May 10, 2015 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
The word “love” appears more than 500 times in the Bible. Our readings on this Sixth Sunday of Easter contain the word “love” (or a form of it) 18 times. Clearly this idea of loving is important for us as Christian Catholics, and the Lord makes it eminently obvious that love of one another needs to be at the center of our way of life. Of course, we need to understand that the love spoken of here is not the shallow romantic kind of love with which we are inundated through various forms of communication daily.
The most commonly used Greek word which is translated into the word “love” in Holy Scripture is “agape.” This is not hand in hand love; it is much deeper, requiring much more commitment. Another Greek word for “love” is the word “phileo.” Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of St. Peter’s meeting with Cornelius and Peter’s expanded thoughts on how we are to respond to the blessing of the Holy Spirit which we have received. In one of his letters (1 Peter), St. Peter uses both the words “phileo” and “agape” in the same sentence, saying “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love [phileo] of the brethren, fervently love [agape] one another from the heart.” 1 Peter 1:22 What makes this notable is that it establishes the relationship and understanding we need for “love” as mentioned in the second reading and the Gospel.
The first reading is another example of Peter’s ongoing effort to explain to us that what Christ has said and what Christ has done is for all, Jews and Gentiles. St. Peter begins his sermon on this occasion by saying, “In truth God shows no partiality.” That word “agape” describes God’s love for us. It is unconditional, sacrificial, and filled with forgiveness. We, too, are expected to love God and one another in the same way.
St. John calls us to love in the second reading from 1 John. In the original Greek John, too, used the word “agape” to clarify the kind of love to which he was referring. This love from God is self-giving without expectation of a return. It is the kind of love God feels for us. Too often we may do something with the expectation of getting something back. To practice stewardship in a pure sense, we need to love the way God loves us. That is central to what John is trying to teach and explain to us. You may have heard the expression “God is love,” which St. John uses in this passage. However, we must accept that love, and we must commit ourselves to loving in the same way. If we do that, God’s love through us can transform not only us but also those around us.
Of course, our Gospel reading from John speaks of the same kind of love (agape). Nevertheless, Jesus adds another proviso to that love for it to be complete and pure. That is obedience. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” The Lord indicated more than once that the “foremost” commandment was to “Love one another.” Jesus refers to the “joy” which comes from keeping that commandment. That “joy” is far above what we might perceive as normal happiness and good feelings. There is something exhilarating about it, something which lifts us up and sustains us. Blessed Mother Teresa said more than once, “A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.” This is the love we all must strive to achieve. This is the love Jesus means for us.