Last week, while I was in Jerusalem, I had the honor of having dinner in the house of an Armenian Orthodox Catholic, who I have gotten to know on my two trips to the Holy Land. Levonne, lives in the Armenian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, meaning that he lives right in the heart of the constant tension that exists between the Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Over drinks and dinner, we had an interesting conversation about this tension. As we talked it became clear that one of the roots of the tension between Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Holy Land rests in our three different understandings of who God is and what our relationship with Him is. Living within the walls of this small city are Muslims who believe that salvation comes from submission to God, the Jewish people who are still waiting for the Messiah and Christians who believe that the Messiah has come to earth and shown us the path towards fulfillment. With these three different understandings of our relationship with God it is obvious why devout men and women who are trying their best to have a proper relationship with God often find themselves in conflict. Going back to the hotel that night I found myself asking, how do I see my relationship with God? So today I put that simple question to you. How do you see your relationship with God?
If we read the bible, it is clear that Jesus wants to have a loving relationship with us. He wants us to follow His way, not because He wants to control us, but because He loves us and wants what He knows is best for us. Jesus is clear in today’s Gospel that our obedience to His Law is more than external submission to God’s authority. God does not demand simple submission but rather He demands the obedience of our hearts. Parents think about it, do you want your children to follow the rules just to follow the rules, do you want them to follow the rules so that you can control them or do want them to follow the rules, because you know the rules will lead them to what is best for them? Jesus wants more from us than to simply follow the rules. He wants the best for us, so He gives us the rules and teachings of our Church to lead us to what is best.
God wants us to live from the inside out, not the outside in. He desires that we have hearts burning with charity because when our hearts burn with the love of God, we are not going to break His law and we are not going to stray from the path of fulfillment that He promises us. As Catholics we believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of our lives, He is the one who can raise us to a new level of inward love leading to proper outward conduct. Two thousand years ago, people were waiting for the Messiah, but most of them missed Him because they wanted the Messiah on their own terms. Yet Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them by teaching us to order our hearts to love, so that the laws of God naturally follow in our lives.
I think at times, we as Catholics, think about our faith simply as a set of rules that we must follow, but the Catholic faith is not about submitting to a set of rules and obligations, but rather about an encounter with the risen Jesus. I think at times all of us fall into the bad habit of practicing our faith only out of obligation and while this is a good start, it completely misses the point. Now, I’m not saying the laws, rules, and regulations of our Church have no place, no they are extremely important because they often serve as a life jacket which keeps us afloat when our zeal and enthusiasm for the faith is failing, but each of us should have a desire for a deeper encounter with the risen Lord, one based in love, not in obligation, one driven from the inside out. Jesus wants our love and He is clear, to love Him we must keep His commandments. Think of it this way. Parents, how much joy would there be in your family if you only cared for your children out of a legal obligation and not out of love? Why should it be any different in our relationship with God?
I think today’s Gospel challenges each of us to ask ourselves what the motive for our actions is. Do our actions come from a place of submission or a place of love? You see, it is not in the action itself, but rather in the motivation behind the action, where the person’s true identity is found and formed. We are called to find meaning in the laws that God gave us so that our external actions might truly be a reflection of our internal attitudes. So then, how do you see your relationship with God and what motivates you to live out your faith?
 Jn 14:15