5th Sunday after Easter
My Dear Friends,
The Father Himself loves you. These have to be some of the most consoling words in all of Holy Scripture, and even in all the written annals of humanity. The Father loves you. It was the great revelation of the New Testament. The gods of Greece and Rome loved themselves; the gods of the East did not know the meaning of the word. The God of Israel alone loves His people and seeks to save. Indeed, His love was made manifest in the prophets, but its full revelation from the very mouth of the Word Incarnate astounds us; it leaves us speechless: The Father Himself loves us; this revelation takes humanity into an entirely new era.
It is not true that Christianity subjugated the world thanks to political persuasion, even less through military power. The only force of Christianity lies precisely in this most revolutionary of ideas: God loves us. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Such is the fundamental message of our faith, that each one of us, regardless of our walk of life, must proclaim by word and deed. As St James tells us in today’s epistle, we must not just be hearers of the word, but doers also.
We must admit that this love of God for us is not easy to fathom. Can the almighty and all-knowing God really care about the likes of the poor humans that we are? That is precisely why St John tells us: We have believed in the Love that God has for us – credidimus caritati (1 Jn 4:16). We believe in His love because He has manifested it to us in His Son.
God’s love comes first, He takes the initiative. He did so when He gave us the awesome dignity of entering His family through holy Baptism and being strengthened with the Holy Spirit through Confirmation. He takes the initiative every time we are in need of forgiveness and He invites us to the sacrament of Penance in which He offers us His mercy. He takes the initiative when He offers us the mystery of His Holy Body in Holy Communion, sacrament which perfects our union with our God.
This constant initiative of God in our lives, this continual act of loving us first inspires us to take the initiative with our neighbour; we cannot remain barricaded in our tower of ivory, but must take the Good News out, to anyone who will listen, and even to those who will not, for the Lord did not command us to share His truth only with those who are well-disposed, but with all, for God’s grace is sometimes waiting right there, for the Word to be shared, so that it may take root and bear fruit. This is what Our Lord means when He says to the apostles: The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed. You have loved me, and are ready to follow me in bringing salvation to the world.
God takes the initiative, and He expects a reply. In the Old Testament, Israel is often compared to a woman who has abandoned her husband and run off with other lovers. Over and over again she abandons the true God and lets herself be seduced by false gods. This causes such grief to the Heart of God that it runs like a leitmotif throughout the Old Testament.
God takes the initiative, and He expects a response, a loving response that is based on faith: because you have loved me and have believed, Our Lord says today to His apostles. Faith in God and love for Him which manifests itself through good works, such are the means by which we love God in return and can, from the adulteress bride, be reconciled once again to the love of our Lord. If we too have been like that adulteress wife, if we too have run off to strange gods, let us come back and be reconciled, and pour the sweet balm of love into the heart of our Saviour.
The Church, in her rich liturgical tradition, gives us numerous means of doing this. Throughout the year the mystery of salvation is presented to us in such a way as to let our hearts be touched by grace. According to a tradition that goes back at least 15 centuries, and in particular to St Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne in France, the first three days of this week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are called Rogation Days, that is to say, days of special prayers and fasting, preparing us for the feast of the Ascension on Thursday. On each of these three days, Holy Mass is preceded by a procession during which we sing the Litany of Saints to ask for God’s protection upon our people, our flocks, our land, that all evil, disease and calamity may be warded off. It is an opportunity for us to remember and pray for all those who are suffering from disease, either themselves or from the effects it is having on the world. We pray in particular for those who are still unable to have access to their churches and the sacraments, as for those who have lost their livelihood.
My dear Friends, it is challenging to believe in the love of God in a world which is tormented in so many ways. But we must never tire of reminding the world that all these situations happen precisely because we have failed to return God love for love. So let us turn back to Him, and sing in our hearts to the one who has come to save us.
Ament et cantabunt, wrote said St Augustine: Let them love, and they will sing. And so we monks try to do. We try to love, and out of love, we sing. May our chant be pleasing in His sight.
St John of the Cross tells us that “the smallest act of pure love has more value in the sight of God and brings the Church more profit than all other acts put together”. So what must we say of those who strive to suffuse all their words and deeds with pure love of God! Only in eternity will we see the fruits of our love, but we can be sure that thousands upon thousands of souls will owe the grace of their conversion, or their overcoming temptation, or their vocation to religious life or the priesthood, or the grace of perseverance, to the silent, persevering influence of souls who truly love.
Let us love, and let us sing.