Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sixth Sunday of Easter: “If you love me": Love is the fulfillment of the law and the Spirit our gift for keeping the commandments through love

"If you love me, you will take out the trash." "If you love me, you will wash my car." "If you love me, you will let me have the TV remote." We choose to love limited human beings, and they sometimes put conditions upon love.

We want love: to love and to be loved. But we do not particularly like being told how to love because we want also to be free in loving. We are "hard wired" to hope for these things but at the same time we are assured that there is no rational basis for hope. Despite this it is hard to deny that the hope of love and the struggle to achieve it are constants in the life of every human person.

The seat of reason, and its operation in the mind, can be demonstrated through scientific examination, and its processes measured and studied. Hope, on the other hand, is more elusive. We do not know where hope comes from, and why some people seem so able to consistently live by its tenets and others seem so bereft of it that they can be said to hardly be living at all and sometimes choose not to go on doing so.

Young couples want to be free to love whom they choose as demonstrated so dramatically in the perennially favorite classic play, "Romeo and Juliet" and, tragically, sometimes do not choose well. Today people so often express their own version of love that, for the first time since records have been kept in the 1950's, less than half of all households express the committed love of man and woman through marriage, choosing concubinage or "living together" instead. The "spirit of the 60's", in which all idea of law was seen as a drag, seems to have reached its logical conclusion in this spurning of conventional covenant love through marriage.

Why would God, if He loves us, make us with free will but then tell us what to do? Are not these two contradictory realities? We are told by Him "If you love me, you will keep my commandments". But if I am a free creature, why can I not choose how I am to love God? Why can I not decide what love means to me and why should not God out of love be willing to accept that? At any rate, it does seem that there is a matter to be resolved: that the ten commandments and all of God's demands seem to be a restriction of freedom rather than its guarantee and expression.

Could we not go further and hope to find the answer in an examination of the teaching and example of the One whom we are told is one with the Father, who is in the Father and in whom we see the Father? The hope of freedom, if it is to find its goal, must not be frustrated by the seeming contradiction of law and Spirit, of commandment and love, if it is indeed to be hope and if we are indeed to be free. Just as the human person is capable of sacrificing even his or her very life for the sake of love, perhaps this seeming contradiction and our own ideas of freedom must be sacrificed for the sake of love.

The Lord tells us He loves us and shows His love in the sacrifice of Himself on the Cross and thus gains our trust. He is one with the Father and His self-offering also bears for us in itself the gift of life, for God's life is made our own, is given also to us through the death of Christ on the Cross. And now we must live this life as our own and we are told that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the power we are given in order to live this life. But here again we find what seems a contradiction: the Spirit is often invoked as one's reason for doing something contrary to the letter of the law.

Have you not heard it said also many times that this or that action or decision was made in order to be "faithful to the Spirit of Vatican II", to excuse or absolve one's violation of the letter of liturgical, sacramental or canonical regulations? This as if to imply that those on the "side of the Spirit" are motivated by love while those who invoke the law are not. Here again we find the contradiction between love and the law, and the notion that the Spirit is one who validates our own desires and whims. This conflicts with the ideal of freedom as taught in the Scriptures proclaimed today in that one bears fruit through the keeping of the law of another: the law of God. We learn that the highest achievement of freedom is accomplished in doing the will not of ourselves but of God.

If we believe that God is love and that love alone lasts then it must be in love, which alone continues in that heaven of God which we seek and for which we hope, that the seeming contradiction between freedom and law is resolved. And this is precisely what Christ teaches when He says, "if you love me you will keep my Commandments". God is love and for that reason He will not fail us in our highest hope. And if love is our highest hope then it makes sense that we would use our freedom to seek His love so that hope will not be ultimately be disappointed. Love is the fulfillment of the law!

"Fruit of the Spirit and fullness of the Law, charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: 'Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.' " (CCC 1824)

The Spirit of God, fruit of Christ's passion death and Resurrection, is given us so that we might do what would otherwise be impossible without the help of God: be like God in loving Him and others. Yes, the commandments are God's gift that we might know what it is that we are now to do through the Holy Spirit which he pours out in abundance. And this is why we are told: "the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God".

Christ teaches that now, because of the gift of the Spirit, holiness is possible and is more than an obedience of conformity, whether willing or unwiling, to the restrictions imposed by the Commandments.

"Jesus acknowledged the Ten Commandments, but he also showed the power of the Spirit at work in their letter. He preached a 'righteousness [which] exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees' as well as that of the Gentiles. He unfolded all the demands of the Commandments. 'You have heard that it was said to the men of old, "You shall not kill." . . . But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.' " (CCC 2054) Now, not only is murder forbidden, but the law of love makes unholy even the disposition of the heart which might give space to a desire to harm another. The indwelling Spirit empowers us now to resist such temptation.

Only the logic of love will resolve for us what sometimes seems so difficult to reconcile: our hope of freedom and God's law. This is why Christ teaches us that love of God and neighbor is "the first and greatest commandment".

The Commandments properly so-called come in the second place: they express the implications of belonging to God through the establishment of the covenant. Moral existence is a response to the Lord's loving initiative. It is the acknowledgement and homage given to God and a worship of thanksgiving. It is cooperation with the plan God pursues in history." (CCC 2062)

"Moral existence", the heart in love with God and neighbor, seeks first and always to do good and thus only in second place is concerned with what God's law forbids.

In the Church the bishop lays his hands upon every believer in conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation, that he or she might receive the Spirit of God's love, the third person of the Trinity, and thus live in the freedom of a child of God. And we who have been confirmed must seek to stir up the power of that Spirit through lives in which we see bodily compliance with God's commands simply as the evidence of the love in our hearts. Only in this way will we live not as servants but as the sons and daughters we have been told that we are.

We cannot deserve God's love, but what a joy to choose to reflect Him through our words and actions. And what a solid foundation for hope do we find in this evidence of His love in us.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.


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