The Father Loves Us

The Father Loves Us

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Today’s Gospel presents us with what have to be some of the most consoling words of the entire Bible. It is where Our Blessed Lord says: The Father Himself loves you.

Perhaps the apostles were imagining that God had sent His Son to, as it were, check us out, and He was going to have to go and give a report of what He had found. Perhaps they thought they could count on the love of Christ, but were a bit concerned about the Father. Perhaps someday He too might love them, but that seemed like a long shot. After all, Jesus was a man who had lived on this planet for over thirty years, and would have come to develop some affection and concern for us. But the Father?

Our Lord’s words effectively mean this: Well no, you’ve got it all wrong! It’s actually the Father who took the initiative. We already knew that from chapter 3 of St John’s Gospel: God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life. And in his first epistle St John makes it clear the God loved us first, even when we were still sinners.

So God steps in while we are still turned away from Him. He doesn’t come looking for friends; He comes looking for enemies in order to make them His friends. He comes into our world in order to bring us back to Himself, to touch our hearts so that we would allow ourselves to be converted and saved. The Father comes to us through His Son, freely, gratuitously, but not disinterestedly; He does expect something in return; He expects our faith and He expects our love. And that is why in today’s Gospel, Our Lord says: The Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came forth from God.

The virtues of faith and charity are thus stressed. God offers His light and His truth, and expects us to respond to His generous and loving advances. How do we do that? We do it by walking in what St James in today’s epistle calls the “perfect law of liberty”. The expression is meant pique our curiosity. Indeed, law and liberty are two words that in most minds would never be juxtaposed, for they seem to be contradictory. My liberty is constrained by the law, for it prevents me from doing what I please. But it has to be constrained by the law because my liberty is limited by the liberty of others. And so we have the social contract of modern philosophies. In reality, we are not really free to break the law and do evil, for to do evil is to be slave to evil and therefore not to be free at all. Free will is given to us by God in order that we may choose what is perfectly adapted to us, that is to say, what is good.

So what is the law of liberty? It is quite simply the law of the Gospel that Our Lord brought to the world and which allows us to live in the liberty of the Spirit, no longer chained down by our sins and passions, but free to go to God, to live for God, and to serve our neighbour by sacrificing ourselves, which is why St James refers also to the true religion of looking after widows and orphans, that is to say, anyone in need, who is my brother or sister and to whom I therefore have a duty of charity. Only the soul that is established in the perfect law of liberty is free enough to be available at all times for the love which the Lord seeks to make manifest in our daily lives.

The law of liberty is the law of the Gospel. It is the Gospel that has set us free. Free from what? Free from multiple enslavements. First of all from the enslavement of the judicial and ceremonial precepts of the Mosaic law with its innumerable details that even the Jews were not able to observe.  Not freedom however from the moral law, that is to say the Ten Commandments, for those precepts bind everyone in every place, not because they were given by Moses but because they are the very law of nature sanctioned by God and renewed by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who brings that law to its perfection: I came not to abolish but to fulfil (Mt 5). Secondly, freedom from sin and the power of the devil, which the Gospel and the sacraments give us the grace to overcome every step of the way. Thirdly, freedom from fear in such a way that we fulfil the law not because we fear punishment, that is to say, not out of servile fear, but because we love God as His children and seek in all things His justice. Finally, in the resurrection at the end of time we shall be definitively free from death and all misery.

These reminders come at just the right time of the liturgical year, for in just a few days, on Ascension Thursday, we shall consider Our Lord’s sacred humanity rising triumphantly into Heaven, beyond all earthy influence and power. He takes us with him so that we no longer have desire or relish for the things of earth but only for the things of Heaven (cf Colossians 3). Such is the freedom, the perfect law of freedom into which we have been admitted by Baptism. If we do not yet feel like we are free, it may be because we have submitted ourselves once again to the demands of the flesh and the world, to the law of slavery. But the freedom is always there for the asking. It is our baptismal birthright. Make sure you redeem your freedom and never again become the slave of sin.

To ensure that we don’t go back to that enslavement, the Church reminds us frequently of the infallible means at our disposal, namely prayer. The rogation days are designed to reconnect us in a more fervent way with prayer. They remind us that, whatever we ask in Jesus’ name we receive. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray for those things necessary to our salvation and perfection, that is to say for our true liberation. How could Our Blessed Lord refuse us anything when we ask for what He Himself wants to give? Let us then renew our spirit of prayer and our devotion to it. We do not pray when we have time; we make time to pray. As Mother Teresa was fond of saying: “If you want to pray better, pray more.” And as Abbot John Chapman wrote: “The less you pray the worse it gets.” Fidelity to prayer each day is the only way to make sure we remain in the realm of true freedom.

Nor can we forget that May is the month of Mary, and so let us renew our recourse to praying through her intercession, she who is the mediatrix of all grace. On this day we also commemorate a great devotee of Our Lady, Pope St Pius V, the great Dominican pope who is interred in the church of St Mary Major in Rome, and who, in addition to giving us the apostolic liturgical rites brought to their perfection, codifying them for all posterity and giving every priest of the Roman rite the non-negotiable right to use those rites until the end of time, is also the Pope who saved Christendom thanks to his devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary and thus won the decisive naval battle of Lepanto over the Turks in 1571.

May St Pius V intercede for us and help us to achieve that perfection of the law of liberty that our Blessed Lord came to give us. May the saintly pontiff teach us how to not let ourselves be captivated by the slavery of political ideologies, of crooked theologies, or of distorted, horizontal liturgies, the work of human and not divine hands. May his examples of a holy and austere life and his intercessory prayers for us help us to let ourselves be loved by the Father, to let Him open our hearts so that we may no longer resist that divine love that is ever seeking an entrance into our hearts, and that this newfound freedom may give us that fulness of joy that Our Blessed Lord wants so dearly to give us.