Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Sixth Sunday of Easter, C, Prep
May 16, 2004
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Rev 21:10-14,22-23; Jn 14:23-29
1) In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks to us about two things he died and rose from the dead to give us: LOVE and PEACE. Our hearts were made for love and for peace, and will remain restless until we have them. The daily newspapers remind us each morning as well of how much our world needs this real peace and love. But love and peace are not things that we can just wish into existence; no matter how many songs and poems we write about them, no matter how long we talk about them, we will not experience them truly until we follow the means Jesus describes in the Gospel. He who is the Prince of Peace and who is Love personified told us that the pathway to obtain either is to KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS. Today we will examine why.
2) About love, Jesus says, “Those who love me will KEEP MY WORD, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Love is not a feeling, Jesus says, but an action: to keep his word. He expanded upon this thought later in the same Last Supper discourse, “If you keep my commandments, you wil abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. … You are my friends if you do what I command you.… I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (cf Jn 15). This link between love and the commandments is something that many in the world — even in the Church — have forgotten, because so often we look at the commandments as burdens, as onerous duties, rather than as a tremendous divine gift to help us grow in love. Once when a lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus replied by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he added: “On these two hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:35-40). In other words, each of the commandments is an explicitation of the commandment to love God and love neighbor. This is something we readily see when we look at the Ten Commandments. How could we really love God if he’s not first in our lives, if we’re using his name as just a throwaway expression, if we think there’s something more important to do on the Lord’s day than to come worship him in Church? How can we really love our parents if we’re dishonoring them? Or love others if we’re killing or hating them, or stealing from them, or lying to them, or being unfaithful to them, or taking advantage of them for sexual gratification, or coveting what they have?
3) There is a similar link between keeping the Lord’s commandments and genuine peace, in our hearts or in the world. On the heels of what Jesus said about love, he then says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” The peace Jesus came from heaven to earth to give us and leave with us is PEACE WITH GOD through the forgiveness of our sins. To experience that peace, we have to keep God’s commandments, because breaking the commandments — sinning — is what alienates us from that peace. Peace in the world, moreover, will only come about if we have this type of peace in our hearts through keeping the commandments. This is a point that is less obvious than it should be. Just think what our world — from our families, to our schools, to our communities, to our nation, to the international community — would be like if we all just minimally kept the Ten Commandments. Everyone would center their life on God. People would come together to worship God. There would be no swearing. Parents and children would honor each other. There would be no murder. No hatred. No broken families. No cheating. No robbery. No lying. No personal or class envy. Christians often sing, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” If we want that peace on earth, Jesus tells us it begins concretely with your and my keeping the commandments.
4) The reason I think why so many in the Church in the world fail to see this clear connection between love, peace and keeping God’s commandments is because we have a false notion of freedom, one that makes us look at the commandments as something that enslaves us rather than liberates us. Many think that to be free means to do whatever we want, to be able to call the shots, to be in control. When we think about freedom in this way, we see the commandments as limits to our freedom, because they impel us to do things that perhaps we might not want to do. But this type of freedom is an idolatry of the self. It’s based on pretending that we’re God, that we’re the ones calling the shots, that we’re the ones who know what is best for us, rather than God. The real notion of freedom is not to do whatever we WANT to do, but to do what we OUGHT to do. Jesus pointed to this when he linked freedom to the truth: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The only way to be free is to live in the truth of how God made us, which he indicates to us by the commandments. The ten commandments are comparable to one of these “Computers for Dummies” books that are so popular and helpful today. In order for the computer to fulfill its purpose, we cannot do whatever we want with the keyboard, but must behave in a way consistent with how the people who made the computer and its programs designed them. The commandments are God’s instruction manual, God’s best-selling “Human Beings for Dummies.” The only way for us to achieve the purpose for which God created us is if we follow the instructions the way our Designer made us. For us to try to find love, peace and happiness without following what God “programmed” into our hearts and made explicit in the commandments would be as futile as trying to send an email in some other way than how the computer program is designed.
5) To keep the commandments, as God calls us to do, is not always easy — as each of us has experienced in our lives. Because of the Fall, our ability to know what God wants us to do is somewhat darkened and our will to choose to do that right thing is weakened. Because Jesus knows this and loves us, he did not leave us without help. He describes that help in today’s Gospel: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit — God himself — will help us, first, to know what we need to do and, secondly, will help us to do it. Listen to what Jesus says: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you EVERYTHING, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Later, Jesus says, “I STILL HAVE MANY THINGS to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into ALL THE TRUTH” (Jn 16:13). The Holy Spirit will help us to know the truth by which God wants us to live — by reminding us of what Jesus told us, by teaching us everything and by guiding us into all truth — and in grace, he will give us the help to act on it.
6) We see these truths at work in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. There was dissension in the early Church between the Jewish and Gentile converts to the faith. The Jewish Christians said that the Gentiles first needed to be good Jews before they could be good Christians. The men, therefore, needed to be circumcised and keep everyone needed to keep the Jewish dietary laws, washing rituals, etc. So Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to converse with all the apostles and priests about this delicate matter of theology and anatomy. Jesus hadn’t given them explicit instructions on the subject; as he himself had said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” That’s why he promised the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth by reminding them of what he had said and applying it to various circumstances that would come up. The Holy Spirit guided them in their discernment in that first Church Council. They sent their answer to the Antiochene Christians: “It is THE DECISION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT and of us not to burden you these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.” The Holy Spirit had guided them to the right answer in the right context — and gave the Christians in Antioch the grace to follow what He decided.
7) The Holy Spirit continues to act in the Church in this way, reminding us of what Jesus said, leading us into all truth, and giving us the grace to keep what God wants us to do. There are so many things that Jesus didn’t say to us during his earthly life, because the first apostles couldn’t handle them at the time. But the Holy Spirit has led Christ’s Body the Church to those particulars in our time. Jesus didn’t talk to the first disciples about why manufacturing human beings in a test tube (in vitro fertilization) is wrong — they wouldn’t have had an idea of what he was talking about — but the Holy Spirit has clearly led the Church he founded to this conclusion, which we must follow if we want to please God and find his love and his peace. Christ didn’t tell the apostles that it was wrong indisciminately to bomb innocent civilians — they didn’t even have guns at the time — but the Holy Spirit has led the Church to this teaching of the faith. There are so many other truths that the Jesus didn’t explicitly mention to which the Holy Spirit has guided the Church — concerning abortion, cloning, contraception and contraceptive sterilizations, torture, terrorism, genocide — and, to live in Christ’s love and peace, we need to respond to the grace of the Holy Spirit to live in accord with what the Spirit has taught us through the Church.
8 ) This weekend, a priest in Massachusetts really cannot avoid making a concrete application to the subject of gay “marriage” that will begin in our commonwealth on Monday. Jesus didn’t explicitly talk to us about same-sex unions — it would have seemed as crazy to those of Jesus’ age as it did to all of us until just a few years ago — but the Holy Spirit has led the Church to the clear truth about the matter, by reminding us of what Jesus said about marriage as a one-flesh, indissoluble union of a man and a woman joined by God (Mt 19:3-9), by inspiring the writers of the New Testament to speak out clearly about the sin of homosexual activity (cf. 1Cor 6:9; 1Tim 1:10), and by guiding the Church to a clear condemnation of gay unions. The Holy Spirit has led the Church to see very clearly that “gay marriage” is harmful and sinful because it is a stabilization of a lifestyle that is against God’s revelation, one that breaks God’s commandments of love. Insofar as it goes against the way God made us, it will never lead us to true peace and true love in this world. Our gay brothers and sisters who are contemplating marriage are seeking love, but they will never find genuine, lasting, life-giving love apart from God. Even more importantly, such activity will endanger their eternal salvation. We would be cowards and wouldn’t really love our gay brothers and sisters if we didn’t say this. To condemn “gay marriage” and same sex activity is not the same thing as condemning those with same-sex attractions; we are called to love them and be compassionate to them and — it goes without saying — never wish them or do them violence. But we cannot love them more than God does, and one of the most important ways we can love them is by passing on the truth He reveals about the human person, about marriage, and about what God’s wants from us. Our gay brothers and sisters will never find genuine love and peace unless they live by God’s commands. Neither will our society as a whole find genuine peace unless we start to order it according to the way God made us. Each of the faithful followers of Christ has a lot of work to do to love our gay brothers and sisters out of this lifestyle. God is counting on our efforts in this uphill battle. The Holy Spirit will help us.
9) That same Holy Spirit will soon come down upon the gifts of bread and wine, to change them into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. In the Eucharist, we receive our spiritual nourishment for the battles of Life. We take within the Prince of Peace. We consume the summit of God’s love, Christ’s body and blood shed for us. As we keep the Lord Jesus’ command to do this in memory of him, we ask him to send the Holy Spirit upon us anew, that we may be strengthened to keep all of his commandments in genuine freedom and thereby experience in this world and the next the peace and the love He died to give us.