To Obey Is to Love

Lectio Divina, 6th Sunday of Easter, Year C

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Roman rite
Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year C – May 1, 2016
Acts 15, 1-2.22-29; Ps 67; Rev 21, 10-14.22-23; Jn 14, 23-29
Ambrosian Rite
Acts 21, 40b-22.22; Ps 67; Heb 7.17 to 26; Jn 16.12 to 22
1) The journey of six Easter Sundays.
During Easter, the Church’s Liturgy reminds us (in the biblical sense of to make present) of the risen Christ concretely present and truly alive. For this reason, during the Masses of the first three Easter Sundays, the Gospel presented the passages that recount the meetings of the Risen Christ with Mary Magdalene, the disciples of Emmaus, the Apostles and Saint Thomas, and, at the end, with Peter who is confirmed in love because he has presented his pain to Christ.
On the fourth Sunday we had been reminded that Christ is the Good Shepherd and is present as a guide through priests and the bishops. In the Fifth Sunday we had been reminded that the risen Jesus is present in love concretely lived and mutually donated in the community of Christians, who have Christ “as” example.
Today, the teaching of the previous Sundays reaches its apex. In the Sixth Sunday of Easter the Gospel tells us that Jesus is not only happy to live among us, but asks to be listened (to follow his words) in order for him to be able to «dwell» in us. Christ, therefore, is no longer simply one with us or one of us, even if he is the best. He is now in us with his Spirit.
To us believers who listen to his word, He gives the Holy Spirit to bring us peace and “to remind our hearts all that Christ did and taught, and to enable us to bear witness in words and deeds» (see the Collect of the sixth Sunday of Easter).
To know and to experience the love of God in us and for us is a comforting and joyful peace, but it is also a great and daily responsibility.
2) To keep the Word, which is the gift of love.
From the meditation of today’s passage of John’s Gospel (14, 23-29) two issues surface: the obedient love of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit.
In fact, in this Gospel passage, the Son of God presents the unbreakable bond between the love for Him and the observance of His Word. In this regard, it should be noted that the Greek word used by St. John, «Logos», according to the various contexts can mean: the «Word» who is Christ, the Word of God, the «word» that Christ addressed to his interlocutors, and the «commandment” given for love and to be observed with love. The third meaning is not strange because if one loves, he or she takes so seriously the «word» of the beloved so to carry it in the heart, to guard it and respect it. Therefore, if we love the Lord, it means that we carry Him in our hearts, guarding (abiding by) his words, because we want to live like Him and we want Him to become our life. In fact, if we love a person, that person becomes our life and we listen to her putting into practice what she says.
The evidence that we truly love the Lord is obedience. It is true that the verb «to love» also expresses desire, affection, friendship, belonging, but here it is emphasized that one cannot speak of true love if the observance of the commandments is missing: «Whoever loves me will keep my word» ( Jn 14, 23). And, immediately, in the same verse, Jesus adds, «and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home by him» (Jn 14, 23). In this way, the Son of God underlines another characteristic of love: that of being the place of the encounter with the love of the Father. Rather, it is the place where the Father and Jesus dwell.
The icon that is the most beautiful image of this house «built» by loving obedience, is Mary, Virgin and Mother. Our Lady welcomed in faith and in the flesh Jesus, the Son of God, in full obedience to the Word of God.
Obedience to God and to his action in the faith also includes the element of darkness. The human being’s relationship with God does not erase the distance between Creator and creature and does not eliminate what the Apostle Paul said in front of the depth of God’s wisdom: «How inscrutable are his judgments and  unsearchable his ways!» (Rom 11, 33). However those who – like Mary – are open totally to God, come to accept the divine will, even though it is mysterious, often not corresponding to their will and a sword that pierces the soul, as the prophet Simeon said to Mary when she and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple (see Lk 2:35).
The journey of faith implies the joy of receiving the gift of love, but also the darkness due to the suffering and the crosses of life. So it was with Mary, whose faith made her live the joy of the Annunciation, but also go through the darkness of the crucifixion of the Son, in order to reach up to the light of the Resurrection.
For the Apostles then, and for each of us today, the path of obedience in faith is no different. We encounter moments of light, but we also encounter times when God seems absent, his silence weighs on our heart and his will does not correspond to ours. But the more we open ourselves to God, receive the gift of faith and put our trust completely in Him, the more He empowers us with his presence, to live every situation in life in peace and in the certainty of his loyalty and his love. This means to get out of ourselves and our own projects, so that the Word of God, observed with love, is the lamp that guides our thoughts and our actions.
How could the Mother of God live her journey next to the Son with such strong faith, even in darkness, without losing the full trust in the Providence? This question applies also to the Apostles: «How could they persevere on the journey with Christ and give their life for His gospel, namely, for his good and happy Word that takes to the joy of true life through the cross.
Mary and the apostles obeyed to love and have observed the word which was given to them and that stood before them. They have «talked» with Christ, guarding and observing his word. Mary and the Apostles have reflected on the meaning of the word of Christ, and have concluded that they could not leave him, because he alone has the words of eternal life. The Greek word used in the Gospel, to define this «reflection», «dielogizeto», recalls the root of the word «dialogue.» This means that we believers, observant «hearers of the Word», must persevere in dialogue with the Word of God that is spoken to us, leaving it to penetrate the mind and the heart to understand what the Lord wants from each of us.
3) The gift of the Spirit.
In today’s Gospel we read: «I have told you this while I am still with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you «(Jn 14: 25-26).
What does Jesus mean in these two verses? The Risen wants to tell to his disciples then and now, that He does not leave us alone but sends us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth that gives life of God that is love. It is this love that makes us know what Jesus has said. The more we know him the more we love him; the more we love the more we know him and so on and on forever.
The teaching of the Spirit is still the teaching of Jesus. There is no contrast between the two. The task of the Spirit is to teach and remind. It is always the teaching of Jesus, but educated and understood in its fullness: «He will teach you everything.» This is not to add anything to the teaching of Jesus, as if it were incomplete. «Everything» means fullness, its roots, and its profound reason. Memory, the gift of the Spirit, is not a repetitive remembering, but a remembering that updates. The Spirit keeps open the history of Jesus, making it perennially actual and redeeming. The gift of the Spirit that Jesus gives to us on the cross, that He makes in history and that is his constant presence in history, is the Spirit of love that makes us understand and do what He said and did. The Spirit does not teach us or inspires to do strange things, but makes us understand what Christ said and did, giving us the strength to live it because it is only love that makes us understand and do.
Of course we all receive the gift of the Spirit, whose action in us makes us «remember» (give back to the heart) and «make present» Christ ever anew. However it must be especially invoked on the consecrated Virgins in the world, who are, in the Church, the visible sign of the mystery of the Church that is, at the same time, virgin and bride (see 2 Cor 11.2; Eph 5: 25-27) . While virginity announces from now what will be the future life (see Mt 22, 30), a life similar to that of the angels, it (virginity) also has a nuptial meaning as it is indicated in the ritual consecration by delivering of the insignia of the consecration, the veil and the ring, accompanied by this prayer: «Receive the veil and the ring as a sign of your bridal consecration.  Always faithful to Christ, your Spouse, never forget that you have totally given yourselves to him and to his body which is the Church «(Rite of the consecration of the Virgins).
Patristic Reading
Saint Augustin of Hyppo
«If ye love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter,
that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.»
Jn 14,15-30
[1.] We need everywhere works and actions, not a mere show of words. For to say and to promise is easy for any one, but to act is not equally easy. Why have I made these remarks?Because there are many at this time who say that they fear and love God, but in their works show the contrary; but God requireth that love which is shown by works. Wherefore He said to the disciples, “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” For after He had told them, “Whatsoever ye shall ask,2 I will do it,” that they might not deem the mere “asking” to be availing, He added, “If ye love Me,” “then,” He saith, “I will do it.” And since it was likely that they would be troubled when they heard that, “I go3 to the Father,” He telleth them “to be troubled now is not to love, to love is to obey My words. I have given you a commandment that ye love one another, that ye do so to each other as I have done to you; this is love, to obey these My words, and to yield to Him who is the object of your love.”
“And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter.” Again His speech is one of condescension. For since it was probable, that they not yet knowing Him would eagerly seek His society, His discourse, His presence in the flesh, and would admit of no consolation when He was absent, what saith He? “I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter,” that is, “Another like unto Me.” Let those be ashamed who have the disease of Sabellius,4 who hold not the fitting opinion concerning the Spirit. For the marvel of this discourse is this, that it hath stricken down contradictory heresies with the same blow. For by saying“another,” He showeth the difference of Person, and by “Paraclete,” the connection of Substance. But why said He, “I will ask the Father”? Because had He said, “I will send Him,” they would not have so much believed and now the object is that He should be believed. For afterwards He declares that He Himselfsendeth Him, saying, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (Jn 20,22); but in this place He telleth them that He asketh the Father, so as to render His discourse credible to them. Since Jn saith of Him, “Of His fullness have all we received” (Jn 1,16); but what He had, how receiveth He from another? And again, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” (Lc 3,16). “But what had He more than the Apostles, if He was about to ask It of His Father in order to give It to others, when they often even without prayer appear to have done thus?” And how,5 if It is sent according to request from the Father, doth It descend of Itself? And how is that which is everywhere present sent by Another, that which “divideth to every man severally as He will” (1Co 12,11), and which saith with authority, “Separate Me Paul and Barnabas”? (Ac 13,2). Those ministers were ministering unto God, yet still It called them authoritatively to Its own work; not that It called them to any different work, but in order to show Its power. “What then,” saith some one, “is, ‘I will ask the Fathers’?” (He saith it) to show the time of Its coming. For when He had cleansed them by the sacrifice,6 then the Holy Ghost lighted upon them. “And why, while He was with them, came it not?” Because the sacrifice was not yet offered. But when afterwards sin had been loosed, and they were being sent forth to dangers, and were stripping themselves for the contest, then need was that the Anointer7 should come. “But why did not the Spirit come immediately after the Resurrection?” In order that being greatly desirous of It, they might receive It with great joy. For as long as Christ was with them, they were not in tribulation; but when He departed, being made defenseless and thrown into much fear, they would receive It with much readiness.
“He remaineth with you.” This showeth that even after death It departeth not. But lest when they heard of the “Paraclete,” they should imagine a second Incarnation, and expect to see It with their eyes, He setteth them right by saying, “Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not.” “He will not be with you as I have been, but will dwell in your very souls”; for this is the, “shall be in you.”8 He calleth it the “Spirit of truth”; thus explaining the types in the Old Testament. “That He may be9 with you.” What is, “may be with you”? That which He saith Himself, that “I am with you.” (Mt 28,20). Besides, He also implieth something else, that “the case of the Spirit shall not be the same as Mine, He shall never leave you.” “Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not.” “Why, what is there belonging to the other Persons that is visible?” Nothing; but He speaketh here of knowledge; at least He addeth, “neither knoweth Him.” For He is wont, in the case of exact knowledge, to call it “sight”; because sight is clearer than the other senses, by this He always representeth exact knowledge. By “world,” He here speaketh of “the wicked,” thus too comforting the disciples by giving to them a special gift. See in how many particulars He raised His discourse concerning It. He said, “He is Another like unto Me”; He said, “He will not leave you”; He said, “Unto you alone He cometh, as also did I”; He said, that “He remaineth in you”; but not even so did He drive out their despondency. For they still sought Him and His society. To cure then this feeling, He saith,
Jn 14,18. “I will not leave you orphans, I will come unto you.”
[2.] “Fear not,” He saith, “I said not that I would send you another Comforter, as thoughwere Myself withdrawing from you for ever; I said not that He remaineth with you, as though I should see you no more. For I also Myself will come to you, I will not leave you orphans.” Because when commencing He said, “Little children,” therefore He saith also here, “I will not leave you orphans.” At first then He told them, “Ye shall come whither I go”; and, “In My Father’s house there are many mansions”; but here, since that time was long, He giveth them the Spirit; and when, not knowing what it could be of which He spoke, they were not sufficiently comforted, “I will not leave you orphans,” He saith; for this they chiefly required. since the, “I will come to you,” was the saying of one declaring a “presence,” observe how in order that they might not again seek for the same kind of presence as before, He did not clearly tell them this thing, but hinted at it; for having said,
Jn 14,19. “Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me not”; He added, “but ye see Me.”
As though He had said, “I come indeed to you, but not in the same way as before, ever being with you day by day.” And lest they should say, “How then saidst Thou to the Jews, Henceforth ye shall not see Me?” He solveth the contradiction by saying, “to you alone”; for such also is the nature of the Spirit.
“Because I live, ye shall live also.”
For the Cross doth not finally separate us, but only hideth for a little moment; and by “life” He seemeth to me to mean not the present only, but the future also.
Jn 14,20. “At that day ye shall know that am in the 10 Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”
With regard to the Father, these words refer to Essence; with regard to the disciples, to agreement of mind and help from God. “And how, tell me, is this reasonable?” saith some one. And how, pray, is the contrary reasonable? For great and altogether boundless is the interval between Christ and the disciples. And if the same words are employed, marvel not; for the Scripture is often wont to use in different senses the same words, when applied to God and to men. Thus we are called “gods,” and “sons of God,” yet the word hath not the same force when applied to us and to God. And the Son is called “Image,” and “Glory”; so are we, but great is the interval between us. Again, “Ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1Co 3,23), but not in like manner as Christ is God’s are we Christ’s. But what is it that He saith? “When I am arisen,” He saith, «ye shall know that I am not separated from the Father, but have the same power with Him, and that I am with you continually, when facts proclaim the aid which cometh to you from Me, when your enemies are kept down, and you speak boldly, when dangers are removed from your path, when the preaching of the Gospel flourisheth day by day, when all yield and give ground to the word of true religion. “As the Father hath sent Me, so send I you.” (Jn 20,21). Seest thou that here also the word hath not the same force? for if we take it as though it had, the Apostles will differ in nothing from Christ. But why saith He, “Then ye shall know”? Because then they saw Him risen and conversing with them, then they learnt the exact faith; for great was the power of the Spirit, which taught them all things.
[3.] Jn 14,21. “He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.”
It is not enough merely to have them, we need also an exact keeping of them. But why doth He frequently say the same thing to them? as, “If ye love Me, ye will keep 11 My commandments” (Jn 14,15); and, “He that hath My commandments and keepeth them”; and, “If any one heareth My word and keepeth it, he it is that loveth Me—he that heareth not My words, loveth Me not.” (Jn 14,24). I think that He alluded to their despondency; for since He had uttered many wise sayings to them concerning death, saying, “He that hateth his life in this world shall save it unto life eternal” (Jn 12,25); and,“Unless a man take 12 his cross and follow Me, he is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10,38); and is about to say other things besides, rebuking them, He saith, “Think ye that ye suffer sorrow from love? The not sorrowing would be a sign of love.” And because He wished all along to establish this, as He went on He summed up His discourse in this same point; “If ye loved Me,” He saith, “ye would have rejoiced, because—I go to My Father” (Jn 14,28), but now ye are in this state through cowardice. To be thus disposed towards death is not for those who remember My commandments; for you ought to be crucified, if you truly loved Me, for My word exhorteth you not to be afraid of those that kill the body. Those that are such both the Father loveth and I. «And I will manifest Myself unto him. 13 Then saith Judas, 14
Jn 14,22. “How is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us?” 15
Seest thou that their soul was close pressed 16 with fear? For he was confounded and troubled, and thought that as we see dead men in a dream, so He also would be seen. In order therefore that they might not imagine this, hear what He saith.
Jn 14,23. “I and the Father will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.” 17
All but saying, “As the Father revealeth Himself, so also do I.” And not in this way only He removed the suspicion, but also by saying, “We will make Our abode with him,” a thing which doth not belong to dreams. But observe, I pray you, the disciple confounded, and not daring to say plainly what he desired to say. For he said not, “Woe to us, that Thou diest,and will come to us as the dead come”; he spake not thus; but, “How is it that Thou wilt show Thyself to us, and not unto the world?” Jesus then saith, that “I accept you, because ye keep My commandments.” In order that they might not, when they should see Him afterwards, 18 deem Him to be an apparition, therefore He saith these things beforehand. And that they might not deem that He would appear to them so as I have said, He telleth them also the reason, “Because ye keep My commandments”; He saith that the Spirit also will appear in like manner. Now if after having companied with Him so long time, they cannot yet endure that Essence, or rather cannot even imagine It, what would have been their case had He appeared thus to them at the first? on this account also He ate with them, that the action might not seem to be an illusion. For if they thought this when they saw Him walking on the waters, although His wonted form was seen by them, and He was not far distant, what would they have imagined had they suddenly seen Him arisen whom they had seen taken 19 and swathed? Wherefore He continually telleth them that He will appear, and why He will appear, and how, that they may not suppose Him to be an apparition.
Jn 14,24. “He that loveth Me not keepeth not My sayings; and the word which ye hear is not Mine, but the Father’s which sent Me.”
“So that he that heareth not these sayings not only doth not love Me, but neither doth he love the Father.” For if this is the sure proof of love, the hearing the commandments, and these are of the Father, he that heareth them loveth not the Son only, but the Father also. “And how is the word ‘thine’ and ‘not thine’?” This means, “I speak not without the Father, nor say anything of Myself contrary to what seemeth good to Him.”
Jn 14,25. “These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.”
Since these sayings were not clear, and since some they did not understand, and doubted about the greater number, in order that they might not be again confused, and say, “What commands?” He released them from all their perplexity, saying,
Jn 14,26. “The Comforter, whom the Father shall send in My Name, He shall teach you.” 20
“Perhaps these things are not clear to you now, but ‘He’ 21 is a clear teacher of them.” And the, “remaineth with you” (Jn 14,17), is the expression of One implying that Himself will depart. Then that they may not be grieved, He saith, that as long as He should remain with them and the Spirit should not come, they would be unable to comprehend anything great or sublime. And this He said to prepare them to bear nobly His departure, as that which was to be the cause of great blessings to them. He continually calleth Him “Comforter,” because of the afflictions which then possessed them. And since even after hearing these things they were troubled, when they thought of the sorrows, the wars, His departure, see how He calmeth them again by saying,
Jn 14,27. “Peace I leave to you.” 22
All but saying, “What are ye harmed by the trouble of the world, provided ye be at peace with 23 Me? For this peace is not of the same kind as that. The one is external, is often mischievous and unprofitable, and is no advantage to those who possess it; but I give you peace of such a kind that ye be at peace with one another, which thing rendereth you stronger.” And because He said again, “I leave,” which was the expression of One departing, and enough to confound them, therefore He again saith,
“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Seest thou that they were affected partly by loving affection, partly by fear?
Jn 14,28. “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice because I said, I go unto the Father; for My Father is greater than I.”
[4.] And what joy would this bring to them? What consolation? What then mean the words? They did not yet know concerning the Resurrection, nor had they right opinion concerning Him; (for how could they, who did not even know that He would rise again?) but they thought that the Father was mighty. He saith then, that “If ye are fearful for Me, as not able to defend Myself, and if ye are not confident that I shall see you again after the Crucifixion, yet when ye heard that I go to the Father, ye ought then to have rejoiced because I go away to One that is greater, and able to undo all dangers.” “Ye have heard how I said unto you.” Why hath He put this? Because, He saith, “I am so firmly confident about the things which come to pass, that I even foretell them, so far am I from fearing.” This also is the meaning of what follows.
Jn 14,29. “And now I have told you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass, ye might believe that I Am.” 24 As though He had said, “Ye would not have known, had I not told you. And I should not have told you, had I not been confident.” Seest thou that the speech is one of condescension? for when He saith, “Think ye that I cannot pray to the Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of Angels” (Mt 26,53), He speaketh to the secret thoughts of the hearers; since no one, even in the height of madness, would say that He was not able to help Himself, but needed Angels; but because they thought of Him as a man, therefore He spoke of “twelve legions of Angels.” Yet in truth He did but ask those who came to take Him a question, and cast them backwards. (Jn 18,6). (If any one say that the Father is greater, inasmuch as 25 He is the cause of the Son, we will not contradict this. But this doth not by any means make the Son to be of a different Essence). But what He saith, is of this kind: “As long as I am here, it is natural that you should deem that I am 26 in danger; but when I am gone ‘there,’ 27 be confident that I am in safety; for Him none will be able to overcome.” All these words were addressed to the weakness of the disciples, for, “I Myself am confident, and care not for death.” On this account, He said, “I have told you these things before they come to pass”; “but since,” He saith, “ye are not yet able to receive the saying concerning them, I bring you comfort even from the Father, whom ye entitle great.” Having thus consoled them, He again telleth them sorrowful things.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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