I recently took a run down to Ardrossan just for a walk and change of scenery. It’s always nice to be able to go back to the old home town, especially when you can take it easy and reminisce. In my lifetime there, we lived in three different houses: Coalhill Place, McKellar Avenue and Bath Square. On my recent visit, I didn’t “do the rounds”, as it were, but I did turn the car into Bath Square and parked where I used to park when I came home from my journeys abroad.
In a daft kind of way, I looked towards the door and windows of number 11 as if expecting to see mum or dad appear. I saw no-one. In a strange kind of way I rather preferred that to seeing some “stranger” in my home! After a few minutes, I drove off and parked in the grounds of St. Peter’s church and walked along the front prom. I have memories there of childhood summer days, runny ice-cream cones, deck chairs that never quite sat right, games of putting and swimming trunks that didn’t quite fit.
As I looked at the mansions along the front, I had memories of almost every one of them. St. Peter’s church, first of all, where “it all happened.” Then, there were the Misericorde Sisters who had the convent, the Verona Fathers who had the place next to them, Dr. Leahy’s surgery, a guest house run by a cousin, the now disappeared Kilmeny Hotel where I had my ordination reception, and so on.
The nostalgia was strong, but of course nostalgia itself tells you that something’s missing. The truth is that home is only home because of the presence and love of mum and dad. When they are gone, home is gone – or rather it has shifted elsewhere. As a priest friend once said to me after my mother had died, “your heart will be that little bit more in heaven now.”
I realise, of course, that sometimes, sadly, home does not always hold good memories for people. Yet, even they would probably have wished that it had. The very word home, for most people though, has an irresistible pull. It awakens very strong feelings and longings. Even if it has had its problems, it’s where we all want there to be a love that is total and unconditional and a deep and abiding joy and peace coming from that love.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is longing for home, his home and ours. He expresses the powerful longing of his own heart for home in equally powerful and simple words.
He begins, “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” Try for a moment to use your spiritual fantasy to imagine the love of God the Father for his Son as it was from all eternity before anything else at all existed. Imagine that huge, bright, flaming pillar of fire by which God revealed himself to the Israelites on the night they crossed the Red Sea. Now imagine another pillar of fire slowly emerging from the first, equal in power and majesty and light. In the Creed we say that the Son proceeds from the Father as light from light. He proceeds out of love and in love. That light from light is the light of love. The Father is an eternal furnace of divine love. The Son finds his origin in the Father and is himself an eternal furnace of divine love. The Father’s love is the origin without origin, the beginning without beginning. We say many things about the Father: that he is almighty – yes, almighty in love; that he is everywhere – yes, he is love in person everywhere; that he is all wise – yes, with the wisdom of love. If you think of all the superlative attributes we might give to God the Father, he is all of them in love. And He gives all of them to the Son in love. All of the magnificence and magnitude of the Father is poured out in utter and infinite love upon the Son.
If we listen again to Jesus, we will grasp something even more astonishing, for he says: “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” That means that Jesus has poured out upon us all that he has received from the Father and in the same way that the Father gave it to him. We are ourselves become a third pillar of fire as we catch fire from the Spirit of Christ. He is treating us as God. By doing so, he is making it possible for us to love him, to love the Father, to love one another and, yes, to love even our very own selves with the purity and power and abundance of the divine love itself. “The world is ablaze with the glory of God”, says Gerard Manley Hopkins, and it is the blazing and glorious love of The Father, in and through The Son, communicated to us in and through the Spirit.
Not only does he want that love for us. He wants us to abide in it, to dwell in it, to make our home in it, to identify ourselves by it and in it. He wants divine love to be our name, our home. To be where we stay, where we remain, where we are planted and rooted. And since that love is the dwelling place of the Father and the Son, what he means is that he wants us to be at home in God.
Jesus speaks about how he keeps his Father’s commands and in that way remains in his love. The Father is not commanding the Son to do anything more or less than he did himself: i.e., to give himself entirely, to lay down his life in love. This is what the Father did for the Son. And it is the same command he gives us: to lay down our lives for him, that is, to love him as he has loved us, with the very love he has given us to be able to love him in return.
Christ’s supreme act of love on the Cross makes present in the history of the world the Father’s supreme act of love for his Son from all eternity. It also mirrors to us the supreme act of love he wants us to exercise for him and for one another. The Cross is the shape of divine love in itself; it is the shape of divine love for sinful man; and it is the shape of redeemed man’s love for God and for his neighbour. When we come to the Cross, when we embrace the Cross, when we carry the Cross, it is that love to which we come, which we embrace and which we carry.
No wonder, then, that Jesus tells us all this so that his own joy may be in us and our joy be complete. Complete joy is born of complete love. And only the love of the Father for the Son, the Son’s love for us and our love for God and for one another completes that circle. The Cross reveals divine love. Through the Cross, complete divine joy will be ours.