Fifth Sunday after Easter
The Father Himself loves you.
On this last Sunday before the Ascension of Our Lord, Holy Mother Church reads to us that final discourse of Our Lord with His disciples, specifically the passage in which we are encouraged to lift up our minds and hearts with total confidence. Our Lord gives the reason, the fundamental, great reason for all our hope, a word that shook the world to its very foundations, causing the greatest spiritual revolution in human history, that word that none of the ancient philosophers who had arrived at the certitude of God’s existence could have imagined, that word which even the wisdom of Israel could not have expressed with such clarity. In it the Saviour bequeaths to the world the ultimate revelation, the astounding truth straight from the Heart of God: The Father Himself loves you.
We know that Jesus and the Father are equal, one in Divinity with the Holy Spirit. We know Jesus loved us to death, pouring out His life blood for us; we know that the Holy Spirit is poured forth as the love of God in our hearts. But when we hear Our Lord say, The Father Himself loves you, we feel something different. For the Eternal Father, the First Person of the Blessed Trinity, is the origin, the fount, the principal of the Godhead. Even though there is no question of His being first in time or in power – the Three Divine Persons are coeternal and perfectly equal –, it remains that the Father is the origin of all. And so when we hear those words, then it is that the truth really hits us: God Eternal, in whom, by whom, for whom all things exist, has literally loved us into existence. We did not have to be. We did not have to exist. God was eternally and infinitely happy in Himself. And yet, He so willed to share His bliss with us. He loved us. He loved us first. The Father Himself loves you.
What does this mind-boggling truth entail for us?
First and foremost, it confronts us. We can imagine the surprise, the consternation even, of the peasant girl, of lowly extraction, whom the king approaches to ask that she become the bride of his son. Is this a joke? Is it possible? Am I dreaming? No, we are not dreaming. The life of Christ is there, His resurrection from the dead is there. His Church is there. They prove to us without the shadow of a doubt that the Father loves us.
Secondly, it challenges us. Love can only be repaid with love. We are thus challenged to love in return this God who has loved us first. This is truly the heart of the Gospel. Will we love God? Will we prove by our deeds that we have the love of God in our hearts?
Thirdly, it moves us. Caritas Christi urget nos, says St Paul: the love of Christ compels us, it pushes us forward, it will not allow us to stand still, but is continually prodding us on to greater heights. When Aristotle developed his teaching on friendship, he was far from imagining that man could be friends with God. For Aristotle, it was not even conceivable. God, the First Mover, is so far removed from our world, that communication, let alone, affection for men is not possible. This idea of God holds sway still in the minds of many. The god is Islam is very much of that type, an unapproachable god with whom a relationship of love is unthinkable. Allah is master; he is not father; he makes slaves, not sons. And here lies the novelty of the Christian revelation. We are taken up into the very Godhead. We are sons of God. When a baby is baptised, he becomes adopted son of God; the life of the Holy Trinity takes up residence in his pure soul, and henceforth God will be drawing that child deeper into the mystery of divine friendship. Blessed is that child if he replies with generosity to God’s prevenient love.
Fourthly, the love of God has its demands over us. If you love me, keep my commandments, Our Lord tells us. If God has loved us first, and if we love Him in return, that love is going to prove itself by fidelity to the Commandments, to the Decalogue, to the great precept of charity, to that true religion of which St James speaks in today’s epistle: Religion pure 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. If we truly love God, that love will manifest in two great areas: helping those in need, and keeping oneself pure from worldly attractions and pleasures.
There is a fifth demand made on us by the love of God, and that is the one highlighted by Our Lord in today’s gospel: the precept of prayer. Ask and you shall receive. If you have come to know the love of God, if you have taken the measure of what it means; if you realise that God is destining you to eternal life with Him; if you are aware of the obstacles which lie in the way (the world, the flesh, the devil), then you will be insistent and constant in asking for His Grace through prayer.
And that is why the Church gives us this week the Rogation Days. The first three days of the week which lead up to Ascension Thursday, we will dedicate to extra prayers and fasting in order to implore from the divine bounty all those things of which we stand in need, for ourselves, our families, our region, our country, our world. Those needs are multiple, and they are varied. But above all, we must not forget that the great grace we must ask for at all times is the grace of eternal salvation. St Augustine makes that clear concerning the words of Our Lord: Whatever you ask the Father in my Name, He will give it. If we ask for the goods of this world only, we are like the man referred to by St James in the epistle: If a man be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a mirror: for he beheld himself and went his way and presently forget what manner of man he was. If we know God’s law and do not keep it; if we know that we are destined to eternal life and are more preoccupied with worldly goods, we have forgotten who we are.
But if we know who we are, if we are conscious of our dignity of sons and daughters of God, then we make bold to ask in the Name of Jesus for those things which lead to our eternal salvation, and we are certain that they will be granted, for the Father who loves us, wants nothing more intensely than to welcome us into His eternal home.
This week, let us pray through the intercession of Mary Help of Christians, whose solemnity we will celebrate next Sunday, that she may bless this country and turn all hearts to our Blessed Saviour to see and realise how much they are loved by God.