God’s Love Lifts Us
Every now and then I meet people who feel that they are of little value. They have low self-esteem. They wonder what difference their life has made. There is often an attendant sense of vulnerability, a powerlessness. The reasons why people feel like this are many. Whatever the cause, they are in this state and they are sad. They often lack confidence and make unfavourable comparisons between themselves and others. Jesus made such people His particular cause to help. He sought them out if they were slow to approach Him. The proactive Saviour-Physician came for the needy. The Gospels are full of people who feel one way or another less than they should be, less than how God would want them to feel. Jesus reached out and said: “Come to me”. We may not experience too many low extremes, but we do become spiritually jaded, a little despondent at times and we feel we are not winning. We need an uplift. We just wish people to understand, God does. This our Gospel.
Jesus tackles people’s low state and its cause for two reasons: first: no one should feel this way. Every human life is part of God’ plan, each life is sacred and has a dignity, purpose and eternal destiny from birth to natural death. Second: people who feel this way do not make good evangelists. Such a disposition cannot do justice to the joy that is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and is a primary attraction of the Christian faith. The Good News needs joyful dissemination. Would you join a miserable people and if you did how long would you stay?
As we continue John Chapter 14, Our Lord gives words of reassurance to His disciples. He touches on powerful themes for the low in spirit: Love and communion. St. John stresses that God is love. Love is God’s Nature. He cannot act any way other than love. This Love exists in the Communion of Love that is the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinity reaches out of its Communion to draw us into Divine communion. This is why Jesus came among us. God wants us in Him, to be always part of Him (the Body of Christ the Church) to live for Him and to one day go with Him to eternal communion, our home in Heaven with our loved ones. I thank Dr. Erich Fromm who gives us useful points about love. It can help us to understand Divine Love as revealed in Jesus.
Love is a discipline. Authentic love goes the distance and can be relied on in all circumstances. Like the advert for Duracell Batteries, genuine love keeps going when others fade; an energy that grows stronger when given and received. We make vows in love not just because we want to express our love but we want it to be maintained. Love must not rely just on how we merely feel, important as feelings are. Love is commitment, commitment needs discipline. It keeps the fearful soldier at his or her post. We add promises to our love so that it will not only flourish but also endure trial and changing circumstances. We can talk of duty in the same way. It is made of the right stuff. That our love is ready for the rough and the smooth. For the better or for the worst. Richer or poorer. In sickness as well as in health. True love does not avoid the difficult. It will do what needs to be done, no matter how challenging. I read of a panicking mother whose love and sense of urgency was able to lift a car to release her injured child. Love gives you an extraordinary strength if you love the other person enough. There is no real love without selflessness and sacrifice. Jesus on the cross teaches us this. No greater love has anyone for us like Jesus.
Love is patient: Love grows, develops, matures. God built up His relationship with His people over centuries, in due course sending His only Son. We remember the love of the Father of the Prodigal Son. His patient love went to the top of the hill confident one day his son would come home and his arms were ready to hold him when this happened. Each day he would return from the brow of the hill and say to himself: “Maybe tomorrow”. Jesus used the image of the seed growing, cared for and maturing, like child birth, it cannot be rushed. True love knows how to wait, to keep vigil by the bedside holding the hand of a loved one. Patient love is empowering, for the person who shows it and the person who receives it. Such love leaves the door open as Jesus always did.
Love is humility: True love has a complete absence of pride. It simply wishes the good of the other. It is the difference between an open hand and a closed fist, the latter cannot serve the God of outreach. Jesus tackled the disciples when He detected pride in their motives: “This must not happen among you”. The humility of Jesus saved the world. He stressed that He came among as one Who serves. At the Last Supper He washed feet. He adopted the servants posture to serve the needs of all and make His grace accessible. The humility of the Lord the world. A visitor to St. Mother Teresa was repelled as he watched her cleaning and bandaging the festering wounds of a leper. He said to her that he wouldn’t do that for a million dollars. Mother Teresa said: “Nor would I. I do it for love”. A priest who gets this right will do great work for God. The only words a priest seeks from the Lord are: “Well done good and faithful servant”. Don’t we all?
Love must have faith: Of course, love can exist to a high quality at the human level. But love purely on the human level can decide how far it is willing to go, who it is willing to spend itself on. It does not draw on a higher power and so is limited in its scope. It can only give itself to so many. This is where love with faith comes into its own. It is not self-determined but Spirit informed. Love with faith has no boundaries. Human love can draw the line of concern. It can choose. It has finite resources to draw on, it can only do so much. Faith-love must always be prepared to go the extra mile, even to love the unlovable and ungrateful. Faith-love is always a little unsettled, wanting to do more. Faith-love draws on the infinite resources of Divine Love. Faith-love believes in miracles. Jesus said such faith can move mountains. The resurrection is the source of faith love.
Love is courage: We must remember that courage is not an absence of fear. It is the presence of a love that is greater than that which is feared. It took courage for Mary of Magdala, a woman of great failing, to enter the house of her arch accuser Simon the Pharisee to see Jesus dining at his table to seek His mercy. She clearly sensed Simon’s disgust but remained on task as she wept and dried Jesus’s feet with her hair. It took courage for the man born blind, cured by Jesus, to stand his ground as the whole weight of officialdom pressed upon him to question the love in Jesus’s kind act. It took a very courageous love for Veronica to push through the hostile crowd and the soldiers with their whips and spears to wipe the face of Jesus. It took courageous love to approach Pontius Pilate to ask for the Lord’s body. Our country has a fine tradition of martyr’s who died for love of God and to preserve the Catholic faith particularly the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass hiding and facilitating their priest in time of persecution. It took loving courage for Blessed Dominic Barberi to take being pelted by stones (one he picked up and kissed), jeered at and had to tolerate all the rejection and obstacles locals put his way. It took courageous love to stay when many would have sought and easier mission.
Love is Joy: Jesus said: “I want you to be happy, I repeat, I want you to be happy”. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and should be evident in one who knows he or she is loved by God. Joy is the most positive disposition and it is also very attractive to others. As I have told you before, you are being watched. People see your disposition. I remember a lovely lady called Mary who was a parishioner in my Wolverhampton days and she worked on the market. She told me no matter how good your wares are they will not sell without help. Presentation is important, make the effort, display your stuff (ever watched the birds of paradise in New Guinea – impressive!). Second: speak, if you stand back, you are just one of the crowd of stalls and blend in with the others, you will not do as well as you could. She was great for selling raffle tickets! You need to call out, show confidence, believe your stuff is worth buying. Each time we meet someone, we lay out our wares for that person to see. We want people to witness our love, sense our hope, be moved by our compassion, be lifted by our joy. This is the leaven God wants us to be. This is how the Church was established as shown in the Acts of the Apostles. In the film: ‘Risen’, I love the scene where the centurion tasked to disprove the resurrection of Jesus is interrogating a disciple of the Lord. He offers him his freedom if he will tell him where Jesus’s other disciples are. He whispers in the centurion’s ear, accompanied by the greatest expression of joy, “They are everywhere!”. The love shown by the Church as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles translates into an obvious and communicable joy that many found attractive and electrifying. People need to see this joy, it has to be identifiable and consistent. Durable joy, not paper thin quickly evaporating in the face of sadness. I am jealous of them. The disciples in the Acts seem such a happy lot, always seeing the sunny side, emphasising the positive, not dwelling on the negative and encouraging each other. I love the name Barnabas: son of encouragement. when opposed and rejected, the disciples throw a party and sing songs for the privilege of enduring hardship for Jesus’s Name and the trials of doing their duty. God’s love can do this for us. It can only do this for others if it is first in ourselves, those today entrusted with the ministry of joy.
Communion: Jesus said: ‘You will understand that I am in the Father and you in me and I in you’. Jesus was keen that His followers felt that they were His friends, in communion with Him. Jesus knew the value of communion often expressed tangibly as friendship. For instance, when He wanted a little rest and recreation He went to the home of His friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Importantly, communion’s absence inhibits. He returned to His home town of Nazareth and He wasn’t made welcome. He found no friendship there and this impeded His miraculous work. The positive and empowering moments of communion were precious to Jesus. He spent nights in prayer to His Father and returned refreshed. He needed His friends with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our sense of communion-oneness with God, Who is Love, is the antidote to the periodic state of worthlessness and despondency we feel from time to time. To feel this solidarity of God Who whispers: ‘We’ll do this together’ gives us the precious confident hope needed in the face of the seemingly insurmountable issues of life. I remember my homeless friend who comes to visit me from time to time. I asked him what his faith did for him living as he was and with his many issues. He said: “Father, my faith tells me that I am not defined by my circumstances”. Whatever the instant judgements the world makes about my friend, he draws on God’s love to give him a dignity that can help him to recover from the callousness and indifference with which he is often treated. This is the communion of one who knows God loves Him and nothing can change or alter that. This is the one given upon which we can all depend. Even if the world passes away God’s love remains.
In chapter 14 of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus promises this love as the greatest security, feeling and sense of joy that He wants to be the hallmark of true believers. He can only leave this world to go back to the Father knowing He has reassured His friends. Post Resurrection, He will soon return in the Holy Spirit to be everywhere in every moment of their lives. This is not only the love that makes the world go around, it gives the world somewhere to go. A final destination, a road that leads to life, a communion with God and our loved ones that makes all the challenging bits of love worthwhile. I see this love in all of you as you shop for those who cannot go out or cannot get out. You just translate your love into practical concern. You take the opportunity to count yourself as blessed and you just want to share your sense of blessing with others. You do it with a smile. This makes your efforts very special and says much about the God who resources and motivates you. Keep up the good work and when you find that the demands of love are proving challenging, just stop join your hands and gently listen, you will hear the Lord whispering in your ear: “We’ll do this together”.
Love and blessings,
Fr. Gerard. x