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Commanded to Love
Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 13:31-33a, 34-35
When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Opening Prayer: Lord, I come before you knowing my own littleness and offering myself to you, just as I am. You created me and redeemed me and call me to yourself. You desire that I live as your image of love in the world. In faith and hope, I believe that you give me the grace I need to do so. I know that it is only through opening myself to your love that I can truly love. Thank you that you are always with me, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwelling within me and giving me life and love.
- Foretelling Betrayals and Loving Anyway: This Gospel passage, the beginning of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” is sandwiched between his foretelling Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s betrayal. In it, Jesus taught the disciples how they were to live: they were to love one another. Knowing that he would be betrayed by those whom he loved, he continued to speak about love as the defining characteristic of his followers. He didn’t qualify his directive to love. Reflecting that it was given in the context of his foretelling of the betrayals to come, we can see that his is a call to love no matter what. As St. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “(Love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” When we consider this kind of love, we can think of times we have heard (or perhaps thought) that a particular person “didn’t deserve” another’s love. In Jesus’ example, we see that love isn’t based on the other person’s behavior but on our relationship with the Lord. May we never rationalize or justify ourselves when we fail to love as Jesus does.
- As I Have Loved You: In these precious moments, as Jesus prepared his disciples for his passion, he didn’t give them tasks to do, moral laws to follow, or acts of piety to perform. Of course, this doesn’t preclude the importance of our actions, but his words show us what he most desires of us: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. While each of these elements has a place (and a very important place!) in our lives as we follow Our Lord, our actions, behaviors, and practices will naturally flow out of us when we allow Christ to love us and form us. On the other hand, focusing on the externals without striving to love God and neighbor is hollow. As St. Augustine said:Anyone can bless himself with the sign of the cross of Christ; anyone can answer “Amen”; anyone can sing Alleluia; anyone can be baptized, enter churches, build the walls of basilicas. But the only thing that distinguishes the children of God is charity. Those who practice charity are born of God; those who do not practice charity are not born of God. It is indeed an important sign, an essential difference. No matter what you have, if you do not have this one thing, everything else is of no avail; and if you lack everything, and have nothing else but charity, then you have kept the law.” What kind of disciples are we? Do we consider ourselves faithful followers because of what we do–whether in apostolate, prayer, or the moral life–or are we faithful because of how much we love God and neighbor?
- What Does Love Look Like?: Of course, love is manifest in behavior. Jesus tells us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13), and he modeled this self-giving love on the cross. As we consider his example of love, we can feel overwhelmed and defeated, as if our ability to love like Jesus depends upon our strength and our will. However, in a very real way, it depends upon us letting ourselves be loved by God, allowing him to dwell within us and act through us. The Catechism tells us that “It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and mercy and love of our God” (CCC 2842). This participation comes from the life of the Trinity within us, and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity capacitates us to pour ourselves out in love as Jesus did.
Conversing with Christ: Jesus, I love you, but I want to love you more deeply. I want to give myself to you, to open my heart so that I can experience your love more fully. I want to be a visible instrument of your love in the world, of your mercy and holiness. I need you. It is your love that makes it possible for me to love. Thank you, Lord, for your deep abiding love.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will take time to consider whether there are any parts of myself (my past, personality, habits, etc.) that I feel are unlovable, and I will then bring these to you in prayer, asking to know your love, just as I am.
For Further Reflection: Listen to No Other Heart by the RC Music Collective.
Janet McLaughlin and her husband Chris live on a mountain in rural northeastern Oregon. She puts her Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies to work as she shares the beauty and importance of the lay vocation in her writing, speaking, and teaching on spiritual topics.