Which Came First
HOMILY FOR 6TH EASTER (A)
20/21 May 2017
Which Came First
In all of life there are the eternal questions: why am I here; is there a God; what is my purpose in life; which came first, the chicken or the egg. And today's Gospel sets up one of those questions. Am I supposed to love God in order to keep His commandments, or am I supposed to keep His commandments in order to love God?
And it seems for decades, if not for centuries, it is my earnest belief that we have got that answer wrong. We have been trying to teach, from the earliest ages, that we must teach religion on the basis that you must learn a lot of stuff, including the commandments, and then somehow, from this advanced knowledge, one will learn to love God. But, after decades of this practice, what we have discovered is that this simply is not the case. And, what is more, it is contrary to what the Lord tells us in the Gospel. He never says to us, "if you keep my Commandments, you will prove your love to me." To the contrary, His directive -- His commandment to us is completely the opposite: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
You see love has to be the initial step. Love has to be our guiding principle. We must love God with all of our hearts, with all of our minds, and with all of our souls. Virtually, with all of our being. And if we are madly, passionately in love with God -- with the totality of their personhood -- the Blessed Trinity -- then we will not only WANT to keep the commandments, it will be an impossibility not to do so.
However, if our driving principle is I need to show God how much I love Him by keeping His commandments, then our principles and our priorities are in the wrong order.
It is much the same with a married couple. A couple does not get married in order to remain faithful to each other. Their love for each other is first and foremost the driving principle by which their relationship is based. And because of their love for each other, they remain faithful. Fidelity is a fruit of the love they have. Fidelity is the fruit of the virtue of love.
Remember back to the three abiding and cardinal virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. St. Paul tells us about these in his letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13.
And they come together as gifts from God. You simply cannot go out to Walmart, or to Target, or Home Depot and pick up a big bottle of Faith, and gallon of Hope and a super-sized box of love. No, they come from the Lord, as infused gifts from the Holy Spirit.
Faith is a virtue that God gives to us as the first step to calling us into right relationship with Him. After He infuses this gift, He sends the second gift, and that is Hope -- hope for the things which are necessary for our salvation. Then He calls us into the right relationship, by sharing with us the very essence of who He is, in the Trinity of His Personhood. For God is LOVE. And by granting us a taste of who He is, He gives us His Love, in the person of Jesus Christ and in the fulfillment of their Spirit, by pouring that Spirit upon us, which is the by-product of the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father.
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen says in his powerful reflections for the Stations of the Cross, "love then does not mean having, but being had."
So as we strive to understand God, and to draw closer to Him in the fullness of who they are in the essence of their Godhead, we come to see them in the essence of their love. "If you love me you will keep my commands."
Then we come to know and understand the immortal words of St. Augustine, whose wisdom has spanned 17 centuries of time: "Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”
The challenge we have in the 21st century, especially in educating the young, is not to fill them with lots of knowledge, but to help them fall in love with the God who loves them! Knowledge is important, but it is not a priori -- that is before loving. Loving God must come first. Knowing God and loving God are two different things.
I have said it before and I will say it again, most people and yes, most Catholics, if asked, think they are going to go to heaven. But when asked about this God whom they plan to spend eternity with, know very little about Him, much less are they in love with Him. Why would you want to spend an hour, a day, much less eternity with someone whom you do not know, much less are not in love with? That has to be the most illogical thing-- EVER!
When I became a Christian at 18 and came to love God, I was kind of upset that people had not introduced me to God long before. And then when I became Catholic four years later, I was really upset that people had kept me from the fullness of faith for 22 years. Like St. Augustine, I was upset that the love of my life had been kept from me for 22 years. His love, His life, and His Bride, were kept away from me because nobody bothered to invite to the wedding feast of the Lamb!
When adults speak to me about their "fallen away" children and then speak of "well we raised them in the faith, we took them to Mass and took them to religious education," but now they don't practice the faith.... the question really must be: but did you ever help them fall in love with Jesus? Did they come to know and love the God whom they were learning about?
The oldest premise of theology is this: you cannot give what you do not have. If you yourselves are not madly, passionately and deeply in love with God, you will never convince someone else to take that plunge toward being in love with Him either. Give what you have been given; if you don't have it, speak with someone who does. Ask them to tell you their story.
God is faithful and true and most of all, He loves us so incredibly much.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Its not a demand, but an invitation. Its a request from someone who loves us so much He died and Rose again to show us His love for us. What is our response to Him?