The Daily Bread, 11th May, 2020: Love is a doing
Readings: Acts 14:5-18; Psalm 113B(115):1-4,15-16; John 14:21-26
Do you love Christ? The answer to that is to be found not on your lips but in what you do. Taking an honest look at your life will tell you if, and to what degree, you love Christ. Speaking words of love are certainly important, vital even. A child who might feel scared and anxious during the pandemic can be greatly reassured by the words of love from mum and dad. During times of tension in a marriage, the courage to say, “I love you”, can bring healing and restore calm.
But even in these instances, the words ring hollow if they are not followed through in action. So, Jesus is simply reflecting this back to us when he says in the Gospel today, “the one who receives and keeps my commandments will be one who loves me.”
Wordy protestations of love will not do. Nor does a lot of thinking suffice. I cannot “think myself” into loving Christ. Reading books about the love of Jesus does not mean that I am actually loving him. It might mean I want to love him or I would like to love him or, “wouldn’t it be good to love him as this book says?”
By the same token, an inner feeling of love for Jesus, and however convinced I may feel that I love him, is no guarantee that in actual reality, in the cold light of day, I do in fact love him.
Words, books, thoughts, feelings of love for Jesus are all praiseworthy. They are all good signs. But they only remain signs. The “hard-core” love for Jesus is practical and sustained obedience to his commandments. It comes down to the plain old fact of whether I do obey him or I do not. To the degree I do, then to that degree I love him. To the degree I do not, then to that degree I do not love him. But can love for anyone in the end really be love if it is limited to degrees? There are different types of love, of course: C.S. Lewis speaks of the “four loves”: empathy (storge), friendship (philia), married (eros) and divine (agape). But each of these four demands the whole of our love, especially agape, if not immediately then in a sustained crescendo.
So, if love, agape, for Christ means to obey his commandments, then we need to know them! That is why we have the teaching of Christ the Groom in the Gospel and the teaching of the Church his Bride in matters related to our salvation (faith and morals). If love of Christ is alight in us at all, we will desire to know more and more of this teaching so as to obey it more and more. For then we are like the lover who pursues with a holy restlessness the wishes of his beloved in order to fulfil them.
But we won’t be loving the Lord if we make up our own version of his commandments, or pick and choose the ones that suit us. For then we are only loving ourselves and calling it love for Christ. Obedience to Christ’s will, will cost us. It will purify us of self-will and of the illusions which the world throws at us to decoy us from following the Lord. But what love does not cost? A costless love is no love. No matter how “easy” today’s world would have us believe love is (easy to fall into and easier still to fall out of), true love is never a saunter down the lane or a walk in the park. True love if pursued sincerely will strip us of self, will shift our centre away from self and false substitutes, will tear open our heart and blow open our mind. True love will lead us to die to ourselves so that only the beloved matters. For the love of the beloved is better than life. “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting; my body pines for you like a dry weary land without water … for your love is better than life” Psalm 62).
Nor can we throw in conscience as the trump card to exempt ourselves from the law of Christ. Conscience is an exercise of the mind to see how best to obey Christ in a given situation, not to toss his law to the wind so as to justify what I already always wanted to do in the first place. The conscience is not the source of the truth of Christ but its servant. If we overrule Christ invoking conscience then we are overruling love. We are wanting Christ to obey our rule of conscience, not to obey his law.
Not even the words of love of Christ himself, however beautiful they are, are enough. Without his Cross, his words, too, would be empty. If you look at the Creed, there is no mention of love (and even less of conscience). There is mention in plenty of his deeds of love: the Creator of heaven and earth, the incarnation, suffering, death, etc. of Christ. There is mention of the deeds of love of the Spirit in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, the sacraments, the resurrection of the body. So, when Christ asks us to show we love him by doing what he commands, he is only asking us to do what he himself already did for us.
And what is the outcome of our obedience? “If anyone loves me, he will keep my commandments, and I will love him and show myself to him; … the Father and I will come to him and make our home with him.” Our obedient love for Christ makes us the home of God. As husband and wife set up home once married, so the Lord Jesus and the Father, and with them the holy Spirit, sets up home in us.
We might ask: can I do that? Can I attain to that level of involvement with Christ? Can I let go and pay the cost of shifting the focus of my life, like on a bullseye, to the person of Jesus? The answer to that is yes, I can. It is for this that I was made. It is only in this that I will reach the true fulfilment of my entire being. As the Pope said yesterday, we are made for heaven, and heaven is the eternal love for, and of, Jesus Christ. To attain this fundamental goal of my humanity, I need the help of God. The Holy Spirit and all of the means of grace offered by the Lord in and through his Church will empower me to move firmly towards my goal.
But the real question is not “can I?” but “do I actually want this?” There are so many things that can take up the horizon of our wants. Some are worthy, some less so. Some can only last a short time or maybe in the medium term. One way perhaps to help focus the mind and the will is to ask this question: at the hour of death, what will I wish I had wanted and chosen to pursue now? Single-minded pursuit of the love of Christ or “x”, meaning by “x” anything other than Christ.
The choice of obeying and therefore loving Christ does not mean that I do not choose or want other things as well. It means that my choice of Christ guides me in all my other choices. The choice of Christ is my measuring-stick, my fundamental criterion of decision. Anything, anyone who or which presents itself to my freedom will be accepted or rejected on the basis of whether it damages or enhances my choice of Christ. In other words, my love of Jesus is the light in which I see, examine, accept or reject all other claims on my love.
The time we are living in invites us all to give ourselves a shake and ask what really matters. It is a time to shake off the torpor and semi-drugged state our culture has sleep-walked into due to materialism and egoism. Jesus stands at our door again and knocks, strongly but gently, offering us the invitation into the glorious joys of his meek and humble heart, and through it, of eternity itself. Will you open the door? Or will you sit behind it closed and wish it would open?