Gospel reflection for May 14, 2023, Sixth Sunday of Easter
Father Koch: Love for Jesus places demands on the disciple
Love is a strange word in that we use it to describe our relationship with so many different things. We love our spouses, families, and those closest to us for sure, but we also love sports teams, food, certain activities, and even inanimate objects. Yet, when we use the term specifically person-to-person it means something. It is not uncommon that someone will remember the first time that they told their spouse that they loved them. We know it is a special word packed with many dimensions of meaning. Jesus invites his disciples to love him. But this is not a passive love, it demands a response from the disciple as well.
The clearest expression of loving Jesus is found in the disciples’ love for one another. Yet, that itself is not enough, for the disciple must also love those who are not only not disciples, but who are hostile to them because they are disciples of Jesus. It is not enough to love only those who love us, for the greater love is love for the enemy and apathetic.
The earliest Christian communities were admired and admonished for this love. Their persecutors and opponents were entirely confounded by this love.
For many today, this sense of love seems idealistic and simplistic. There have been some movements -- religious and secular -- throughout history that have expressed their relationships with the language of love, but they have often failed. One of the significant characteristics of Christian love (agape) that differentiates it from other forms of love, is the self-sacrificial nature of such love.
Jesus loves us and lays down his life for us. He tells his disciples that their love for one another should be expressed in this sense of self-sacrifice. Other communities of love express that love in more self-aggrandizing or self-satisfying ways. The Christian loves, often without the other knowing that they are loved.
This love -- this adherence to living the commandments that Jesus leaves with us as his disciples -- draws us into a deeper relationship with him. Jesus promises that our faithfulness will bring him to abide with him and to share in the life he has promised.
The fullest expression of this abiding is the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and into the world.
It is through the power of the Holy Spirit -- the sign of the expression of the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father -- that the Church can continue to live in the world.
This Advocate (Paraclete) or Holy Spirit is gifted to us in response to our love for God, is the expression of God’s love for us, and empowers us to remain or abide in God’s love.
Therefore, the most significant expression of being a Christian is love. From this, all else flows. We serve one another, and care for the hungry, thirsty and homeless out of love. We attend Mass, visit the blessed Sacrament, pray, and engage in pious acts of devotion, out of love. We study the sacred texts, grow in our knowledge of faith, and evangelize others out of love.
Our love for one another means not only that we care for their physical needs but primarily means that we tend to their spiritual needs. To love the other in the truest Christian sense is to work for their eternal salvation. This is the substance of our prayer for others. This is the reason why we assist others. We intend not just their welfare in this life, but desire that they share in eternal life.
Unfortunately, this sense, sometimes any sense, of love seems to be lost in our day. It is hard to see that Christians love one another. We are openly critical and even hostile towards one another. Christian -- yes and especially Catholic -- social media platforms tend to destroy rather than build-up. Every time we tear down and destroy we sin, mocking the Holy Spirit who was sent so that we might have life, and have it to the full.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.