Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year A – Acts 8:5-8,14-17; Ps 66:1-7,16,20; 1 Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21
Both this week and last, we’ve heard Gospel passages taken from the Last Supper discourse. Today’s Gospel includes some difficult passages, but we can break it down and consider just some small pieces, and how they apply to our lives: first, Christ’s remark that the one who loves Him keeps His word, meaning, His commandments, second, that the Father will love a person who does that, and third, the references to the Holy Spirit. So, the one who loves Christ puts it into action, the Father will love such a one, and the Holy Spirit.
Regarding the first, Christ tells His Apostles: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” The person who really loves Christ, not only has the commandments, meaning, knows them, but also follows and observes them. Saint Gregory the Great said that “the proof, the showing forth of love, is found in deeds. The love of God is never idle: if it’s real, it does great things. If it refuses to work, it’s not real.” Saint Thomas Aquinas, noting the sadness of the Apostles at the Last Supper, says that it is as if Jesus were to have said, “You don’t express your love for me by tears but by obedience to my commands, for this is a clear sign of love.” We can think as well of the last contemplation in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius: the contemplation to attain love. Before even starting the contemplation, Ignatius mentions two fundamental truths: first, that love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words, and, second, that love consists in a mutual sharing of goods. It’s not that words are bad, but, as the saying goes, “talk is cheap.” It’s one thing to talk about loving God, to discuss moral issues, and to study the Bible and the Catechism. These are good things, and we need to do them; however, what we really need to do is to live out these teachings.
A good measure for our love of God is the love that we have for our neighbors. In his first letter Saint John tells us that “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). The Servant of God Dorothy Day put that same idea in other words when she said “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
In Jesus’ words, we are given to understand that living out the commandments won’t be an easy task. We’re told that the Holy Spirit will come to us, to strengthen and comfort us, but that the world will not accept Him. The implication, then, is that the world will not accept us either, a point which Jesus makes explicit later on in the following chapter of John’s Gospel, as He tells His disciples: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
To know the commandments is perhaps not so difficult: we have the Bible, the Catechism, and so many encyclicals and documents of the Church. It takes time, study, and reflection, but it can be done. However, to live them out is much more difficult. This is the battle in our world: oftentimes the world tries to get us to compromise, to be silent, or to convince us that we have things wrong. It either tries to steal the word of God from us, like the seed sown where the birds eat it up, or, when we live it out, it tries to silence us by rejecting, ridiculing, or even persecuting us. This is precisely why Peter, in the second reading, tells us to remain firm. Indeed, writing from his own experience of suffering and persecution, he reminds his readers: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope [we could say, know your faith, know the commandments], but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.” Gentleness and reverence: even the worst persecutors, the basest detractors, the most hardened, loud-mouthed, angry sinners, are still children of God. It’s worth noting that the Greek word Peter uses for gentleness is πραΰτητος (prautētos), which doesn’t have the pejorative meanings that we sometimes associate with the English word. Rather, it’s the word used for a wild horse that had been tamed, or a power that was under control. It doesn’t mean watering down the truth, but rather presenting it with control, giving the person what they are able to handle, and always remembering to see the person of Christ in them, no matter how marred that image might have become on account of sin.
Regarding the second, Christ twice emphasizes that “my Father will love” the one who loves Him. In both cases, it’s interesting that Christ puts the verb in the future, “the Father will love.” This might seem a little odd, because we know that God has loved us from all eternity, and that He loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for us, even before we were born, even knowing how sinful we would be. Certainly, God loved us before.
As Saint Thomas Aquinas explains, this future love means that “God will show the effect of His love,” in other words, the person who knows His commandments and keeps them will be so loved by God as to warrant seeing Him face-to-face in heaven, the ultimate and greatest effect of God’s love. When a soul gives itself entirely to God, when it truly seeks Him with all its heart, God rewards it with the gift of Himself, the fulfillment of all desires. The condition for that, however, is that we really give ourselves to Him entirely: in The Way of Perfection, Saint Teresa of Jesus writes, “God refuses to force our will. He takes what we give Him, but does not give Himself wholly until He sees that we are giving ourselves entirely to Him.”
We can ask ourselves: how well do we try to keep God’s commandments, especially out of pure love for Him? Do we really believe that He rewards those who seek Him? Do we really want that reward?
Lastly, in the first reading and in the Gospel, we heard references to the Holy Spirit. In the first reading, Peter and John laid hands on the people of Samaria so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Incidentally, this passage provides a scriptural basis for the sacrament of Confirmation: the Samaritans had been baptized, but the Holy Spirit came later, after the laying on of hands.
Likewise, in the Gospel, Jesus tells His listeners that “the world cannot accept [the Holy Spirit], because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.” While there is a great deal that could be said about the Holy Spirit and the comfort He gives, we can consider just one phrase: that the world neither sees nor knows the Holy Spirit. Aquinas tells us that the Holy Spirit remains in us through His gifts, but those who are worldly don’t receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit because they don’t want them, and they don’t want those gifts, in turn, because they don’t know Him. The Angelic Doctor says there’s two reasons why the world and those who are worldly don’t know the Holy Spirit. First, they don’t want to know Him. The world loves its own, and hates anything that doesn’t belong to it. Second, however, the world doesn’t know the Holy Spirit precisely because the love of worldly things blinds it: “Just as a tainted tongue does not taste sweet flavors,” says Aquinas, “so a soul tainted by the corruption of the world does not taste the sweetness of heavenly things.” Perhaps in simpler terms, and more easily applicable to our lives, we’re reminded that we need to see God’s hand at work everywhere: His Providence extends to every place, moment, and time. To say, for instance, that God had no part in this or that event or happening, is to be worldly. It is to refuse to see God at work and, while we pray for the conversion of such people, “God is not mocked,” as Saint Paul wrote the Galatians. “A man shall reap only what he sows.” If we refuse to see God at work now, in our lives, then there’s no reason we should expect Him to work at the end of our lives, giving us the grace of final perseverance.
As the Easter season approaches its end, with the upcoming celebrations of the Ascension and Pentecost, it is good to take some time to consider the Holy Spirit and the role He plays in our lives. We can ask ourselves how we respond to the difficulties that present themselves in our lives, the troubles and hardships we receive from others. If we have never faced any sort of difficulty because of our faith, we should seriously examine the way we are living, because “the world loves its own.” Through the intercession of Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, let us ask for the grace to center our lives on Christ, and to love Him both in word and in deed.