping the 10 Commandments in His own life,
and then by His own ultimate act of love.
He tells us:
“Greater love has no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
He has loved us by laying down His life for his friends–for us–on the Cross.
Loving as Christ loves is living not for ourselves, but for God and our neighbor.
And that is what the Cross is about: about sacrifice out of love.
To be who we are created to be,
we must live in His image, and love as God the Son loves.
We must lay down our lives of sin
–and rise up in the life of love lived out in the commandments.
It’s easy to lose sight of all of this, nowadays.
In our world, “love” usually has very little to do with sacrifice:
love is usually reduced to a feeling that makes you happy.
And love is hardly ever at all equated with following the commandments
–on the contrary, love is usually seen as an uncontrollable impulse
that leads us to whatever attracts us
–and the commandments just get in the way of love.
But when you’re tempted to tell God, “who is love,”
that His definition of “love” is wrong,
or to tell the creator of man that He doesn’t know
what is natural to His own creature,
it’s time to lay down your own selfish pride, or your irrational logic.
Sadly, not only do we often confuse the irrational feelings we have
with true love,
sometimes we even confuse true love with hate.
So that all too often if you talk about the commandments
you’re accused of “hate-speech,”
and even called “un-Christian.”
But the thing is, this isn’t hateful, and it certainly is not “un-Christian.”
If anything, this is Christ-like.
Sometimes telling the truth, especially telling the truth about the commandments
is the most loving thing, the most Christ-like thing, to do.
Think about it: Jesus loved everyone,
even the scribes and Pharisees, which is why He said things like:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,
[you] hypocrites!…You serpents, you brood of vipers.”
That’s not hate-speech—that’s the language of love.
As Scripture tells us elsewhere:
“The Lord disciplines and him whom he loves
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
Of course, we need to be very charitable and prudent
when we talk about things the world doesn’t understand.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t be passionate about it.
Yet so often when people disagree over something passionately,
especially when they strongly and forcefully argue and even fight
to defend what they believe is right,
they are called “hateful.”
Some people in the world we live in believe that all fighting is hateful.
But sometimes fighting—and even war itself—is about love:
love for one’s friends, one’s country,
or the defenseless, or the persecuted or one’s ideals.
How many have loved us by fighting with all their energy to defend us,
even by “laying down their lives for their friends” in time of war?
Some might say, but Father, Jesus said:
“Love your enemies.”
But you can love a man and still fight him when he’s wrong or evil.
For some it’s hard to understand:
how can you love your enemy and still fight them?
One the best examples I’ve seen, where it was lived out vividly and dramatically,
was a story told about our soldiers in Iraq a few years back.
One of the imbedded reporters in the Iraq invasion, told the story of how
a company of US Soldiers had come to guard one of the
most sacred Muslim sites
but the crowd of Muslim civilians thought they’d come to capture the place,
and began to move to stop the GI’s.
Let me read what the reporter for Time wrote:
“These soldiers had just fought an all-night battle.
They were exhausted, tense,
and prepared to crush any riot with violence of their own.
But …when their battalion commander…ordered them to
take a knee, point their weapons to the ground, and start smiling,
that is exactly what they did….
Since then, I have often wondered how we created an army of men
who could fight with ruthless savagery all night
and then respond so easily to an order to “smile”
while under impending threat.”
It is hard for people to understand all this,
it seems “natural” for a man who fights
to vent his anger and rage uncontrolled
–to let his feelings of anger dictate his actions.
That would be logical deduction of the “feel good” culture
our society is slipping into.
But thank God there remains a few remnants and effects
of the Christian culture we once were.
This, my friends, is loving your enemy par excellence.
They fought the enemy—for what they believed to be right and necessary—
with the most devastating of martial skill,
willing to lay down their lives for the defense of their country.
But when the time for fighting stopped they were not ruled by feelings,
–not by feelings of anger or even of fear,
as their own lives were still in danger.
But instead, even though it meant an added risk of laying down their lives,
they were ruled by the echo of the words of Love Incarnate:
“Love one another as I have loved you….Love [even] your enemies.”
If only our whole of our society could return to these Christian roots.
To understand that love is something more than feeling good,
but rather about being good and doing good for one another.
That love is not about doing as you please,
but doing what is pleasing to God: what is right and good,
and becoming like God, in whose image you were created.
That the greatest love involves sacrifice, laying down your life for your friends:
loving one another as Jesus has loved us.
As we read today’s Gospel and contemplate on
the meaning of Christ’s commandment of love,
we should remember that this text comes right in the middle
of Jesus’ prayer during the Last Supper.
A prayer for that perfect love be restored between God and man
by the perfect act of love between God and man: Christ’s death on the Cross.
Where God the Son laid down His life out of love for His friends,
but also for His enemies,
Caiaphas and Pilate and the Roman soldiers were His enemies,
but died for love of them too.
At the Last Supper, Jesus anticipated that sacrifice
both in His prayer and His actions.
So that today, 2000 years later, we can come together,
and enter into the sacred mystery of that sacrificial love.
In this Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist
Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, comes into our bodies,
and fills us with the perfect love of the Cross.
Today, open your heart to be transformed by the love of the Cross.
Transformed into the person you were intended to be in the beginning
when man was created in the image of the God who is love.