Sunday Sermon for May 29, 2011, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21
In the Gospel reading today our Lord tells us that if we love Him, we are to keep His commandments; at the end of the reading He repeats this but tells us that the one who has His commandments and observes them is the one who loves Him. There are two ways that we could look at this. The first is mere external observance of the commandments of our Lord. While this can be done out of a sense of love, it is more probable that it is done out of either pride or selfishness. Pride if we are simply going to go through the motions to prove that we can do it, selfishness if it is done so that we can receive a reward for having done the right thing.
I think we can say with great assurance that our Lord is not speaking of either of these possible reasons for keeping His commands. This brings us to the second reason which is not mere external observance, but keeping His commandments with an internal disposition of humility and charity. Jesus explicitly states that it is the one who loves Him who keeps the commandments. Most often, if we are doing something for the wrong reason, we will find many occasions to transgress the law of God because we are seeking self interest and we will follow whatever seems good to us at the moment. Love of God, on the other hand, is the greatest good and, if we truly love Him, anything that would pull us away from that love will never appear as being better because it violates the One we love.
Our problem, however, is that we are not able to love God or follow His commandments completely by our own strength or ability. This is why our Lord, in the context of loving Him and keeping His commandments, speaks to us of the Holy Spirit. He tells us that the world does not accept the Holy Spirit because it neither knows Him nor sees Him. This makes perfect sense since the spirit of the world and the Spirit of God are very much opposed to one another. But Jesus tells us that we will know the Spirit because He dwells in us. Obviously, this implies that we have to reject the spirit of the world and that we have to be striving to live according to the Spirit of God.
The Holy Spirit is the love of God. Therefore, He gives to us the ability to love God and to keep the commandments. In the Scriptures we hear about the extraordinary phenomena that are associated with the Holy Spirit like healings, prophesying, casting out demons, speaking in tongues, etc. The Holy Spirit, Who is all powerful, can certainly do all of these things, but God does not give these gifts to everyone. The primary gift of the Holy Spirit is the love of God and this is given to each person who receives the Holy Spirit. As always, God will not force Himself on us, nor will He force us to love Him since, by its very definition, love has to be a free choice and cannot be forced.
Jesus goes on in the Gospel to tell us that if we love Him, the Father will love us and Jesus will also love us and reveal Himself to us. This does not mean that we will begin having visions or locutions; rather, it means that we will come to know Him deeply and intimately. This is what love does: it unites those who love each other and it allows them to penetrate the deepest parts of one another. This is exactly what He tells us when He says that He is in the Father, we are in Him and He is in us. The Trinity dwells in us when we are in the State of Grace, but how often we ignore such a glorious Guest. He is there because He loves us, but love requires two and it must be freely chosen so He waits for us to love Him.
As we grow in love for Him we also grow in knowledge of Him. We will not only know more about Him but, more importantly, we will know Him more perfectly. When this happens, we will always be ready, as St. Peter tells us to do in the second reading, to give an explanation for our hope to anyone who asks. So often we do not know how to answer when someone challenges our faith. But we also see that those who have a profound love for our Lord are always able to answer anything with peace, gentleness and charity. This is the work of the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the love we have for God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.