6th Sunday of Easter 2011
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you..
One the most common religious experiences of people today, especially in the so-called first world, the more affluent nations of the west, is the apparent loss of the sense of God’s presence in the world and in one’s personal life. This experience of the absence of God is so wide spread in our day that in the not so distant past a new school of theological thought emerged among some non-catholic theologians, which was called the Death of God theology. However, this extreme approach to theology was itself dead in a short time, for while its proponents could document and describe this lack of God experience fairly well, they really had nothing much to say that would help people actually rediscover God in their lives. And while these radical theologians may have been willing to have no experience of God in their lives permanently, most Christians simply cannot live this way. They really hunger for God, whether they fully understand this hunger as “hunger for God” or not.
Man’s hunger for God is very real, not simply something merely psychological, but something much deeper. It may sound strange, but man’s whole being truly desires God, to be united to God, and the fact that many people today actually sense or are consciously aware of the absence of God in the modern world is perhaps a positive sign that something is stirring deep in the human heart of these folks. Today, growing numbers of people may not be able to name the precise object of this deep desire they have in their hearts, in their very being, but most everyone knows that what they desire, have a deep hunger for, is personal happiness. And people do not long for just a temporary and partial happiness, but a happiness that never ends, a happiness that is always unalloyed with evil and its consequence of unhappiness. But down deep most everyone also knows that such a pure happiness cannot be found in this world. Hat in itself can be a cause of sadness but also a cause for hope. This desire and this realism about this world can be a first step to recognizing that such happiness can only be found in God and in the world God indwells.
When Jesus was about to leave this world and return to the Father, he said something amazing to his little flock: You are my friends if you do what I command you. That’s quite an astounding statement if one truly believes that Jesus is indeed God, a divine person, equal in his personhood to the Father and thus infinitely superior to any of us. The Greek world, at the time of Jesus, would have found any notion of friendship with the Gods to be ridiculous since the gods were so superior to men that we could only be their slaves or servants, but never truly their friends.
Yet Jesus teaches that we are his friends, friends of the Son of God, if we do what he commands us. By becoming man, Jesus made it possible for us to be his friends, because He now shares our very nature as man, which on this level alone makes Him equal to us in human nature, our true brother, who can truly be our friend. But still, we can be his friend only if we also recognize and honor the deeper truth about Him, that He is also our God, and that we must obey Him as God if we are to be his friend as man. In Psalm 119, we read, “But thou art near, O LORD, and all thy commandments are true. Long have I known … that thou hast founded them forever.” God is close to us, and His commandments are truth, and He will be close to those who affirm that his commands are truth, Because God is Truth, and we affirm His Godhead and worship His divinity by struggling to obey them.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus again speaks of this amazing friendship between God who commands and men who obey, but Jesus speaks about this friendship here in terms of that essential quality of all friendship, which is love. Jesus links obedience to his commandments to love, the love of friendship: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. It’s quite clear, he says, you are my friends if you do what I command you; you love me if you keep my commandments. Friendship with Jesus means loving Him, but since Jesus is truly God, we can neither have friendship nor love Him if we do not do what He commands us. What he commands us of course includes the Ten Commandments and the whole of natural law – “founded forever”, as Psalm 119 says — and the commandments of the Church, which Jesus has founded forever. All these commandments come from Him because He is God’s word, who has proclaimed all these commandments through the ages. So if we are not keeping his commandments, or at least trying to keep his commandments, then we really do not love Him, love Him as our God, and how could we really then claim to be his friends?
The western world may rightly sense the absence of God because the populations of the so-called first world have largely abandoned God, by abandoning his commandments. But God has not abandoned anyone. We can only experience the presence of God and thus the presence of Jesus, who never leaves us orphans, if we choose to love Him by keeping his commandments. No, Jesus does not leave us orphans unable to know or love Him. Indeed in this Gospel, He promises to give us His Spirit and His Bride, the Holy Mother Church, so that we can know what his commandments are with certitude, and so we can have the grace of the sacraments to help us obey His law out of love, the love of friendship. Thus, at the end of the Gospel, Jesus repeats this law of love:
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Note that last line, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. Jesus reveals Himself to those who are one with Him through obedience based on love, as He is one with the Father and always obeyed His commandments. Since most people in our western societies, including a vast number of Christians, are not living according to His teaching and commandments, we could hardly expect Jesus to be close to most people today, let alone present in most people in the so-called first world, which is more like the last world when it comes to faith and religious practice.
The daily news and all religious polls today tell us that the vast majority of western populations have largely abandoned the moral laws of the ages, have stopped living according to God’s commandments. This revolution is most manifested in the statistics today revealing the plague of marital breakdown ending in divorce and remarriage, the widespread embracing of contraception as a way of life, the societal approval of same sex marriage, the sexual libertinism among the unmarried, the deadly addictions to drugs, pornography, alcohol, the artificial generation of human life by technology, and, worst of all, abortion, and on and on? This is now the cultural portrait of western nations that were formerly Christian and are now sunk in relativism, materialism and egotism.
If so many people in the west can no longer sense the presence of God in their lives, or the closeness of the Lord Jesus, is it not most likely because western nations have largely abandoned God by revolting against His commandments? Man needs to live in accord with God’s will, because man is not God, and man is not his own lawmaker when it comes to the laws of morality and religion. We cannot be The Lord’s true friends unless we honor His Father, and we must do so concretely by living in accordance with his law. We must love Jesus and His Father as He has loved us. Jesus did not just give us a law to obey, but He laid down his life for us, and we imitate Him when we lay down our lives for love of Him by submitting our wills to His will and His Father’s which are one and the same.
Does that mean we will never fail Him? Of course not, but then we must show our love in a different way, by contrition and Penance which again is submission to Him in love. Do you really want to have Jesus as your intimate friend, have Him truly close to you, revealing Himself to you? Then, obey Him from love, repent from love, and then He will then be “in you” and you “in Him” and he will reveal Himself to you in a way that one cannot anticipate. That is the way back to God, and there simply is no other.