May 2, 2024 at 7:00 a.m.

A masterclass from Jesus about love

WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.

By Father Anthony Barratt | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” — 1 John 4:7

In our Gospel for this weekend (John 15: 9-17), we find ourselves eavesdropping on Jesus’ conversation and prayer with the Apostles at the Last Supper. He is teaching them and praying for them about the very foundation of faith and discipleship; that is about the nature and practice of love. The first thing we should notice is that Jesus uses a very specific word for love in his prayer. In the language of the New Testament, there are at least three words for “love:” eros, as in sexual love; philia, as in friendship; and agape as in love for love’s sake. It is that third meaning and word that Jesus employs. As the prayer progresses, Jesus then offers the Apostles and, of course, us, what we might call a masterclass about the nature, living and meaning of love.

Jesus begins by praying that we “remain” in his love. Again, the word he uses (meno) is important. It really means abide, or dwell, or stay. He prays then that in our very hearts or souls, we will always let the love of Jesus be at the very core of who we are and what we do. Love is to be an essential part of our DNA. Why is this so crucial? It is because God is love and because we are created out of love and to love. As St. Augustine puts it: “If you have seen love, then you have seen God.”

Jesus then goes on to say how we can remain in his love. It is simply by keeping his commandments. We can think of the Ten Commandments, but also of Jesus’ new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. In our Second Reading (1 John 4: 7-10), St. John states this very directly and practically: We abide in God’s love by loving others. Therefore, we are not just to know God, but to love God, and we show this love by loving others. In Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov,” Father Zosima says: “You must love all that God has created, both his entire world and each single tiny sand grain of it … if you love all things, you will attain the divine mystery that is in all things.”

Jesus continues by naming the consequence of abiding and living in this love: we will receive a series of wonderful gifts. First of all, Jesus mentions “joy.” The Christian understanding of joy certainly does not mean pretending all is well; of putting on a happy face or fixed smile when all is not good. The word used for joy in the language of the New Testament is “chairete,” and it is a word with many meanings and levels. To name a few of these, it means a profound and real sense of God’s love for us, a great feeling of trust and confidence, so that whatever happens we have His love and care. It is a spiritual way of living and seeing ourselves, others and the world, of being tuned into God’s will. In this sense, joy is certainly an attitude to life and a spiritual gift. Furthermore, it is a gift that does not depend on the circumstances of life, or on what happens to us, whether good or bad. As Bernard Bassett puts it, Christian joy is not contingent, but permanent. It is also eminently practical, especially when, with God’s help, we try to develop spiritual values and a way of everyday living that is joy-giving as opposed to joy-killing. As Abbot Marmion wrote, “Joy is the very echo of God’s life within us.”

A further gift of abiding in love is that of “friendship.” We are invited to be true friends of Jesus, not merely servants. Sadly, we may not always appreciate this gift of friendship (philia). Sherry Weddell in her book, “Forming Intentional Disciples,” notes that according to surveys, close to 50 percent of practicing Catholics do not think that it is possible to have a personal relationship (or friendship) with Jesus, yet this is precisely what Jesus promises in our Gospel this Sunday. 

Finally, Jesus tells us that abiding in his love is also fruitful. We can recall that powerful image from last week’s Gospel, of Jesus as the vine and we as the branches. Cut off from him, we cannot bear fruit, but instead we will just wither. 

Our Lord makes one last point in his masterclass about love; above all, love is a gift. It is not something that can be grabbed or demanded. Love has to be offered and then received. We can certainly see this if we think about human love: it cannot be demanded or snatched. We all know of how destructive such actions can be in relationships. If this is true of human love, just think how much more so it must be with God’s love. No, Jesus chooses us, gifts us and calls us to live and dwell in his love. Indeed, we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us.


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