In my own prayer, reflection and preparation for the Sunday homily I often consult, “The Word of God Everyday”. This is the daily Scripture reflection book for the Community of Sant’Egidio. The reflections are written by Bishop Vincenzo Paglia. Below I have copied in whole his reflection for this coming Sunday, the sixth Sunday of Easter. I find it to be very good and thought-provoking. I hope that you do too.
“Let us love one another.” This is the imperative that the apostle John never tires from addressing to his community. He knows how important love is in the life of all disciples, because he learned it directly from Jesus and had a concrete experience of his love. He was able to taste Jesus sweetness, to see how radical and abundant his love was, as he even loved his enemies, even to the point of giving his own life as a gift. John was a privileged witness of this love, an attentive custodian and a caring preacher. In his first letter, he wants to unveil the nature of Jesus love and reveal its source: “Let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 Jn 4:7). The apostle speaks here of a love different from the one we normally understand. For us, love is a complex of sentiments that arises spontaneously from the heart, composed of attraction, kindness, desire, passion, self-gratification and satisfaction. To refer to this kind of love, the language of the New Testament employs the Greek word “eros.” The apostle, instead, uses the word “agape” to speak of the love that comes from God and that should govern the relationship between disciples.
To understand Gods love (agape) we cannot begin from our feelings or from our psychology, but from God. The Holy Scripture is the special document for understanding Gods love. It is, in fact, none other than a narrative of the historical event of Gods love for all of humanity. Page after page, in Holy Scripture, we discover a God who does not seem to find rest until he finds repose in the heart of each person. We could paraphrase the well-known sentence that Saint Augustine wrote about man and apply it to the Lord: “Inquietum est cor meum…” (trans. My heart is restless). Davide Maria Turoldo spoke of the “restless heart of God,” which descended to earth to seek out and save that which had been lost, to give life to that which had it no longer. It is a God who becomes a beggar, a beggar for love. In truth, while God extends his hand to ask for love, he gives it to humanity. God is the spirit that descends into the material; the light that penetrates the darkness to give life, to spiritualize, to elevate and to save.
This is Christian love: a God who descends freely into the trenches of the lives of all people to reach out to his beloved. Yes, God is restless until he finds us, until he touches our heart. And God was so restless “that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Gods love, we could say, “is in descent”, it comes down to reach deep into the lives of all men and women with total devotion, “laying down his life for his friends,” as Jesus himself says. John continues to reflect in his first letter: “In this is love (Christian love), not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10). God is the one who loves first, loving even those who are unworthy of his love. Gods love, in essence, is entirely free. It is unjustified. God, in fact, does not love the righteous, but the sinners who are not worthy of being loved. Paul says that God chose the things that do not count for much so that they would count. God chose what was despised in the sight of men so that it would be an object of his grace (1 Cor 1:28). This is the God of the Gospels; a God who is moved by a love that seems attracted particularly by the absence of life and by the negation of love. God is a love that annihilates itself just to reach the most wretched of all people to enrich that person with its friendship. Jesus’ life is held within this very love. God, in fact, is not Being in itself, as understood in Aristotelian thought, but is Being for us, an infinite opening and passionate love for us.
If the entirety of Scripture is the history of Gods love on earth, then the Gospels are its culmination. Therefore, if we want to utter something about Gods love, if we want to give it a face and a name, we can say that love is Jesus. Love is everything that Jesus said, lived, did, loved, suffered… Love is seeking out the sick, it is having friends who are notorious sinners and Samaritans, that is, people who are considered foreigners, enemies and despised. Love is giving ones life for all; it is remaining alone if needed so as not to betray the Gospel; it is having as a first companion in heaven a man condemned to death, the penitent thief… This is Gods love, which is entirely different from the self-love pounded into our psyche, from the ups and downs of our temperament, of our moods. The bonds of affection between people based on natural attraction are fleeting: it takes little to ruin and destroy them. It is now rare for people to have life-long relationships and difficult to understand relationships as definitive. Self-love, which exists more for personal satisfaction than for the happiness of others, is not strong enough to resist the tempests and problems of life. There are so many victims who fall down the weak and slippery slope of self-love. Only God’s love is the solid rock that spares us from destruction, because before oneself, there is the other. Jesus gave us an example of this with his own life. He was able to say to his disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (Jn 15:9).
The relationship between the Father and the Son is the model and source of Christian love. Certainly such a love could not come from us alone. We can, however, receive it from God. And, if we receive it, this love generates an abundant, universal fellowship that knows no enemies. It gives rise to a new community of men and women, where Gods love crosses overeven identifies withthe mutual love between people. One, in fact, is the cause of the other. A well-known Russian theologian used to love to say, “Do not allow your soul to forget this saying of the ancient spiritual masters: after God, regard every person as God!” This type of love is the distinctive sign of whoever is born of God. But this love is not a possession that one can acquire once and for all, nor is it the birth right of this or that group. Gods love does not know any limits or borders of any kind. It goes beyond space and time. It shatters every ethnic, cultural and national barrier. It even breaks through the barrier of faith, as one reads in the Acts of the Apostles when the Holy Spirit filled the house of the pagan Cornelius. Agape is eternal; everything passes, even faith and hope, but love remains forever. Not even death can break it for love is stronger than death. Jesus can rightfully conclude, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11).