Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for Sixth Sunday of Easter
Year B: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Ps 98; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
“Love” is among our culture’s most misunderstood words. The Greek word used by Jesus in today’s gospel and by St. John in today’s second reading from his First letter, is the noun “agape” and the verb “agapáo”, meaning to want someone’s best for his or her own sake.
Today, love is often confused with feelings. We can hear artists “feeling love” from their fans. Or adult people leaving their spouse and children because they “fell in love” with someone else and cannot help “how they feel”. Of course, feelings can be valuable signals but they come tous, passively. Love in the form of “agape” comes fromus, actively, freely chosen. We are not responsible for our feelings, although we as adults are responsible for how we actupon them. But real love comes from the person and his or her will – what in biblical language often is referred to as our “heart”, another word having become sentimentalized, losing its original meaning.
If love were not an act of our will, Jesus would not have said: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” Feelings cannot be commanded. If “agape”, wanting someone’s best for his or her own sake, did not presuppose self-sacrifice, Jesus would not have said: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Real love is self-giving; the greater the self-giving, the greater the love.
What Jesus tells us today is this: When we live in order to give ofourselves, not to take for ourselves, when we are willingto suffer or in other ways to make sacrifices so that someone else, not only someone we know well, can rejoice; or sacrifices for the truth, also when it does not benefit ourselves – then we can call ourselves his disciples. And Jesus speaks through his deeds, ultimately on the cross. He freely accepts all injustice, humiliation, torture and finally death to show God’s idea of love, and thus its true meaning: giving without counting the cost, without even asking for something in return, for the sake of the other; for you and me.
This is how “God is love”, as our second reading today states. God being love does not mean that everything we think is love, e.g. feelings, also is God. No, it means that God through his Trinitarian life is a communion of giving, i.e. in his very nature pure love, and that the fullest visible expression of God’s love for us is Jesus Christ who wants to draw us into this loving nature.
OK, we might think. Then let’s start loving, trying to do as Christ did. If it is about will, we just need to want enough. But soon we realize that trying to live a Christian life on our own power eventually gets us stuck and frustrated. We end up finding that we stop growing in virtue or that we are unable to overcome sinful habits.
We are pretty much like the incense we use during Mass. The sweet smell of the burning incense rising upwards is a symbol of our prayers. But the little grains of incense cannot turn themselves into sweet-smelling smoke. They are just hard granules of resin, like little pebbles. Only when they are placed on top of a red-hot, burning coal is their sweetness released and they can reach their full potential and fulfil their mission. And only when ourlives are put in direct contact with God’s burning love for us, visible in Christ, we really discover the meaning of our existence and can reach our full potential; to overcome ourselves, our selfishness, and to learn to love others as God loves us.
In our gospel Jesus offers his followers his friendship, although he is our Lord. This is a promise of intimacy, aiming at conforming our will into one with God the Father’s, just like Christ’s will was. And the key is our commitment to his teaching and commandments, i.e. to the teaching of the Church, which he has given authority to speak on his behalf, making him present at all times. All commands, positive and negative, are designed to awaken divine love in us, making us more adept at giving ourselves away.
Our willingness and attempts to love the commands of Christ through his Church, even if it sometimes can be hard with some, and to make an effort to understand and internalize them, is decisive for our intimacy with Christ. Not that we would be infallible. We will indeed try and fail so that we have to try again. But if we combine our efforts in this sense with an active prayer life – short but regular sessions are better than one long contemplation per year – and with an active use of the sacraments – remember that a frequent reception of Holy Communion also presupposes frequent confession – we will increasingly base more of our lives on God’s burning love. Thus making it more visible; turning our hard granules of resin into sweet-smelling smoke.
This is what Jesus means by saying he has chosen us. It is all about a commission to mission. We as believers have been chosen by love for the sake of bearing love to the world, through words and deeds, out of each person’s talents and gifts. Perhaps in a way we first had not thought about at all, like for St. Peter in our first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles.
God’s love makes us realize our lives are no longer an ego-drama. Instead we find ourselves in the great Theo-drama, for which God writes the script and directs us. Being part of the Theo-drama is the true meaning of our lives, as they are not primarily about us, and therefore also not limited by our limitations or dependent upon our inabilities. For the Theo-drama to be played in its fullness in space and time, God needs each one of us.
As Jesus soon in the Holy Eucharist renews his commitment of love to us, giving himself to us so that he physically becomes a part of us, let us promise him that we in the coming week will listen more thoroughly to what he commissions us to do in the next act of his great drama of love. Or, to speak with today’s responsorial psalm: what new song he enables us to sing.