5th Sunday of Easter 2019 (readings)
Christ tells us, “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). These words of Christ summarize his New Commandment to us. But this love that He speaks of is not the romanticized love of the 21st century. Rather, here in the Gospel of John, Christ uses the Greek word agape; which is translated as caritas in Latin, or charity in English.
This means that the love Christ speaks of is not an emotional love, but rather an act of the will, a supernatural virtue. It requires that we love one another for God’s sake; that we love God Himself IN our neighbor; anything less than this is not true charity, anything less is not the kind of love that Christ commands. That said, loving someone for God’s sake is not always easy; it requires an act of the will on our part.
How then do we love our neighbor for God’s sake? How do we make this love an act of the will? Well, if instead of noticing all the bad things, all the annoyances, nuisances, mistakes, and sins, if instead we begin to notice the good in our neighbor, we’re well on our way to loving God in them.
The good things that we notice in others is what they share with God. Do you notice some small kindness in that person? That’s God manifesting himself in them. Do you notice their love for the poor? That’s God manifesting himself in them. Do you notice how much they struggle to provide for the wellbeing of their family? That’s God manifesting himself in them.
We cannot dismiss our brothers and sisters just because we find some small fault in them, rather, we must instead strive to use our will to find some goodness in every person we meet. Because it’s in that goodness that we find God in every person.
It’s this small change in ourselves that is the beginning of developing this virtue of charity. But we can’t stay at the beginning, if we want to grow in this love of neighbor, not just stay at the early stages, in addition to seeing the good in them, we must also assume the good in their intentions. They may be doing something bad, and their intentions may not be good, but we can be certain that we don’t know why they chose to do this or say that.
Perhaps that late night party at our neighbor’s house with the loud music that annoys us so much is them celebrating a first communion, or a baptism, or a wedding. We don’t know; instead of letting this anger us, it’s better to assume the good. Or perhaps that car that cut us of that caused us a great deal of anger was in fact in a rush to get to the hospital to see a dying relative; we don’t know. If we’re going to assume anything, let it be the good.
There’s a story told by St. Jerome about St. John, the Beloved Disciple. In his commentary on Galatians Jerome speaks of Blessed John when he was towards the very end of his life, living in Ephesus.
Jerome says: While St. John was very advanced in age he used to be carried into the middle of the congregation in the arms of his disciples. John was unable to say anything except:
“Little children, love one another.”
At last, wearied that he always spoke the same words, they asked: “Master, why do you always say this?”
“Because,” he replied, “it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough.”
My brothers and sisters, if we want to one day see Christ face to face instead of through a glass, darkly, we must seek out the good in our neighbor and assume the good in their intention, and in them, love God.