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6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE DILEMMA OF LOVE

We mistakenly presume that love is something we can give as it pleases us. We hear expressions such as, “He doesn’t deserve my love.” “I’m not sure I can love him/her.” The question is whether love is ours, whether the decision to love belongs to us in the absolute sense. John reminds us this weekend, “Love is of God,” and “Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” What does that mean?

 

The gospels of this Easter period depict Christ stressing the origin of love, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you” (Jn. 15:9). John elaborates this by giving us the incarnational dimension of love. First, always remember that God is love. Second, God's love is revealed in Christ. Third, our relationship with God starts our with incorporation into the divine love through baptism. And fourth, our love becomes fruitful and generative by remaining in Christ. Remaining in Christ, therefore, is an invitation to stay rooted in God who is the meaning and source of love.

 

Furthermore, Jesus establishes the relationship between loving God and keeping his commandments. To love God, we must keep his commandments, whereas the opposite is not possible. If someone claims to love God without keeping God’s commandments, then the person is operating outside the spheres of God’s love. Think about it this way. You are a parent and you have a son who lives just how he likes. This child comes in at his own time and leaves at his bidding. This child refuses to go to school or to learn a skill. He just does not do anything that makes you happy. Yet continues to say he loves you. You would wonder what kind of child that is or what kind of love he professes. Or you are the boss in a company with an employee who would not keep company rules. Yet, this employee says, “Boss, I love you.” How would that work? The commandments of God keep us connected with God’s love. In turn, God’s commandments guide us in loving one another as God demands.

 

Loving as God demands makes love attractive and self-giving. It is the example of Christ for believers. We all know the story of the Titanic which left England on April 10, 1912 and was meant to arrive New York City on the morning of April 17.  The Titanic never made it, 1,516 lives lost in that monumental accident. But the story of the Titanic would always be told for several reasons. Mostly, because a ship that was considered “unsinkable” disappointed the power of innovation in science and technology. Hence, what we hear about the Titanic revolves around luxury, innovation, social and class divisions, and some exaggerated image of failed technological pride or self-confidence. But there is a story of the Titanic that is rarely told, what K.V. TURLEY, a London-based writer, journalist and filmmaker called “heroism of the priestly vocation.” Three priests on board the Titanic offered the passengers, “lifeboat in the shape of religious consolation at hand in case of spiritual shipwreck.”

 

In the gospel, Christ says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13). That horrible 1912 morning, Father Byles, a convert to Catholicism, was traveling to New York City to officiate at his brother’s wedding. Father Montvila was to begin life in that same city at a parish for Lithuanian immigrants. Father Peruschitz, a Benedictine monk and teacher, was heading to Minnesota to help start a school.

 

An eyewitness later told America magazine: “When all the excitement became fearful, all the Catholics on board desired the assistance of priests with the greatest fervor. Both priests aroused those condemned to die to say acts of contrition and prepare themselves to meet the face of God.” Then the priests began to organize the evacuation of women and children, escorting them upward through the various decks while leading the rosary and giving general absolution. Bertha Moran, an Irish garment worker traveling third-class, would tell The Evening World: “Continuing the prayers, he (Father Byles) led us to where the boats were being lowered. Helping the women and children in, he whispered to them words of comfort and encouragement.” Seeing the first batch of women and children safely aboard lifeboats, he declined an offer to join them. Another young Irish woman, Ellen Mockler, would later say: “After I got in the boat, which was the last one to leave, and we were slowly going further away from the ship, I could hear distinctly the voice of the priest and the response to his prayers. Then they became fainter and fainter, until I could only hear the strains of [the hymn] ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ and the screams of the people left behind. We were told by the men who rowed our boat that we were mistaken as to the screams and that it was the people singing, but we knew otherwise.”


Remaining is Christ’s love means understanding that love is of God. Love is not a property that we desire to give as we like. Peter preaches that to the household of Cornelius in the first reading and the community of believers bring the Gentiles in. Everyone experiences God’s love as brothers and sisters. Saint John preaches that in the second reading, reminding us to love in action and in truth. The priests of the Titanic offer spiritual lifeboats to the passengers when they need someone with exceptional spirit of sacrifice. The desperate Titanic passengers are reminded of the presence of God at the toughest time in their lives.

 

The dilemma of love resides both in its origin and its demand, “Just as the Father loves me, so I also love you.” When you say to someone, “You don’t deserve my love,” you may need to ask yourself whether it is really your love or God’s love. Maybe the first place to start from would be to make sure that you’re remaining in Christ’s love through keeping the commandments.


Readings: 1st- Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 2nd- 1 Jn. 4:7-10; Gospel- Jn. 15:9-17

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