Love Is Contagious

Love Is Contagious

5th Sunday after Easter

In today’s Gospel we hear our blessed Lord say to the apostles: Amen, amen, I say to you: if you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto, you have not asked any thing in my name. Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full (Jn 16:23-24).

What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ Name?  To pray in Jesus’ name is first of all to acknowledge who Jesus is. It is to profess faith in His divinity. It is to believe that He is truly the Son of God, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, as we say in the Nicene Creed. Secondly it is to ask for things that are in accordance with His mission of Saviour of mankind, that is to say, things that are for our salvation. If we pray with true faith and we ask for the salvation of our soul and all that is helpful for our salvation, then we are praying in Jesus’ name, and we are always answered: Whatever you ask the Father in my name, it will be given to you.

This does not mean we cannot ask for other things as well, such as good health, a good job,  preservation from natural disasters, healing from sickness, world peace, etc. The Church herself prays for all the intentions of the world, as is evident in particular this week with the rogation days, celebrated on the three days immediately before the Ascension. They are days of more intense prayer for all the needs of the Christian people and the world, and we are invited to unite our prayers and penances with those of the entire Church.

As if to encourage us in our prayer, Our Lord goes on to give us one of the most consoling verses in the whole Bible, when He says: The Father Himself loves you. By these words, our blessed Saviour, once and for all, puts to rest all the myths of paganism, all the soul-searching of false religions, all the fears even of Christians who spend their lives wondering if God really loves them. The Father Himself loves you. The Father is love. God is charity: and he that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him (1 Jn 4:16). We must never doubt for an instant God’s love for us. To do so would be sadden the very heart of God.

The Father loves you, says Our Lord, because you have loved me and have believed that I came forth from God. In other words, God is pleased when souls respond with love to His loving advances. He is pleased when souls put their faith in the One He has sent to be the Saviour of the world. Pope Benedict XVI wrote some beautiful words about this in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God’s mystery and trusts Him even at times of darkness. Faith tells us that God has given His Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in His hands and that, … in spite of all darkness He ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God” (Deus Caritas Est, 39).

The love that God has shown us should manifest in practice. Indeed, if the first commandment is to love God above all things, the second is to love our neighbour as ourself. This is no doubt why today’s epistles reminds us of the duties of charity: if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue but deceiving his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world (Jam 1:26-27). The service of the needs of others, however, must be animated by true love for them. Otherwise it could degenerate into a soulless social service. Pope Benedict wrote in the aforementioned encyclical: “Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift” (ibid. 34). That last passage might remind you of those touching words of the apostle St Paul writing to the Thessalonians: we became little ones in the midst of you, as if a nurse should cherish her children: so desirous of you, we would gladly impart unto you not only the gospel of God but also our own souls: because you were become most dear unto us (1Th 2:7-8). In other words, when we are inspired by the love of God to reach out to our neighbour, we cannot do so in truth unless we give not only things that we have but ourselves as well.

The history of the Church gives us countless examples of saints who understood that if God has loved us so much, we must love each other with all our strength and talents. We must give ourselves. The names of Francis of Assisi, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Teresa of Calcutta and so many others are there as living and lasting models of the heights of sanctity to which God’s love can lead. But we must add that Our blessed Mother stands out among them all as the mirror of all holiness. Pope Benedict gives us a summary of Our Lady’s virtues at the end of his encyclical. He tells us that in the Gospel we find her engaged in a service of charity to her cousin Elizabeth to assist her in the final phase of her pregnancy. On the occasion of that visit, Mary expresses in the Magnificat “her whole programme of life: not setting herself at the centre, but leaving space for God, who is encountered both in prayer and in service of neighbour—only then does goodness enter the world. Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself. She is lowly: her only desire is to be the handmaid of the Lord (cf. Lk 1:38, 48). She knows that she will only contribute to the salvation of the world if, rather than carrying out her own projects, she places herself completely at the disposal of God’s initiatives. Mary is a woman of hope: only because she believes in God’s promises and awaits the salvation of Israel, can the angel visit her and call her to the decisive service of these promises. Mary is a woman of faith: Blessed are you who believed, Elizabeth says to her (cf. Lk 1:45). The Magnificat—a portrait, so to speak, of her soul—is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the Word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the Word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the Word of God; the Word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the Word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. … Finally, Mary is a woman who loves. How could it be otherwise? As a believer who in faith thinks with God’s thoughts and wills with God’s will, she cannot fail to be a woman who loves. We sense this in her quiet gestures, as recounted by the infancy narratives in the Gospel. We see it in the delicacy with which she recognises the need of the spouses at Cana and makes it known to Jesus. We see it in the humility with which she recedes into the background during Jesus’ public life, knowing that the Son must establish a new family and that the Mother’s hour will come only with the Cross, which will be Jesus’ true hour (cf. Jn 2:4; 13:1). When the disciples flee, Mary will remain beneath the Cross (cf. Jn 19:25-27); later, at the hour of Pentecost, it will be they who gather around her as they wait for the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).” (Pope Benedict XVI, ibid. 41).

In the example of Our Lady and the saints we see how love becomes possible through intimate union with God, for when one is deeply united with Him, one is totally immersed in Him, as it were, and one drinks of the fountain of His love and this in turn becomes an inexhaustible source of fraternal charity and service.