Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
Do you have any friends? Do you lack friends and long to have some? There is a great deal of loneliness, and what philosophers and psychologists sometimes call “alienation,” in the world in which we live. And although there may be a lot of “friending” on social media, a lot of that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Many of us lack relationships that are up-close and personal, that let us know and love the other in a deeper way and be loved in return. This can lead to all kinds of problems: depression, anger and anxiety, unchaste acting out, abuse of drink, various forms of self-harm, and so on.
Commenting on the Gospel passage for today’s Mass, St. Thomas Aquinas notes that the love that Our Lord is making a commandment here is not simply goodwill or benevolence towards others. It is friendship. And friendship means a love that can be seen and felt; it is perceptible. There is plenty of passive goodwill in the world, but St. Thomas tells us in his commentary on John’s Gospel that the love of friendship is another matter:
The import of the commandment is mutual love; thus he says: “love one another.” It is of the very nature of friendship that is not imperceptible; otherwise, it would not be friendship, but merely good-will. For a true and firm friendship the friends need a mutual love for each other; for this duplication makes it true and firm. Our Lord, wanting there to be perfect friendship among his faithful and disciples, gave them this command of mutual love: “Whoever fears the Lord directs his friendship aright” (Sir. 6:17).
But how are we to go about finding this love of friendship? Well, first off, we must have confidence that we will find it. Why is this? Because Our Lord does not command us to do the impossible. If he tells us, “A new commandment I give you. Love one another as I have loved you” and he tells us that this love has the form of friendship and not just service, then we must be able to practice this love. Jesus will give us both the graces and the persons we are to love as he loves them. We may be lonely, we may have some painfully broken relationships, friendships that have been lost, and we may not see just what to do, but with confident prayer the Savior will draw our hearts to others and theirs to us.
In the first place this commandment is about our personal relationship, our own personal friendship, with Jesus. That’s the context of this commandment: our first friendship is with him who is the true and eternal friend. He made us and gave us all good and continues to sustain us; and he gave us this commandment of divine friendship in the very hour in which he gave us his own body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. Aquinas’s teaching on love from the Summa powerfully depicts the kind of love that made Our Lord want to enter into us as his friends. He says:
In the love of friendship, the lover is in the beloved, inasmuch as he reckons what is good or evil to his friend, as being so to himself; and his friend’s will as his own, so that it seems as though he felt the good or suffered the evil in the person of his friend. Hence it is proper to friends “to desire the same things, and to grieve and rejoice at the same,” as the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix, 3 and Rhet. ii, 4). Consequently in so far as he reckons what affects his friend as affecting himself, the lover seems to be in the beloved, as though he were become one with him: but in so far as, on the other hand, he wills and acts for his friend’s sake as for his own sake, looking on his friend as identified with himself, thus the beloved is in the lover…Mutual indwelling in the love of friendship can be understood in regard to reciprocal love: inasmuch as friends return love for love, and both desire and do good things for one another…The beloved is contained in the lover, by being impressed on his heart and thus becoming the object of his complacency. On the other hand, the lover is contained in the beloved, inasmuch as the lover penetrates, so to speak, into the beloved.
So let’s begin our search for friendship before the altar, in the presence of the sacred host, and leave our internet searches for later! This is the way to begin with confidence to find what our hearts need in order to obey the Lord’s command.
In the presence of our friend, that is, of Jesus or anyone else who belongs to him, St. Thomas tells us that there are three ways we can fulfill the part of the commandment that says that we should love one another as Christ has loved us.
1. Gratuitously: this means that as God has loved us first, we do should take the initiative in loving. We don’t wait passively, but we seek the good of the other freely, and not as a payment or a debt in justice. He tells us that we have not chosen him; he has chosen us. So we love first, imitating his goodness. This does not mean our love will always be accepted. Christ’s love wasn’t. But as Christians we have no choice but to love first, even if it may mean we get hurt trying.
One thing is certain, though: if you go before the Blessed Sacrament, your freely given love will always be accepted and returned. So don’t mope around sadly if your love is not appreciated; go before the Lord where it will be, and get yourself the grace to soldier on lovingly.
2. Effectively: this means that we must be willing, as the Gospel tells us today, to lay down our life for our friends. This is the proof that our love is strong and not a passing thing. Christ is so true a friend that he died even for those who were his enemies in order to win for them the grace to become his friends. That is the most effective love of all.
3. Rightly: He says “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Loving first and loving powerfully doesn’t mean justifying our friends if they do wrong; in fact it means moving them to do right by our example and our love, inspiring them to live as friends of God, struggling to keep his commandments.
May Jesus make you and me free, powerful, and upright in our love for our neighbor in the likeness of himself, our friend, and so to dwell in him and he in us.