Being stretched by our love for Christ
There are a couple of times in the gospels when Jesus says things that might seem to ruin a sentimental moment between him and followers. At one point he says “you are my friends if you do what I command you”.
Today he says: “If you love me, keep my commandments”. Doing what someone commands isn’t exactly the first idea people have of proving friendship. If anything, it seems to be the opposite of a friendship! But this is no ordinary friendship. Friendship with the Son of God means being in relationship with the one “through whom we were made” and the one who desires to redeem and perfect his creation. It means to be in relationship with the one who ultimately desires to be all in all (1 Cor 15:28).
The dissonance between God wanting our perfection, wanting us to become saintly and God like – and us wanting to settle for second best or worse, settle for what we are, becomes the cause of our enmity with God. The Gospel then offers good news: keeping Jesus’ commands is a path to receiving the Holy Spirit into our lives. A helper is given to help us to get to our destination for sainthood, of Godliness. Becoming like God, or having union with God, or, enjoying friendship with God – what is that to you?
The parish has been very explicit about the centrality of each of us having a personal relationship, a friendship with Christ. What does “loving” Christ look like? One of the ways that our love for Christ grows is in prayer. Do we get enough of this? And when we pray do we come away feeling like we spent time with Christ building friendship? To borrow St. Ignatius’ maxim, did the activity of praying increase our faith, hope and love?
The Becoming-like-God is not only a consequence of listening to the command – it is the command. The weekend’s Gospel leaves out the previous verse which says “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for their friends.
IF we love Jesus, we will love one another, to the point of self-sacrifice.
For some of us loving others and self-sacrifice may mean charity or volunteering, for others loving and sacrificing ourselves is to share our faith. What does loving to the point of self-sacrifice look like in your life?
The answer to this question is the difference between doing the bare minimum, or being on that journey of being pruned and remoulded into the image of Christ. To those of us who take up the command to be Christ-like in our loving, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit. He knows it is not always easy. How regularly do we pray to the Holy Spirit for help?
As we move closer and closer to the launch of the strategic plan, I ask us again: have you gotten involved in a ministry? What will be your way of “loving others as [Jesus] has loved you?” What will be your loving to the point of needing assistance from the Holy Spirit. What will be your way of loving to the point of being stretched into the image of God? God forbid we should only settle for the easy. How can the Holy Spirit’s power be manifested in our lives if we can do it ourselves? There will be no need for a helper!
I began by saying that Jesus’ words would appear to deflate any sentiment in combining loving with command. Perhaps I have presumed upon how he spoke those words. Perhaps his words were spoken with full tenderness and care. Listen to this motet which captures something of that tenderness with its deep warm sounds. Best to listen to it through a good pair of speakers or headphones! The lyrics are drawn from today’s gospel: “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may ‘bide with you forever; E’en the sp’rit of truth. May the Holy Spirit help and strengthen you for our journey ahead.
Blessings, Fr Francis