Fr. Roger J. Landry
RSM Casa della Misericordia, Rome
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 28, 2000
Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17
Saint Jerome tells us that while Saint John was an elderly man in Ephesus, living in a cave with a few disciples, every Sunday his closest followers would bring him down to the throngs for Sunday Eucharist. And when it was time for him to preach, the crowds would huddle around him because his voice had by this time grown faint. Every week he would counsel them, “Little children, love one another!” Eventually one of his closest followers asked him, “Do you not tire of giving the same message every time you preach?” He said, “Son, I never tire of proclaiming it, because the Master never tired of proclaiming it. And if you keep it, you do all that is needed.”
Perhaps one of the reasons why both the Lord and his beloved disciple constantly preached these simple words was because they recognized just how hard they are to keep. To love one another is, as we’ve experienced ourselves in the Christian life, not that easy. And love is the mark of Christians because it is the mark of Christ — who loved us so much to give his life for us — and the mark of God, who, as Saint John later tells us, is love. Jesus himself said “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Hence, if we do not love one another, if we do not put this command of the Lord to love into practice, we are not just hypocrites but scandalizers, and rather than show the face of Christ, we obscure it. As Gaudium et Spes wrote so movingly, one of the greatest causes for atheism in the world is the bad example of Christians, Christians who don’t really love God and don’t really love each other. And for this reason, the readings that the Church gives us today are a great gift, so that we, toward the end of this Easter season, might be able to take a hard look at how we love, or whether we truly love at all.
Today’s readings focus on three movements of love. The first is of the Father for the Son; the second of the Son for us; and the third of us for one another. “As the Father has love me, so I have loved you. Live on in my love. You will live in my love if you keep my commandments. … My commandment to you is this: love one another as I have loved you.” I will leave the love of the Father for the Son for your own meditation today and focus on the second and the third movements. We begin with the fact that God REALLY LOVES US. “Love, then, consists in this,” Saint John writes in his first letter, “not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and has sent his Son as an offering for our sins.” Jesus loved us with the greatest love of all, as he himself told us: “there is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The root of all our Christian dignity, the root of our divine filiation and all our joy, is that God loves us and loved us so much that he considered it a bargain that his only begotten son be tortured and killed rather than to live without us forever. And so the first question I have today is: Do we recognize this love? Do we feel the tangible caresses of the Lord throughout the day? Is our relationship with the Lord grounded on this realization of just how much we are loved? Does it inspire us to love in return?
You can almost always tell when a person is in a relationship of love, when the person feels loved and when the person loves in return. Teenagers, even though the love they sense may still only be a shadow, start to walk on air. Husbands and wives who are in love have a joy about them that the hardships they encounter each day cannot take away. Priests and religious who are in love with the Lord almost have a contagious enthusiasm about even the littlest, most seemingly meaningless things of the day. Conversely, however, you can almost always tell when someone is not in love, because the person starts to be nitpicky, grumpy, bitter, and begins more easily to use others instead of loving them, focusing on their bad points rather than on the virtues and gifts they do have. Saint Paul gave us a great index about how those who are in love behave. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Perhaps the best way to evaluate whether we are in love, whether we love, is to substitute our name for the word love in that litany. Are we patient and kind or are we envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, and resentful? Do we bear all things or insist on our own way? Would those with whom we live and work agree with our assessment?
The second movement of love is for one another. I have always considered it very noteworthy that when Jesus gave his commandment to love, he didn’t say, “Love ME as I have loved you,” but “love one another as I have loved you.” When he asked Saint Peter directly three times if he loved him, and Peter responded that he did, what did the Lord say in return? Not “basta così.” But rather: “Feed my sheep… Tend my lambs.” The standard by which we will therefore be able to know if we truly love the Lord — to determine whether we’re deceiving ourselves on this point — is by our love for each other. As Saint John writes elsewhere in his first letter, “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” So loving one another is the true index of whether we love God. Many priests and religious would say readily that they love the Lord and experience his love in their lives, that they worship the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, that they pray to him every day and try to listen to him, but the true test as to whether this love is real becomes how they share they love with others, how they love the Lord in the poor, the sick, the thirsty, the naked, in their enemies, and even in a certain sense most importantly, in how they love those who are closest to them, THOSE WITH WHOM THEY LIVE AND HAVE CONTACT EVERY DAY. We can all so easily deceive ourselves sometimes that we love God and that we even love others while we really don’t love those closest to us, while we don’t love those particular people that the Lord has given us as a grace with all of their strengths and weaknesses to help us learn how to love.
I would like to propose a very simple way to determine how we’re doing. When you look at those in this room, those you live with or work with: do you really love them? If they were able to give an honest opinion in return, would they say that they feel your love tangibly? When was the last time you ever told them that you loved them? When, in fact, was the last time you told anyone — besides perhaps parents or relatives — that you love them? I repeat: when was the last time you told anyone you loved them? If someone is unwilling to say that she loves someone else, it’s either because she doesn’t love the other, or because she thinks it’s proper or prudent not to. In certain circumstances, it may be prudent to refrain in this way, but certainly not all the time. We all, like Saint Therese, have the vocation to love, to be love in the heart of the Church, but so few of us it seems ever really live it and even fewer ever express it. Why is this the case? Too often our chastity training has been far too negative, focusing on boundaries, focusing on what not to do, rather than helping us to learn how to love with burning fervor within those boundaries. We, who have the vocations to love, are so often repressed into never expressing it tangibly for another. Chastity is a virtue, and for you a vow, to help us to love! One of the clear ways to test whether we love someone chastely is whether we’re willing to say it. JESUS SAID IT. He said it to each one of us. “Love one another, as I HAVE LOVED YOU, Roger, Mary Lucy, Mary Veronica…”
Sisters, the future of the Church hinges on whether we can bring love back into the heart of the Church, whether we can be apostles and missionaries of love. We saw in Mother Teresa this love that captivated the world. She was truly a Missionary of Charity, a missionary who brought God’s great love to everyone she encountered. And everyone could tell she was in love with the Lord. You are Religious Sisters of Mercy, of God’s Hesed, His Merciful Love, a love that, as we sing in so many psalms, endures forever. Everything you are about in your religious life is to love with the merciful loving heart of Christ. You have the great privilege to bear on your habits the Cross of Christ, which, as it was explained to me, is meant to show in the thin white cross in the center the miseries of the world being swallowed up into dark larger Cross representing the mercy of Christ. In other words, YOUR merciful love for each other is meant to swallow up all of the various miseries, burdens and hardships you encounter each day. Your vow of obedience is meant to help you feel the love of Christ in the concrete things of the day and ultimately help you get out of self-centeredness and become truly free, free to love Christ with all you’ve got (because no one can ever be forced to love). Your virtue of poverty is to remove you from any situation of idolatrous attachment to things, so that God can become your sole love and sole treasure. And your vow of chastity is meant to help you integrate your whole person into a burning, endless love of the Lord in response to his great love of you. God will give you all of the graces you need to live these vows to the full. As Saint Paul wrote to the Romans, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” If you love each other, you will fulfill every little iota of your rule and of your vocation.
When Christ was asked by the lawyer what is the greatest of the 613 commandments in the law, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27). But then he added, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:40). In other words, every commandment is meant to help us to love, to learn how to love and to put that love into practice. Likewise, with your rule and whole life. Everything is designed to help you enter into the great mystery of God’s love of you and help you return that love of the Lord to others.
And nothing is more important than this. Saint Paul was clear about it, and tells us as he once told the Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I AM NOTHING. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to the torturers, but do not have love, I gain NOTHING” (1Cor 13:1-4). In other words, sisters, even if you do everything you’re called to do over the course of the day with exterior perfection, even if you gain the praise, admiration and respect of others including your superiors, IF YOU DO NOT HAVE LOVE, YOU GAIN NOTHING AND *ARE* NOTHING. Nothing! This is how important love is in the Christian life. This is how important love is in our lives.
The Lord knows it is not easy to love as we ought to love. For that reason, he wants to help us. No one has greater love, he told us, than to lay down his life for his friends, and every day he gives us access to that love on this very altar. He no longer calls us slaves but friends and we are his friends if we do what he commands us. What did he command us to do? To do THIS in memory of him, to enter into that greatest act of love that the world has ever known. It is in this love that we become capable of loving each other, capable of loving each other with the love of Christ which is the greatest of all gifts and the only one that will last forever. May the Lord through this Eucharist fill us with that love that knows no bounds, so that we may love him with all we’ve got and love others as he loves them. May he give us his heart to love, so that others in seeing our concrete, tangible, visible and vocal love for them may be brought to the Source of that love, and one day come to share it with us forever with Mary and all the saints in that eternal kingdom of love that Christ out of love died to give us!
God love you!