As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.
In these privileged final days of Eastertide we listen once again to the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, as handed on to the Church by the Beloved Disciple. The language of this discourse is perfectly simple; the style repetitive. The thought moves in circles, or, perhaps better, in spirals. Yet it’s all divinely revealed wisdom. Here is unveiled for us the theology of the Holy Trinity, and the meaning and purpose of human life, and the height of Christian mysticism. We can never come to an end of reading these words of Jesus, meditating on them, wondering at them, rejoicing in them: for they are life for us, and our glory. In these words we have a secret, according to which our life has all its value. We long to pass this secret on: yet the secular world has no understanding of it whatever.
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.
Opening his heart to his intimate friends, inevitably Jesus speaks about love - ἀγαπη. The word occurs 31 times in this discourse. The love he speaks of is not trivial or sentimental. On the contrary, it’s too big for us. In principle this love is utterly beyond our comprehension, although precisely this is what we are called to enter and live by. Its source and reference point is the love by which the eternal Father loves the eternal Son. He loves the Son so much that he gives him everything he himself is, retaining only the relation of paternity. But this love entered another mode when the eternal Son became Incarnate. Jesus speaks of his Father’s love for him, not just because of his identity as the Son, but also because as man he perfectly abides in his Father’s love, and perfectly fulfils his commandments. That is, Jesus lives permanently in the presence of his Father, loving and worshipping him without the least sinful thought or action ever interrupting their loving communion. And he obediently and perfectly fulfils his mission, which is to bring us into the circle of Trinitarian love. Jesus pours out his love on us not only divinely but also humanly; so much so that he lays down his life, pours out his blood for us: in order that we might become, with him, children of God.
The Holy Spirit is not explicitly mentioned in the words of today’s Gospel, but it can be helpful if we notice, or insert, his presence. As the Father has loved me, says Jesus. The Holy Spirit is in Person the love which the Father eternally pours out to the Son, and which the Son eternally pours back to the Father. So I have loved you. As the man Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, so in that Spirit he also loves us. And the ultimate term of his love for us was to give us the Holy Spirit. According to St. John, Jesus handed over the Spirit at the moment of his death. Then on Easter Day he breathed that same Spirit in power upon his Apostles. Then he says: Abide in my love. It is by the Holy Spirit that the love of Jesus abides perpetually and actively within us. And also it’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to abide in that love.
Abide in my love.
There is a little detail in the Greek here which is missed in almost all translations. Jesus doesn’t just say “Abide in my love” but “Abide in the love that is mine”. He speaks in the same way in this discourse of “the joy that is mine”, “the judgement that is mine”, “the commandments that are mine”, “the peace that is mine”. This little verbal formula underlines the particular character of the love in which we are called to abide. In its source, it’s divine, and infinite. And its typical expression is the Cross: self gift, self sacrifice, to the end.
How do we abide in Christ’s love? For he gives us both gift and command. The gift of the Holy Spirit puts love into our hearts where there was none before. Yet also: the grace of the Holy Spirit enables us, if we wish, to return that love with our own love: personally, freely, actively, meritoriously. To do that is the task of our Christian lives. We carry out this task in the first place by living in faith. Necessarily also, we do it by becoming free from sin, which could be defined as non-love, or as so many obstacles that we put up to love.
Negatively, then, if we would abide in Christ’s love, we must, by sheer ascetic effort and determination and perseverance, put aside all our spiteful, angry, selfish, proud, lustful, grasping, vain, foolhardy thoughts and tendencies. Positively, we must cultivate humility and purity of heart. Our model for this is Mary Immaculate, who alone was able to abide in Christ’s love without any flaw or intermission. Then also: we have to bear fruit.
The fruit of the disciples of Jesus is in the first place the Catholic Church. With the first disciples we have to take our part in building up that Church. More radically: the fruit of love is simply more love. We bear fruit for God when we respond to his love by loving Him and one another; when abiding in that love we live as befits the children of God. Abiding in Christ’s love then must mean never ceasing from prayer, from desire, from adoration, thanksgiving, intercession, love. Abiding in his love also means standing ready in principle to lay down our lives for love of Him and of our brethren; to die, even to be crucified, for love.
The love of Christ is a terrible thing. It demands everything, and must cost us everything. Sometimes people are delighted with this love, and embrace it; but then somehow lose sight of it, and refuse to go any further towards it. Having given so much, they will give no more. This is always sad, because in so far as we give, so much the more do we receive - grace upon grace - and as our love is called upon, and exercised, and stretched, so is it purified, and deepened, and widened, and strengthened, until finally it flows easily, spontaneously, naturally, with all the joy of the Holy Spirit. To reach this state is the highest conceivable good for us. No human aspiration can go beyond that. To live according to this is to be perfectly happy. To live without it is to lack the beatitude for which we were made.
At the Last Supper, along with his new commandment of love, Jesus also gave us the Sacrament of love. Here, ever and anew, we have immediate access to his sacrificial death, which is the perfect expression of his love, and the source from which it flows out on us. Here then, in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar, we directly receive, ever and anew, the love Jesus has for us, and also the grace we need to be able to pass that on to one another. Here, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are united with Jesus and with one another in one Body: for our own infinite good, and for God’s eternal glory.