Crest
Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

Justin Gable, OP - 2016 Easter Homily

When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,

and God will glorify him at once.  My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.  I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:31-33a, 34-35

Love is one of the most abused words in the English language—it is used to describe an array of very different actions, enjoyments, pleasures, commitments and states of mind.  We are said “to love” anything from our favorite food to God or our spouse.  And even once we shed all the obviously improper uses of the word “love” and focus on authentic, interpersonal love—really truly caring for one another—we quickly discover that what we often take to be loving is not really loving at all.  What we might attribute solely to the motive of love in ourselves is often in reality a mixture of motivations in which love plays but a part, and often a very small part.

It is, for instance, very easy for us to love those who are pleasant, intelligent, funny, physically attractive, wealthy, or successful, or at least have something to offer us by virtue of influence, power, or personal connection.  We are certainly more inclined to be kind and attentive to those who have something to offer us.  How much more difficult is it to love those who are annoying, nasty, boring, stupid, ugly, or have no wealth or worldly advantages—in short, those who are unpleasant to be around and have nothing to offer for our worldly advantage.  And yet, it is these for whom Christ came—the sinner, the tax collector, the poor, and the suffering.  It is these whom Christ calls as his disciples—suggesting, much to our discomfort, that we might have a lot more in common with this last set than with the first.  And it is these that we must love if we are to imitate Christ’s example of love and obey his commandment. 

We are certainly more inclined to be kind and attentive to those who have something to offer us.  How much more difficult is it to love those who are annoying, nasty, boring, stupid, ugly, or have no wealth or worldly advantages—in short, those who are unpleasant to be around and have nothing to offer for our worldly advantage?

If we simply continue to love only those who please us or benefit us in some way, we fail to obey Christ’s command.  We fail to imitate the example of Christ who “died for us, while we were yet sinners.”  (Romans 5:8)  God the Father did not wait until we were sinless, perfect, and loveable to love us and send his Son to die for us.  But how often are we inclined to use the personal and moral failings of others as an excuse not to love, not to be concerned, not to engage in works of mercy on their behalf.  We all too easily say—to ourselves, if not aloud—“that’s what you get.”  “That’s what you get when you don’t pay your bills, that’s what you get when you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, that’s what you get when you marry a man like that . . . and so on.  We quickly latch on to others’ failures as a justification for our lack of concern and love. 

And we are all too apt to see relatively small differences of opinion or ways of doing things as substantive divisions, which then, in turn, justify our dislike for and failure to love a group of people, and perhaps even allow us to blame them for the problems of the world:  The world is going to hell in a hand basket and, as you all know, it is the fault of the democrats (or the republicans), the Jews (or the Muslims) or the Protestants, the 1% (or the 99%), the tree-huggers (or those who have too large a carbon footprint), the French, the Americans, the Russians—in the end, anybody but me and those who I most strongly identify with will prove to be an exception to Jesus’ commandment to “love one another.”  But if we are really imitating Jesus, our definition of “one another” must constantly be expanding, not shrinking.  If it includes the poor, the tax collector, the prostitute, the criminal on the cross beside Jesus, only then do I dare hope that the circle of those Christ loves is indeed big enough to include me.

But if we are really imitating Jesus, our definition of “one another” must constantly be expanding, not shrinking.  If it includes the poor, the tax collector, the prostitute, the criminal on the cross beside Jesus, only then do I dare hope that the circle of those Christ loves is indeed big enough to include me.

Love is not an automatic, natural activity—it is not instinctual for us—not if we are talking about genuine love, the love that reaches out and works for another’s good, the love that Jesus exhibited in his words, his actions, and most especially that moment of glorification when He died for us on the cross.  It is something we must constantly work at and struggle with.  “Learning to love is the work of a lifetime” – a quote from Kierkegaard, but a sentiment that can be found in the writings of each and every saint of the Catholic Church.  Not only must we struggle, we must constantly look to the example of Christ in the Gospels, and constantly ask the Lord for the grace to love as he loved, to acquire the disposition of His Sacred Heart in all things.

We require a whole array of virtues if we are to be truly loving.  No wonder learning to love as Christ loves is the fruit of years of prayer, service, and struggling with our faults!  Love requires humility—not only because we cannot truly attend to the good of our brother, sister, or neighbor if we are too busy attending to our own bloated egos, but because to love means making ourselves vulnerable, risking that our concern will not be accepted or honored.  Love requires temperance—moderation and chastity—for if we are constantly driven to fulfill our own desires and needs, we will have no time or inclination to come to the help of our neighbor in his want or in his need.  And we will need courage, for loving, contrary to what many think, is not simply being nice; it is not simply telling people what they want to hear.

If we truly love those around us, there will be certain things that we could never want for them, even if they want these things for themselves.  For instance, a parent or family member would never stand casually by while their child, brother, sister, or spouse fell into serious addiction, became a street thug, or planned a terrorist attack.

If we truly love those around us, there will be certain things that we could never want for them, even if they want these things for themselves.  For instance, a parent or family member would never stand casually by while their child, brother, sister, or spouse fell into serious addiction, became a street thug, or planned a terrorist attack.  In the same way, our love leads us to speak out against destructive and harmful influences in the lives of our brothers and sisters, against gross injustices and against all those things that will lead those we love to spiritual, if not physical, death.  Jesus Himself did not shrink from hard talk—He did not hesitate to call the Pharisees “hypocrites” and “white-washed tombs” or even his own disciple, Peter, “Satan.”  And we know that Jesus spoke this way, not because he was unloving, but because love itself required it:  “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”  (John 10:10)  So we, too, imitating Christ our Lord, are called to speak the truth—and even the hard truths—that people need to hear for both their temporal and eternal well-being, if we are to be truly loving.

As Dominican friars, laity, and friends of the Order of Preachers, all of us gathered today share in a special way in the order’s charism, inherited from St. Dominic, to preach the truth.  Veritas is the motto of our order.  But we cannot forget that it was for the love of souls that St. Dominic sent his brothers to teach the truth; it was St. Dominic’s concern, so powerfully imitating the heart of Christ, that made Him tireless in his preaching of the Gospel for the salvation of souls.  And there has been a lively sense in the Order of Preachers ever since—a characteristic feature of our Dominican spirituality—that sees our own salvation and the salvation of our neighbor as intimately linked.  If we love God, then we will love those whom He loved—we will love one another.  And nowhere is this love more necessary and more authentic than in working for the salvation those around us.  Our love cannot extend merely to temporal things, simply to the physical and emotional needs of those around us; it must be concerned for their most authentic good, their eternal life with Christ.  This is certainly part of God’s providential plan for us—we do not achieve the joys of heaven by ourselves, but as a Church; nor, as it happens, will we find, once we are there, that we are alone with God—we will be rejoicing among the entire countless throng of angels and saints, an entire communion formed by the love which God has placed in our hearts.

Our love cannot extend merely to temporal things, simply to the physical and emotional needs of those around us; it must be concerned for their most authentic good, their eternal life with Christ.  This is certainly part of God’s providential plan for us—we do not achieve the joys of heaven by ourselves, but as a Church; nor, as it happens, will we find, once we are there, that we are alone with God—we will be rejoicing among the entire countless throng of angels and saints, an entire communion formed by the love which God has placed in our hearts.

If you have read Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, you may remember this story, told by Father Zosima:  “Once upon a time there was a woman, and she was wicked as wicked could be, and she died.  And not one good deed was left behind her.  The devils took her and threw her into the lake of fire.  And her guardian angel stood thinking:  what good deed of hers can I remember to tell God?  Then he remembered and said to God:  once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar woman.  And God answered:  now take that same onion, hold it out to her in the lake, let her take hold of it, and pull, and if you pull her out of the lake, she can go to paradise, but if the onion breaks, she can stay where she is.  The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her:  here, woman, he said, take hold of it and I’ll pull.  And he began pulling carefully, and had almost pulled her all the way out, when other sinners in the lake saw her being pulled out and all began holding on to her so as to be pulled out with her.  But the woman was wicked as wicked could be, and she began to kick them with her feet:  ‘It’s me who’s getting pulled out, not you; it’s my onion, not yours.’  No sooner did she say it than the onion broke.  And the woman fell back into the lake and is burning there to this day.  And the angel wept and went away.”  (Book 7, Chapter 3, p. 352) 

Let us not be this wicked woman—or if we must, let us at least share our onion, so that, by the grace of God, we might pull up the entirety of the souls in the lake of fire with us when the angel holds out our onion.

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