The Greater Love

The Greater Love

During the Discourse after the Last Supper, Our Blessed Lord gave us the sign at which His true disciples can be recognised: At this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. That fraternal love is exemplified in today’s Gospel in which Our Lord, repeating but perfecting the commandment Thou shalt not kill, puts us on our guard even against giving in to thoughts, words or actions inspired by anger against one of our brothers.  This is just one of the instances where we see the perfection of the New Law over the Old. The commandment to love our neighbour as ourself reaches its full scope, and we are admonished to take utmost care not to offend a brother who, like us, has been redeemed with the Precious Blood of Our Lord and who is called to enjoy with us the beatific vision of God in eternity.

Our Lord instructs us to leave our gift before the altar in order to be first reconciled with our brother, for God loves us more than our gift and, if we are lost through lack of love for our brother, then our offering will not avail us. The Lord speaks of a brother “who has something against us”, which can imply a real offence of our brother or even a supposed one. The implication is that we need to do everything in our power to be reconciled with our brethren. St Benedict in the chapter four of the Rule, teaches us to “make peace with one’s adversary before sundown”.

But what if the adversary does not want peace, or does not accept our offer of peace, or what if, in verbally accepting it, it is clear that he hasn’t digested it? And what if we were not at fault at all in the matter? What if he has concocted the whole thing and made himself out to be the victim whereas in reality he is the one at fault? Our Lord’s words referring to the brother “who has something against us” make it clear, so it seems to me, that every effort should be made on our part to reconcile, to make up. If our efforts prove to be futile, or if, given the situation, it seems that those efforts will only make the matter worse, what then? As far as it lies in us, we must always be ready to forgive, to forget, to reconcile. We must not, to quote the Rule chapter four once again, “nurse a grudge, hold guile in one’s heart, make a feigned peace, or forsake charity”. As far as we are concerned, we must forgive all offenses, and should our adversary be so entrenched and bitter, we must pray with the Lord on the cross, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Even were we to be betrayed and slandered, our heart must always go out to the offender, begging the Lord to forgive, and being ready to offer forgiveness when it is requested. To use a scholastic expression, “in praeparatione animi” we should always have pardon ready in our heart and, as soon as the favourable occasion arises, on our lips.  This sometimes demands patience, awaiting the opportunity, when things have calmed down and the dust has settled.

The Matins reading this morning gives us an astounding example of such a disposition of soul in David. Saul had on numerous occasions tried to kill him, but David, out of respect for the king, refused to lay his hand on Saul when he had the opportunity to do so. To raise his hand against the anointed one of the Lord, no never! Not only does he wait, without results, for Saul’s conversion, but when he learns of his death, he gives himself over to lamentation. Saul was king, Saul was a benefactor, Saul had been chosen by God, Saul was a soul created for God, and Saul was lost. David cannot hide his heartache, he weeps aloud, leaving us one of the most poignant lamentations in Holy Scripture which our liturgy gives to us in the legendary antiphon “Montes Gelboe”.

Where did David find the virtue to love his enemy to the point of weeping at his death? Is it not in his love for Jonathan who, in this particular passage, represents Christ? David tells us that Jonathan’s love meant more to him than the love of women. When we think of the serious trouble David’s passion for women got him into , we can only admire the noble sentiments of this chaste friendship with Jonathan, which is the model of the consecrated soul’s love for Christ. It is in our love for Christ that we draw love for neighbour. It is in our spousal love for Christ that we learn to embrace the hardships of being warriors for God without the satisfactions of the flesh. The love of Christ, a personal love for Him as our God and our All, is the motor behind all the prodigies of monastic history. It is there that one learns to practice all the virtues, from zeal for the liturgy and for sharing the truths of the faith and of eternity to the forgiveness of offenses and fidelity to the duties of each day.

On this day, let us ask the holy king and prophet David, whom the Book of Sirach tells us, “with his whole being loved his Maker and daily had His praises sung”, to teach us to “prefer nothing to the Love of Christ” and to find in that love, all the grace and courage we need to bring Christ to others, and others to Christ.