As my days as an Associate are nearing its end, the Gospel we have just heard from John speaks a great deal since it was Jesus’ last opportunity to say what he wanted to say to a group that cannot go with him. It was the Master’s parting words. Msgr. Tom was gracious as always to make me feel free to come back any time. It was well appreciated and I might, perhaps, to apologize.
For those of us who have experienced an intense and emotional conversation with someone we deeply love we knew wouldn’t be with us much longer, it’s easy to relate with this passage because such a scenario has a similar tone with the Gospel. I remember on the final moments of my Father’s life, when he was gasping for breath, fighting to survive if at all possible, he showed us a closed fist signaling strength in his absence. It was a sacred time that will remain in my memory for the rest of my life. From then on, I held on to the belief that “fortune favors the brave.”
Since Jesus had no savings account nor assets to build and establish a foundation, he left a few words which had lasting effect. It was easy to memorize but almost impossible to put into practice. He said, I give you a new commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. Lev 19:18 stressed loving one’s neighbor as yourself and yet Jesus’ words were entirely distinct, profound and credible because he exemplified it by forgiving his enemy, by turning the other cheek and ultimately, by dying on the cross. The newness of this commandment lies in Jesus’ example and not in the sense that it has never been said before. Obviously, there’s a tremendous difference between simply saying a word and actually doing it.
I suspect there was a division in the community and in order to put them back together, they needed a unifying and organizing force that is, the love command which has become the center of Jesus’ teaching and the core of Christian life. It is the essence, the mark and the defining factor of the Christian community, so to speak. It provides clues as to the identity and character of the church.
Due to the huge societal influence, many Catholics have drastically lost the sense of identity in ways that led them to develop a distorted notion of Christianity. Well, not all. It is critically important though to be aware of the fact that whether we’re orthodox or revisionist, conservative or liberal leaning, despite the great divide, Jesus’ new commandment of love must spill over in our relationships. Love comes first. It must precede in any religious effort. The kind of love he was much concerned about isn’t a desire to possess something, or pursue a personal agenda and the satisfaction of it which most of us tend to do. Instead, a reconciling love, not exclusive nor limited to the social profile and status of the person. Finally, it leads us to examine our relationships which is primary in what we do as a Church. Amen.