Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. The Beatles sang ‘All you need is Love’ in the 1960’s. Everyone agreed then. Everyone agrees now. Even the sceptic, the doubter and unbeliever admits that we cannot survive without love. If we have love in our lives then somehow we can cope with everything else. So when Jesus asks us in today’s Gospel to ‘Love one another’, he is speaking in language we can all understand and giving us a teaching we can easily accept. But while it is easy to agree with Jesus’ teaching, we all know that to ‘love one another’ is not so easy. It is the art of a lifetime that must be taught from a Master, just like art itself. And that is why Jesus’ teaching of ‘Love one another’ must be read beside the second half of his words today: ‘As I have loved you’. We are to love one another, not according to our standards but according to his. So how then did Jesus love us? Here are four of many ways.
He came close to us. Sent by the Father, Jesus Christ entered into our world as ‘Emmanuel – the name which means God is with us’. Jesus drew close to the people he loved and promised never to leave them: ‘I am with you always, yes, until the end of time’. As our Lord and our friend, Jesus is faithful to his promise. He loves us now by his closeness. We can’t love someone from a distance. Love means taking the initiative by going out to others, taking a risk and getting involved.
Second, we love by serving. Jesus said that he came not to be served but to serve. After he asked us to ‘love one another’ at the Last Supper, he knelt down and washed the feet of those he loved as a sign of service. Love leads to service. It is not a feeling or cannot be reduced only to romance. It is always directed to service of the other. St Thomas Aquinas defined love as ‘Willing the good of the other’. Loving like Christ always keeps that in view. Whose good am I serving: the one I love or my own?
Third, love is prepared and willing to suffer for the one it loves. Just look at the cross. Look at his wounds. Look at the first reading today where Paul and Barnabas explained that ‘we all have to experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God’. Love is demanding at times and tough. It asks us to make sacrifices and requires discipline. It asks us to commit and to let go. It asks us to be faithful. At times this will mean loving the unlovable or the ugly. It might mean forgiving the unforgivable. Love gets down and dirty in the human mess in order to change things and offer hope. This is what Jesus did as the king of love by hanging out with lepers, tax collectors and sinners.
Lastly, love changes everything. Loving is worth it because it offers hope and new life. Jesus loved us and loved us to the end. His resurrection was the triumph of love over hate, of light over darkness. Because of it, love remains today the greatest power in heaven and on earth. By giving us the power to love, we have become partners in God’s perfect love that continues to shape the world every day. We are never more like God than when we love as Jesus did.
One last but crucial point on this great commandment to love as he loved us. We love one another as he loved us - not just by imitation but participation. We don’t just copy him but partake in the source of love that is his love. By his Spirit that lives in us because of our baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, we love one another WITH his love that is in our hearts. Therefore, we love one another with his love, united to our own. There is no greater love than this.
I leave the last word to Oscar Romero – a saint whose life embodied the four features of love above: ‘Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Love must win out. It is the only thing that can’.