Commandments of Love

Homily, Easter Sunday 6A

If we were doing a word association exercise, where I say a word and then you respond with the first thing that pops into your head, what do you think would be the most common things associated with the word “love” today? Maybe hearts, romance, Valentine’s, marriage, maybe even commitment or sacrifice. But what would we probably not expect to hear as a response when prompted with the word “love”? Commandments. Obedience.

Jesus says to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” In another place He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Not usually things that leap to our mind when thinking about love. Is it because Jesus doesn’t understand what love really is? Or are we the ones who don’t really understand love or the commandments? A lot of people talk about love. That we just need to love one another, to come together, to accept one another, but I often wonder what it is we actually mean by the word ‘love.’ Because to me, a lot of what I hear in the wider culture about ‘love’ sounds much more like mere tolerance or even indifference. “Do whatever you like. It doesn’t matter. As long as it makes you feel happy. As long as you’re being true to yourself. Be whoever you want to be, whatever you want to be, even if that’s something different than the reality of who God made you to be, and who He is calling you to be.” But this is not really love.

A good Catholic definition of love is to will the good of another, to desire what’s best for them. But how do we know what’s actually good for ourselves or for another person, not just what’s pleasing to them for the moment, not just what they happen to want right now, but what they genuinely need? Love, to actually be love, needs to be grounded in the truth, grounded in the reality of who we are and what we were made for, who God made us to be, and the genuine good that God has designed for us, those things that truly satisfy us and bring fulfillment. And as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, love needs to be grounded in the commandments, the commandments that God reveals for our salvation.

At home, as I was growing up, how did I know that my parents actually loved me and really cared about me? Did they tell me, “Do whatever you want?” Not very often. More often, they would say, “Do your homework. Do the dishes. Do your chores. Clean your room. Get off your lazy butt, and be the person that we know you can be.” They gave me direction. They gave me motivation. They wanted me to learn, to grow, to develop as a person. To learn from my mistakes, take responsibility for my actions, and reach my full potential. They wanted me to follow Jesus and the Church that He established with His own authority. Now I always knew that my parents would love me no matter what, no matter what mistakes I made or trouble I got into, but I also knew that they loved me enough to want what was best for me, to challenge and discipline me to really strive for the true good, even if that meant that they wouldn’t always be my favorite people at the time.

In a similar way, God really loves us. He doesn’t just tolerate us or shrug His shoulders at whatever we do. He wants what’s best for us. He wants us to truly live and thrive as human persons. He gives us His commandments and the teachings of the Church not to restrict our freedom, but to free us from the lies of the world around us, to free us from our slavery to sin and pleasure, to give us boundaries that keep us safe from the many dangers and behaviors that harm us, to help us reach our full potential. God has revealed to us what makes for true and lasting happiness. Why do we still hesitate to just give it a try, all of it, for once? All the rules and commandments of the Church, why not actually try them out and see what happens? Or have we even bothered to learn what those commandments are, and the reasons behind them?

The Church as God’s instrument of salvation and the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth who speaks through her—are not the ones out of touch with reality. It’s those who are too much influenced by the lies and relativism of the world and culture around us who are really out of touch. God and His Church are not insensitive to what people might want, but they are much more concerned about what we actually need. And God is not the one who benefits when we follow His commandments. We are. Don’t settle for the tolerance or indifference of this world. You were made for the love of God. God gives us the grace and strengthens us with His Holy Spirit to follow His commandments, to reach our potential and have life in abundance. Why not actually try it, and see what happens?

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