St. John tells in today’s second reading that God is Love. It is to this Love that the Easter season, our fifty-day journey celebrating the Easter mystery, keeps directing us. The essence of God is his love, which is most powerfully expressed through the Death of Christ on the Cross. Strikingly, St. John describes love in these words: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” In a similar vein, St. Paul tells us that “God proves his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that this is the greatest love of all: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Why did the Son of God “lay down his life”? So that we may have eternal life. The gift of eternal life through the Death and Resurrection of Christ is offered to every human being in all the nations of the world. When we read the expression in today’s Psalm, “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power,” we are to recognize that the “saving power” of the Lord, the power to save us from sin and death, is revealed to all nations in his Death and Resurrection.
Stressing the universality of God’s saving power, St. Peter declares in today’s first reading: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” Peter shows both that God’s saving power is for all people and that, for us to benefit from it, we must be open to it and accept it. The example set before us is that of Cornelius and other Gentiles of his household. As they listened devoutly to the word preached by Peter, they responded with a holy fear of God and acted uprightly.
How can we persevere in fear of God and in upright action? In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a straightforward command: “Remain in my love.” He goes on to explain how to remain in his love: “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” Acting uprightly, then, means keeping Christ’s commandments. The Lord is not speaking about a burdensome set of moral obligations. He is directing us in his own way, the way of love. When we love God and love our neighbor, we put into practice the covenant that he has made with us – and so we remain in his love.
Jesus emphasizes the commandment of love in today’s Gospel: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Loving one another as he loves us means desiring and working for the salvation of the other. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that to love someone is to will the good of the person loved. The highest good that we can will for anyone is that they enter into the fullness of life in union with God. This is “eternal life”; this is the salvation that Jesus has won for us by becoming an “expiation for our sins.”
When we will the good of the other, when we desire and work for their salvation, we put ourselves in the realm of God; we participate in the life of God who is Love. This is what it means to “act uprightly.” It is the way of life most “acceptable to God” because it is his own way, his own love, at work in us.
In our effort to keep the commandment of loving one another as Christ loves us, it is important that we pay attention to “as he loves us.” “As he loves us” is the standard of our love. Our love will only bear fruit if we are united with him, following his way. For this reason, we need to seek him in prayer and allow ourselves to be formed and transformed by him. The Catechism explains the profound link between prayer and love: “Contemplative prayer seeks him ‘whom my soul loves.’ It is Jesus, and in him, the Father. We seek him, because to desire him is always the beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of him and to live in him” (CCC 2709). From our union with Love comes forth our love for one another. To draw nearer to the One who is Love draws us into a bond of love with all those whom he loves.
Am I remaining in the love of Jesus by keeping his commandments? Is it my great desire and will for everyone to enter into the fullness of life in union with God? Do I seek him in that pure faith which causes me to be born of him and to live in him?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.