Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Lately, I have been reflecting on how Jesus communicates with his disciples. Jesus uses an occasional parable to get his message across. Or, includes cultural or scriptural references to connect with his audience. But, for the most part, Jesus communicates in a pretty straightforward manner; you know exactly where he stands. That is true in today’s Gospel (John 14:15-21).
Today’s Gospel teaches us two things. First, to be disciples of Jesus, we have to keep his commandments. When Jesus says this, we can assume that he is referring to the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses to guide the Jewish people.
We can also assume he is referencing what we hear in Mathew’s Gospel (Mat 22:36-40) when Jesus was pressed by the Pharisees to tell them “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” Jesus responded:
“You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
So, the first thing today’s Gospel teaches us is that loving Jesus is truly lived by being in a loving relationship. It’s all about love:
- A loving relationship with the Blessed Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
- A loving relationship with others (spouse, co-workers, neighbors, friends – and, yes, even enemies)
- A loving relationship with ourselves
This third point may need a little more discussion.
If we are to be loving disciples, keeping God’s commandments, we have to allow ourselves to receive love just as much as we strive to give love to God and others. Loving relationships are not one-way streets. If we are willing to give, we must be willing to receive (God wants both for us!).
I recently came across a quote from a man named Diadochus of Photice, a fifth century theologian, mystic and bishop, who puts this in perspective. He writes,
“Anyone who loves God in the depths of his heart has already been loved by God.”
The love we have for God is a response to God’s love for us (as we learn in the Catechism: God initiates, we respond). God started this loving relationship. He wants us to sustain and grow in relationship with him.
The quote continues:
“In fact, the measure of a man’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware he is of God’s love for him.”
How do we know God loves us? The measure is how deeply aware we are of how much God loves us. I found that to be a beautiful and reassuring thought. We should reflect on this and ask ourselves:
- How aware am I of God’s love in my life?
- How deeply does God’s love permeate my life?
- Am I willing to receive God’s love as much as I am willing to share that love with others?
So, today, we learn that if you love God, you will keep his commandments by loving God and others. But, to truly love God, we must be deeply aware of his love for us.
The second thing we learn in today’s Gospel is this: We don’t do this alone!
To strengthen that loving relationship, Jesus promises one additional thing to his disciples: He promises to ask his Father to send an Advocate (the Holy Spirit) to be with them always.
We hear about the Holy Spirit in our First Reading as well. The Holy Spirit is the gift that helped win the hearts and souls of the Samaritan people.
- The crowds were attracted to Philip and his teaching (their hearts were filled with “great joy”)
- The people of Samaria were on fire with emotion
But emotion alone is not enough; we need to receive the Holy Spirit into our life to guide us beyond emotion.
- That’s what the disciples experienced at Pentecost
- That’s what the Samaritans experienced when Peter and John lay hands on them
- That’s what we experience in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
That’s what we need in our everyday life – the Holy Spirit guiding us.
Here is an example:
If you are married, think about the wonderful emotions you and your spouse shared on your wedding day. Was that emotion alone enough to sustain you throughout your marriage? Probably not. To sustain your marriage (to experience ongoing joy), you have to grow in relationship.
The Holy Spirit is present in the Sacrament of Matrimony to sustain married couples as they grow in relationship with each other (and, as a couple, in relationship with God). The Spirit is our advocate in this process.
Things are usually great during the honeymoon phase of marriage, but, after the honeymoon phase, when life gets real (and sometimes messy), we need to turn to the Spirit as our advocate and guide.
In fact, whether married or not, God should be the center of every part of our lives. That “center” is at the heart of a building and sustaining loving relationships.
So, when we reflect on Jesus’ words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” we should think about relationship – with God, with our neighbors, with our enemies
We do this with the assurance that God is always present to guide us and sustain us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This should bring us great joy! To know (without a doubt) that we are never truly alone, and we are always truly loved!