09 May 2015

'In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday of Easter, Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) directed by Philip Saville

Today's Gospel, John 15:9-17 [1:22 - 2:34]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said to his disciples:

"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolaes Maes, 1652-53
National Gallery, London [Web Gallery of Art]

Since last Monday morning until noon today, Saturday, I was giving a retreat to the Missionary Sisters of the Catechism in Lipa City, south of Manila. The Sisters have a house dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe where they take care of elderly and sick women whom they refer to as the lolas, the grandmas. In another part of the compound they have a group of orphans, five young boys and six young girls. Four of the boys served Mass every morning, including 'Zacchaeus', as the Sisters call him, the youngest of the boys and small, proudly wearing his white cassock like the others. 'Zacchaeus' is not yet old enough to make his First Holy Communion or First Confession. His role as a server is to hold up the small white towel - and he really has to stretch to do so - when the priest washes his hands during the Offertory.

The youngest of the girls is Chiara, aged four or five. The children were present at lunch today, which had a celebratory air to it. I noticed after I had said Grace Before Meals that Chiara was somewhat tearful. Then I discovered that on such occasions she led the community in a Hail Mary as part of Grace. so the Sisters encouraged her to do so today even though the visiting priest had pre-empted her. After a little hesitation and the drying of her tears she prayerfully led us all in the Hail Mary and then invoked the protectors of the Congregation - Mother of Good Counsel, St Joseph, St Veronica Giuliani, St Gemma Galgani and St Bernadette Soubirous.

During the retreat I told a number of stories of seemingly insignificant events where God had revealed himself to me through the actions of children and of older persons without their being aware of it. Then on the way back to Manila this afternoon Sister Evelyn, whose family I have I have known since she was in high school in Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, and Sister Eppie told me a story about Chiara where she showed an understanding of what today's Second Reading is all about, without being aware of it.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:7-10).

Some time ago a missionary priest visited the Sisters and celebrated Mass for them. Little Chiara saw him as being very severe in his demeanour. After Mass she tugged on his cassock and asked him, Father, are you angry with God? It seems that the following morning he wasn't quite as severe looking!

Some may be angry with God. I don't think that God is too perturbed about that when he knows that the source of our anger may be bewilderment over tragedies in our lives, for example, just as we allow those whom we love to vent their anger on us because basically they trust us and we have some idea of the source of their anger.

Perhaps a more common experience, especially among persons who are serious about following Jesus faithfully but who try to live as if God's love had to be earned, as if it could be earned, is the idea that God is angry with us.

St John tells us so beautifully what the situation really is: In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Most of the Gospel readings on the Sundays and weekdays of Easter are taken from John 13-17, the Last Supper Discourse in which Jesus speaks to each of us with intense love about the intimacy into which he calls each of us through our baptism. In today's Gospel Jesus says to each of us, speaking from his heart to ours - Cor ad cor loquiter, 'Heart speaks to heart', as Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman emphasised on his coat-of-arms - As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love . . . this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you . . . you are my friends . . . you did not choose me but I chose you . . .

The initiative comes from God. Love comes from God and our loving response to that love is itself a gift from God. We do not and cannot earn God's love. God who is love gives us himself as pure gift.

How can such a God be angry with us and how can we be angry with such a God?

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).

For the LORD takes delight in his people; 

he crowns the poor with salvation (Psalm 149:4, Grail translation).

Antiphona ad communionem  Communion Antiphon
John 14:15-16

Si diligitis me, mandate mea servate, dicit Dominus.
If you love me, keep my commandments, says the Lord,
Et ego rigabo Patrem, et alium Paraclitum dabit vobis,
and I will ask the Father and he will send you another Paraclete,
ut maneat vobiscum in aeternum, alleluia.
to abide with you for ever, alleluia.

The setting above by Thomas Tallis (c.15015 - 1585) uses the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible, John 14:15-17a:

If ye love me, keep my commandments. 
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, 
that he may abide with you for ever;
e'en the Spirit of truth.

The singers are The Cantate Boys' Choir.

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