“Remain in My love … Love one another as I have loved you.”

The central theme in all the Readings at today’s Mass is love! Each of the Readings presents the love of God in its uniqueness and boundlessness. Peter’s experience of God’s indiscriminate love for Cornelius, who was a Gentile, clearly revealed to him the eternal truth that “God does not have favourites but that anybody from any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10: 34,35). John, in the Second Reading (John 4: 7-10) gives us a profound insight into the identity of God: “God is love”, he states. John situates our love for one another within the context of our creation in the image and likeness of God, Who is love. Our love reveals or expresses that imago Dei in us. In the Gospel (John 15: 9-17) Jesus elaborates more on this subject.

The Gospel Reading is a continuation from the Gospel we read last Sunday, where Jesus presented Himself to us in these clear terms: I am the true vine; and identified us as the branches, and then invited us to remain in Him, for just as the branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, we too can do nothing if we remain apart from Him. Flowing from this message, Jesus chooses the verb “remain” again as the key word to emphasis or in fact to answer the seeming question: “What must I do in order to be attached to You as the branch to the vine?” The answer of Jesus in the Gospel of today is simple: “If you must be attached to Me as the branch to the vine, you must remain in My love.” The love of Jesus flows from the love of the Father for Him; through that love of the Father, He pours out His love for us and invites us to receive it generously so that it can then flow through us to others until the whole universe is soaked up and consumed in His divine and abundant love. The first challenge here is to open ourselves to receiving the love of God and to open our hearts to giving that same love to others. It becomes selfish when we do not share the love of Christ with our neighbours.

Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love) wrote: “Today the term ‘love’ has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, as a word to which we attach quite different meanings.” The truth of this statement cannot be over-emphasised. No doubt the term love has a variety of meanings and is very elastic, pliable and perhaps relative. It covers a wide range of feelings and emotions. For when I say, for example: “I love chocolate” I do not mean the same thing as when I say “I love my mother.” At least it is not the same kind of affection that I have for my mother that I have for chocolate. So what do we mean here? Or what does Jesus Christ mean here? Jesus is certainly not inviting us to the erotic, romantic feelings towards one another, which is the “Eros”; He is not inviting us to expression of feelings to one another as to a friend, which the Greeks call the “Philia”; He is not even demanding us to the affectionate expression of love between parents and children and siblings among themselves called the “Storge.” Jesus is challenging and commanding us rather to “Agape.” This is love that is both sacrificial and unconditional. As He rightly puts it: “This is My commandment that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15: 12). You may ask: How did or does Jesus love us? St. Paul tells us that Jesus loved us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5: 8). That means that Jesus loves us when we do not deserve to be loved. God’s love for us is not by our own merit but by grace; it is a gift. This is what Jesus expects of us, that we love one another even when they do not deserve to be loved by us – those who are unreasonable, who hurt us, who are rude to us, who do not forgive us. This is exactly what He means when He teaches us: “Love your enemies and pray for them” (Matthew 5: 44). Jesus loves us by dying for us. He tells us: “Greater love than this no man has than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15: 13). There can be no true love without sacrifice. We should be prepared to make sacrifices and commitments to the ones we love. We may not have to pay the ultimate price but there might be occasions we may be expected to deny ourselves time, comfort, food, clothing, money, etc for the sake of the one we love. Jesus’ love for us is in obedience to the Father. Last Sunday St. John exhorted us in these words: “My children let us love not with words or with our lips, but in truth and in deed” (1 John 3: 18). Sincere obedience is a direct expression of love, and love enhances obedience. The love of Christ is life-giving; liberating; empowering; it is salvific. This is the love that is expected from us. Not the selfish, manipulative, dehumanising kind of love.