Sunday 5 of Easter (C): Read Jn 13, 31-35
It must have been distressful to look at the face of Jesus during the Last Supper. I refer not so much to the distress
Jesus Himself felt before His impending agony and death (the apostles seem not to have understood, even then, that these were
coming). Rather, I mean the distress anyone would experience at watching someone they love shift so quickly and dramatically
from one feeling to another. The different Gospels convey any number of differing and even opposing feelings in Jesus: His
deliberate confidence, His mortal sorrow, His tender love, His deep regret, and so on. On noticing this, one could not but
be concerned for Him, anxious to understand what was happening in His soul, anxious to reassure Him. Yet, it is precisely
in the midst of this inner, final preparation for the definitive battle between good and evil that He bequeaths to all His
disciples some of the greatest gifts of His love: the Eucharist, the priesthood and the new commandment, to love as He has
After the tense exchange with Judas, and after Judas’ departure, Jesus seems to heave a great sigh of relief.
But it is not, I believe, because He could not bear the company of Judas. He speaks of glorifying God, of being glorified
by God, of His departure from His friends and of His final command to them. Jesus knows that Judas goes to set in motion the
final confrontation, and, fixing His Heart no longer on the genuine sadness He surely felt for Judas, He sighs with relief
that, at last, the moment for which He was born had come: to glorify God in dying, and to be glorified by God in being raised
from the dead.
Now God is not glorified just because someone says, “Glory to God in the highest”, but because we witness
with our very lives to the supremacy of God in all things. Like love, glory is not a matter of mere words, but of generous
deeds which prove the truth of those words. In freely surrendering His entire self to the Father, Jesus proves the truth of
every word He has uttered. That selfsame word is guaranteed as definitively true (“infallible”) also by the Father
in raising Jesus from the dead. His unconditional trust of the Father’s faithfulness beyond the power of death is what
makes the Father pleased to raise Him from the dead. Here is the glorification by God the Father of Jesus, the Incarnate Son.
In this exchange of glory, as in an eternal embrace between Father and Son, God breathes forth the Holy Spirit, and through
the glorified flesh of Jesus Christ, makes all things new. The very heavens and earth are turned over once more to the reign
of God; they were created in and for Jesus and now, by destroying the power of death which had corrupted them, they are recreated
or redeemed in Jesus. Jesus undoes the fault of Adam, which had spoiled creation itself, and, by His obedient self-giving,
He restores eternal life and joy to creation. This is the new creation, otherwise known as the redemption; Jesus is the new
Adam, Mary is the new Eve, and the children of God are all those who love one another as Jesus Himself loved.
Notice that giving and receiving glory does not end in some airy-fairy nirvana, but in the practicality of daily existence,
for it is our lives as human beings which are the high point of the whole of creation. Jesus did not go through all He went through for His own sake, but for
ours. In other words, we are not bystanders in this mutual glorification of the Son and the Father: by God’s doing,
we have become its object, because ultimately that is what true Christian love is about. By the exchange of love to the end
between the incarnate Son of God and the Eternal Father, a love “concentrated” in the death and resurrection of
Jesus, humanity itself is again caught up into God. In the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of every human being, and, as the Holy
Spirit is the power of divine love at work in the Jesus who dies and in the Father who raises Him, so all human flesh is invaded
by the Spirit of God, by the eternal love of God. This is the ultimate meaning of the general resurrection from the dead.
This is what salvation means: we are restored by God, to God, in God. The paradise from which sin banished us is given back
to us, through the flesh of Jesus, in the life of the Holy Trinity. That is why whatever we do for the least of our brethren,
we do unto God. To love as Christ, does not just mean to imitate Him externally; that would be impossible if we did not have
the free gift of that love actually in us. Christ invests us with His own love; that is why He can command us to love as He
loves; otherwise, I repeat, we could never do it.
When we love as Christ, then, we glorify God (die for Him) and are glorified by Him (raised by Him). When we love as
Christ, we die to the sinful self, and we are raised to the new, “life-full” and “love-full” self.
It is in the true, loving encounter with Christ that every man discovers himself, knows himself, loves himself in truth. From
the outside, Christian love may not look any different from effective social work, but inscribed deep within it is the very
power of the death and resurrection of Christ, the very presence of the Trinitarian God. That is why Christian love, be it
conscious or unconscious, transforms the world. Judas wanted Jesus to transform the world with a sword; but Jesus’ sword
is His Cross, meaning His death and resurrection, and it transforms, not just the world, but the entire universe. Christian
love is not ostentatious, it seeks not its own glory but the glorification of God in the one loving and in the one loved.
But if I love as Christ, I will be loved by Christ, and God Himself will make His home in me. To know that home, I need to
leave the home (the “comfort zone”) I would make for myself, and let God make my home for me. God’s dwelling
place is with those who love as Christ, but such love is not possible without true death, which is not so much physical death
as it is the renunciation of self. Selfishness gives way to “self-fullness”, a fullness which comes paradoxically
from self-emptying, something possible only in the redeeming power of the love of Christ.
Still, when Christian love is alive in someone’s heart, there is a way it cannot be hidden, any more than could
a city on a hilltop. Indeed, it speaks more clearly than words ever will. The power and charisma which attracted people to
Jesus certainly shone through His teaching; but the tens of thousands of people who flocked to Him were probably drawn above
all by His wonderful deeds of love and mercy. One can almost sense their deepest feelings crying out to be physically near
to Him because they sensed the powerful presence of divine love in Him. His look, His manner, His silence, the sheer immensity
of His compassion would communicate itself to the starving heart. To the degree that each of us is open to Christ, others
will know that we belong to Him, or as Jesus puts it, “this is how all will know that you are my disciples.” Talking
about Christ is essential to evangelization, but it is the witness of Christian love which convinces. Christian love carries
Christian truth from the mind to the heart; what is inscribed in the mind by concepts, is transcribed into the heart by Christian
love. Certainly, we need to know our faith, and not just in terms of what we learnt as children. There should be a Catechism
of the Catholic Church beside the Bible in every Catholic home; and neither book should look beautiful and unused. The Word
of God in the Scriptures is guarded, preserved, explained and deepened by the Church in the Catechism. Ignorance of the Scriptures
is ignorance of Christ; ignorance of the Catechism is ignorance of how the Spirit of Christ has led the Church to a greater
understanding of the mysteries of Jesus through the centuries. So we must be generous and disciplined and heartfelt in taking
time and making time to deepen our understanding of the faith. This is our right and our duty as Catholics, and no-one should
consider it an optional extra. To be disciples of Jesus, how can we not want to know more about His teachings from the apostolic
Church He gave us?
Yet, Jesus says clearly that all men will know we are His disciples, not by how well we quote the Bible or the Catechism,
but by the fact that we love one another as He has loved us. Knowing about Jesus with the head is not necessarily knowing
Jesus with the heart, although the more we learn with our minds, the more deeply we ought naturally to rejoice in loving Jesus
Himself. So it is not a case of either being a disciple by learning or being a disciple by loving: it’s both (the usual
Catholic solution!). One feeds and builds up the other. When all has been said and done –and it has to be said and be done- our glory and our judgment will be measured by
how we have loved one another as Christ has loved us. God is glorified when man is in love – so long as it is in Christ’s
love. When this happens, the universe itself rejoices, because man is fulfilling the purpose for which he was made. On the
night He was betrayed, Jesus knew that the joy of God and of His beloved universe depended on His free acceptance of death.
He despised the ignominy of the Cross and fixed His gaze on that joy which lay ahead. To keep us fixed on it, He gave us the
Eucharist, the sacramental pledge of the glorious joy which we hope to be ours; He gave us priests to be the guardians of
that pledge, the heralds of that joyful “Good News” and, by their celibacy, though not theirs alone, living witnesses
to the ultimate joy of the flesh in the Resurrection; and He gave us the commandment of love which maps out day by day the
pathway to salvation, in the midst of the sufferings and trials of our time.
The eyes and face of our Lord should surely still concern us, if we truly love Him. They betray the long-suffering
and merciful compassion with which God has accompanied the human race since the Garden of Eden. We will never understand their
intensity and their pain, but, if we love one another as He commanded us, we can be sure that we will bring joy to His Heart
and that the fires of His glory are stirring even now to draw us once more to Himself through the fiery gates of Paradise.
Msgr. Peter Magee
Sunday, May 9th, 2004: St. Matthew’s
Cathedral, DC -10.00 am