6th Sunday of Easter Year B

     As a priest, especially as one trained in ethics, people frequently ask my why does the Catholic Church have so many rules and why is She always telling me what to do. Often this question is followed by the question ‘why can’t we just focus on loving each other?” Certainly, our faith calls us to love, after all “to follow Christ means to become one who loves as God has loved.”[1] For you see “Christianity is not a religion of fear, but of trust and love for the Father who loves us.”[2] Yet love is one of those funny words that has been used in every generation and every culture and with so many different meanings, but when we really understand what love is we begin to see why God Jesus left us with so many commandments and rules.

      In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus call us His friends. Do you really believe this? For only when our heart truly believes that Jesus calls us friends do His commandments make sense. This first started to set in for me after my first year in the seminary. I entered the seminary with the head knowledge that God loved me, but it wasn’t until I began to spend serious time in prayer everyday that my heart began to learn that God truly loved me. As my heart began to accept God’s love for me, I bean to realize that true love wills the best for the other. This insight radically changed my entire view of the reason for the Church’s rules because I began to truly understand that God created my, He loves me, and so He only wants what is best for me, and as my creator He knows what is best for me so the only logical choice is to humbly submit to His will; to place His perfect teachings above my fallen desires. This insight helped me to see that God’s no is not a rejection, but rather a redirection. Jesus’ commands and the teachings of the Church are not intended to hold us back, but rather to set us free. For you see our world is searching for love, but we constantly attach ourselves to false love and leave disappointed.

     Just think about the habits of sin in your life. Perhaps they bring some kind of passing pleasure, but when over and done with don’t they only enslave us? You see “sin does not pay … it never keeps its promise.”[3] Is it not true that “the root of all our unhappiness is the result of sin and its effects. The sooner we are free from the distortions and cripplings of sin, the sooner we will experience fuller joy and freedom as sons and daughters of God and be able more and more to be a blessing to others.”[4] Any of us who have successfully rooted out a habit of sin in our lives knows that evicting sin from our life is hard, but with God’s grace after exorcising that sin we are much freer.

     My friends, the love of Christ leads to freedom. He teaches us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. So, when we look at the cross, the place from which He lived out His teaching, we see that Jesus extend his hands to lead us from the slavery of sin to the freedom of His love. That total love of Christ though demands a response and any of us who love, know that “love does not exist in words or feelings but in deeds.”[5] Jesus is clear in today’s Gospel that we are His friends if we keep His commands, that we remain in His love if we follow His teachings.

     You see then “Christian morality is not a life of commands, obligations or prohibitions. Rather it involves holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father.”[6] So then, you see it is enough to love, but true love demands that we keep His commandments. Christ, in His love for us, offers us the commandments and the teachings of the Church to show us how to truly love and any choice to ignore those teachings is a choice to reject love. Yet love cannot be forced and so the Church continues to uphold the commands of Christ, whether popular or not, and invites each of us to the freedom of Christ’s love by keeping His commandments. So, what’s your choice; will you love as Jesus tells us to love by living out His commandments or will you try to love in your own way?

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg. 129.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Prayer. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor (2013). Pg 201.

[3] Fulton Sheen. Characters of the Passion. Liguori: Liguori Press (1998). Pg. 18

[4] Ralph Martin. The Fulfillment of All Desire. Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing. (2006). Pg. 352.

[5] Kowalska, St. Faustina. Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011). Pg 175.

[6] Austriaco, Nicanor Pier Giorgio. Biomedicine and Beatitude. Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press. (2011) Pg. 10

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