Posted May 9, 2021
6th Sunday of Easter, Yr B
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another.’ Love for one another is not just a commandment. It is first and foremost a gift. It means sharing in the love that the Father has for Jesus and that Jesus has for us. We are still in that part of St John’s Gospel that speaks of the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine, we the branches. In recent weeks we have spoken about our sharing Jesus’ joy, the spring of his emotions, his character, like branches drawing sap from the vine. This week (Jn 15: 9-17) we are told that just as we share in Jesus’ joy, so also we share in his love. Our love for one another does not derive from our own resources, but from Jesus himself. It is Jesus himself loving in us and with us. Today’s second Reading (1 Jn 4: 7-10) expresses this by saying: love is from God. The person who loves is ‘begotten’ by God, that is, they share God’s very nature, are enlivened and energized by God loving in them and through them. St Paul said the same when he told the Christians in Rome: ‘God’s love has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, given to us.’
The love that we show to each other, therefore, is a sharing in the love with which God himself loves.
Here are a couple of reflections on this wonderful reality.
The first reflection is this. The love that is being spoken of is, on the one hand, a reality so sublime that it would take a mystic even to begin to describe it. On the other hand, it is a very ordinary reality. It takes place in our daily lives: whenever we make a decision to deny ourselves for the sake of the other; whenever we try to benefit others, in small ways as well as big, in ways that are perhaps unnoticed by others and quickly forgotten by ourselves: in the office, or the kitchen, on the train, in the street: in our hospitals, in our churches, in the family, with strangers and with friends. The act of kindness that you did for someone on the way to church, or the good deed you did for your children today, or for your parents, or the donation you made, even that friendly greeting you gave: To the eye of faith, all these very ordinary actions are manifestations of the personal activity of God in the midst of our ordinariness, like lightning in a darkened sky, like ‘shining from shook foil’, as the poet puts it.
A second reflection is this: Underlying this sublime teaching about our love for one another is the Church’s experience of the Holy Spirit. We have already heard St Paul say that ‘God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, given to us’. St John, in his first Epistle, spells out how our loving is the effect of the Holy Spirit who brings God’s love to the world: ‘Beloved’, he writes, ‘if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us: by the fact that he has given us of his own Spirit.’
Now if our humble love is God dwelling in us through his Holy Spirit, imagine what impact this love will have on the whole of our moral lives. An ancient prayer used at Mass at Pentecost time contains the extraordinary statement that the Holy Spirit ‘is himself the remission of sins’ (‘Ipse est remissio peccatorum’). This means not that the Holy Spirit remits our sins through some kind of legal mechanism. Rather, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with holy love to purify us and intensify God’s presence in us. By his very presence in us the Holy Spirit ousts sin from our personality.
It is important to appreciate this if we are going to get things into perspective in our lives. We shall always be sinning in this life, however much we resolve not to. But it is immensely reassuring to think that our simple acts of brotherly love purify us of sin and open the floodgates of God’s goodness. I do not mean this as a pretext for sin. It is certainly not a matter of ‘All you need is love, yea!’, if by that you mean that what you call love excuses, or compensates for, your lack of moral integrity. As St Paul says: ‘Love does not rejoice in injustice but rejoices in the truth.’ What we can be sure of, though, is that a genuine love of other people will be evidence that, for all our failings, we are on the right path.
This is what St John means when he says in the same epistle: ‘I am writing a new commandment for you … for the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever claims to be in light but hates his brother is still in darkness. Anyone who loves his brother remains in light and there is in him no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in darkness and is walking about in darkness, not knowing where he is going, because darkness has blinded him.’
In a word: the presence of God’s love in our hearts is an antidote to sin and the sure path to salvation.
But then what must its absence be?
Fr Tom Deidun