MAY 11, 2007, HOLY ABBOTS OF CLUNY‑ JOHN 15:12-17
THIS IS MY COMMANDMENT, LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. These words of Jesus are presented as being among the most important spoken at the Last Supper. One can hardly imagine a more solemn circumstance, for this was the occasion when the Lord prepared his disciples for the mystery of his Passion and death. He is revealing the most essential of practical truths, the way to live so as to overcome the limit of mortal life set by death.
His message is clear enough at a first hearing; however, as we attempt effectively to apply it in daily living we quickly confront a wide variety of challenges that meet us in every circumstance.. Even when we encounter persons who we find to be agreeable, cooperative, receptive and find it easy and pleasant to respond with a similar friendliness, yet, unless we make special effort, our motive soon is colored by considerations of our own gratification as much as the advantage we supply for the other. Surely this spontaneous response is a form of love and a gift that makes life happy, even sweet. Before long nonetheless we find that we must watch carefully lest we become demanding, take advantage of our association for selfish ends, or invest so much attention and energy to this pleasant companion that we neglect those others who have legitimate claims on our time and concern. At some point we discover that a question arises that we must confront if we would be true to our purpose: do we love as Jesus loved and loves us? And so we are brought to examine our way of responding even to those who for us are very easy, even pleasant to love. For, if we would love them in truth, according to our Lord=s command, as he loved, our relations must be in spirit and in truth. This personal honesty then causes us, as we examine and watch our own response, to explore in greater concrete detail just what Jesus means when he gives as the norm for love: Ato love as I have loved you.@
It is human to find satisfaction in cooperating and exchanging ideas and favors with good persons in a noble cause but our Lord=s example shows us that such human love requires a more than human motive and force. It cannot long remain a life-giving energy if it remains merely an expression of spontaneous, natural attraction.
Among other features that characterize Jesus= relations with those he chose to associate most closely with is fidelity to his own mission. Love as he practiced it included refusing to accept any behavior or attitude in his companions that is so determined by strong feeling that it could compromise obedience to the ways the heavenly Father appoints. AGet behind me, you Satan@, the Lord told Peter, his most ardent follower. He states the reason for his strong rebuke: AYou are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God=s way but man=s@. (Mt 16:23). Our Lord=s words here are all the more impressive in that what Peter objects to is that Jesus is to suffer humiliation, torture and death. Who among us would react differently in the face of such threats to the apparent well-being and happiness of a loved and admired friend?
The way that our Lord follows is the way of the cross. The love he enjoins on us to display to one another, then, includes sufferings, humiliations and sorrows, even the sorrow of separation by death in so far as they follow from carrying out the Father=s plan of redemption. Such love is indeed more than human; it is the fruit of God=s gift; indeed, it is the activity of the Spirit of Jesus within us. This commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us, is then a redefining of what we humans think of as love. Far from being in its essence the spontaneous expression of mutual compatibility and attraction, this love is the fruit of a fidelity to the truth of the Father=s will as he reveals it to us, even when it causes suffering only for us but to those whom we love. To love one another as Jesus loves us is to insist with our self and with those we love that we adhere to God=s plan and follow his will even when such fidelity is painful, even when it seems to crush the humanly based affection of a natural love.
This redefining of love by our Lord points to the answer to a further question raised by his words, namely, can love be commanded? Is it not a contradiction to order another to love? Can love be learned? The answer that Jesus provides is counter-intuitive; it is seemingly the opposite of our natural way of thinking. He teaches that true love can only be learned; it does not unfold naturally in our present state of existence. We must strive to arrive at it with all the energy and purpose of our spirit. This Eucharist is the assurance that we are given his Holy Spirit and so we can learn to love one another as the Lord has loved us. May we prove worthy of so great a gift by fulfilling today and always, this final commandment of Jesus who repeats to us now what he told to those who were among his most trusted friends: THIS IS MY COMMANDMENT, LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU .
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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