Sunday, 21st September 2014
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart

Scripture Reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Posted on 10. May, 2012

Two of today’s readings are from St John, whose gospel is seen by commentators from the beginning of the Christian era as having pride of place in the whole of sacred scripture, principally because of its insistence on grace, on the love of God, on eternal redemption being purely and freely a gift to us from God. Tradition has it that John lived to a great age, such that he had to be carried each Sunday into the place where the Christian community at Ephesus gathered to celebrate the Blessed Eucharist. Because of the veneration in which he was held, he was invariably asked to address the little congregation, and invariably he spoke about the love of God, to the extent that even these devout and committed early Christians grew a little weary of the same recurring theme. John, however, took little heed of their requests for a change of subject. He persisted in his refusal to speak about anything else, because for him the central theme of the whole Christian message was enshrined in the love of God. “We believe in love,” was the motto of those who were in full agreement with John.

This could easily have become an empty slogan, were it not that John had stated clearly what he meant by love, and our attention is drawn to it in today’s second reading. “This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us, when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.” The tremendous truth about God is not that he loves us or that he is a loving or lovable being, but rather that, in himself, he is the act itself of love. This means, moreover, that God by his nature gives and shares of his inner self. It also means that those who receive the gift of God’s love must mirror God’s sharing also. God’s love was such as to impel him to give his only Son so that we might have life through him. And God shows no partiality or preference in the way he loves. The merits of his Son are available to all without distinction of any kind, provided they have faith and really desire to be of one mind with Jesus.

At first Israel was chosen by God, not for its own sake, but that it might bring before all people the revelation of the love of God, especially as shown in the person of his divine Son. We too have been chosen and commissioned, to “go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). Each of us can truly say: God’s love brought me into being, it sustains me, it will never let me down. God is concerned about me. He reads my thoughts, my emotions, my desires. He knows my joys, my sorrows, my weaknesses, my strengths. He is close to me in times of laughter or of tears, in illness or in health.

I am quite incapable of loving myself to the same degree that God loves me. God is even closer to me than I am to myself. Through the prophet Isaiah (49:16) God addresses to me the consoling words, “See upon the palm of my hand I have written your name.” Indeed, in the person of Jesus, God, as it were, reaches out to us with two hands – the one extended in forgiveness which saves us from being engulfed here and now in our evil ways, the other casting a ray of light beyond the portals of death, reminding us that as God raised Christ from the. dead, so he will redeem us too, when we have completed our earthly existence. That we are able to grasp those hands of God extended to us, that we are able to cling to them steadfastly, is more a gift of God’s grace that our own accomplishment. No amount of self-pruning, of teeth-gritting human striving, will bring us any closer to God.

But if we try and go through life in the steady conviction that God’s loving care is drawing us, watching over us, then we will cease to worry about our own happiness, about what we even regard as perfection, what we would like ourselves to be when we come before God. Strange as it may seem, faith in God’s love for us frees us from all kinds of inner striving and pressure, and yet at the same time brings us to a closer and more complete commitment to God. If, day after day, we know ourselves as loved by God, then all that will matter will be his love, his will, God himself.

“There are three things that last,” St Paul tells us, “faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). For coming into the presence of God, faith will give way to vision, hope will be replaced by attainment, but love will continue to be bestowed and cherished for all eternity.

Martin Hogan Association of Catholic Priests