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Six qualities of authentic love on the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Love is a free gift; it cannot be coerced, manipulated, or commodified. The greatest example of this is found in the Incarnation.

Detail from "Trinity" (Троица) by Andrei Rublev, c.1410 [WikiArt.org]

Readings
• Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
• Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
• 1 Jn 4:7-10
• Jn 15:9-17

Pop quiz: How many commandments did Jesus give? It’s a tricky question, since we know Jesus made clear he came to fulfill the law and that his teaching and actions were aimed at the completion—not the abolition—of the commandments (cf Matt 5:17-20). But what commandments did he give?

The Gospels record just one such commandment, heard in today’s reading from the Fourth Gospel: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” The centrality and necessity of that love is evident throughout today’s readings. But what, exactly, is that love? Is it an emotion? A passion? Or something more? As Pope Benedict XVI noted in Deus Caritas Est (“God Is Love”), his first encyclical, “the term ‘love’ has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings.”

First, true love is “of God” and is therefore a divine gift. As such, it reflects the nature of God, being holy, selfless, and oriented to the good of the other.

And that leads to the second fact, that God is love, as St. John so famously writes in his first epistle. This love is bound up in the great mystery of the Trinity, as the Catechism explains:

God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange (CCC, 2210).

That is why St. John writes that “everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God,” for there is only one source of authentic love: the Triune God.

Third, love is a free gift; it cannot be coerced, manipulated, or commodified. The greatest example of this is found in the Incarnation. God sent his Son into the world, says St. John, “so that we might have life through him.” Love is a gift, and so the lover initiates the life-giving relationship with the beloved: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”

And that highlights the fourth quality of love: it is selfless and sacrificial. Such is the love of Christ for his disciples: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is the sacrificial love of the Bridgegroom for his Bride, the Church: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her” (Eph 5:25). Those who are united to Christ in love are not slaves, but friends—even the very sons and daugthers of God by grace: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are” (1 Jn 3:1).

A fifth characteristic of love is that it acts; it is not just an abstract concept, but a concrete action. If Jesus had merely spoken of love and not accepted the Cross, what power would his words have? Real love is enfleshed, and that is why the two greatest acts of love in the world are found in the marital embrace and in the act of dying for someone else.

Finally, this love is for all people—not just for a tribe or a nation. The entrance of the Gentiles into the Church demonstrated that the new covenant is universal, for “Jews and Greeks alike” as St. Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:24). “Love is the key to the mystery,” wrote Abp. Fulton Sheen, noting also that “no love ever mounts to a higher level without a touch of the Cross.”

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the May 10, 2015 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1162 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His new book Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021), is published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

5 Comments

  1. Good insight as usual. Love isn’t love unless it’s given freely as you point out. From that fundamental truth that God’s love is a gift, that he loved us while we were still sinners the converse began to take shape as a reality when things became difficult and the impulse was not to go forward. We don’t see him yet we know within he is there. At times we question and doubt and experience desolation. That’s when we can give our love in return in greater freedom. And the sacrificial aspect you mention fits in with our love. St John of the Cross speaks of a sweetness in that experience in which we have a ‘secretive’ knowledge of God. Thanks again for ideas for tomorrow.

  2. I join Fr. Morello in thanking Carl Olson for helping to bring out the meaning of today’s beautiful Gospel reading.

    Joined to that, I am grateful to Fr. Peter Stravinskas for his commentary today at TCT on the same Gospel reading, where he emphasizes obedience as a response to the command of Jesus. Fr. Stravinskas cites Deuteronomy: “For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. . . .it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts: You have only to carry it out” (Dt 30:11, 14).

    Fr. Stravinskas connected this with a homily from St. John Henry Cardinal Newman, given when he was a young Anglican minister, urging his listeners about “how to repair the damage done by failures to keep God’s Commandments,” and how to avoid such damage going forward:

    “If anyone who hears me is at present moved by what I have said, and feels the remorse and shame of a bad conscience, and forms any sudden good resolution, let him take heed to follow it up at once by acting upon it. . . .For this reason; – because if he does not, he is beginning a habit of inattention and insensibility. God moves us in order to make the beginning of duty easy. If we do not attend, He ceases to move us. Any of you, my brethren, who will not take advantage of this considerate providence, if you will not turn to God now with a warm heart, you will hereafter be obliged to do so (if you do so at all) with a cold heart; —which is much harder. God keep you from this!”

    This all reminds me of a Saturday retreat a few years ago for Catholic fathers at my daughters’ high school. We were reading and discussing the mysterious proposal of Jesus recounted in Matthew 11: 28-30:

    “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    One dad stood up to pose a question and honestly blurted out his gut reaction: “This doesn’t sound like freedom. Don’t we want to be free?”

    It was at this moment that I was given a clear insight, that “freedom” is not “independence,” and that I, like this other dad, had a grave misunderstanding of reality.

    There is no life that is not yoked to something. We are either yoked to Jesus, or if we refuse his yoke, we are yoked to another authority.

    Freedom is choosing what you will be yoked to.

    Jesus declares that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. The world offers its alternative yoke. Those are the only options. We will be yoked to something.

  3. Just one commandment given by Jesus. I never thought to asked that question. Mr. Olson, you have packed so much into this wonderful column. As one priest said the terms of God and Love are incontrovertible. “Opening the Word” for us here is much appreciated — a lifetime of contemplation.

  4. I noticed that the latin for love as God commands is ‘diligetis’ and in another passage (todays in the EF) ‘amastis’ Did the jewish scholars use the first and the new testamanent jews use the second? Different meanings? Or simply a latin teanslation issue?

  5. In order to be free to love you need free will. In the Hypostatic Union Christ has a full human will as part of His human nature. In the “Our Father” we say “Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” In the Garden of Gethsemane Christ lived out the “Our Father” when He said: “not my will, but thine, be done.” and gave Himself over to His Passion and Death on the Cross. To me the will in question was Christ’s human will. Given that God is perfect, the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity would need to have a perfect union of Their divine will (wills?), which would rule out any disunion of will between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In contemplative prayer the Prayer of Union at its highest level involves the will of the contemplative being conformed to God’s will. It was through obedience that Christ’s human will was perfected and brought into complete conformity with the divine will. Christ did what Adam failed to do when Adam was disobedient and ate the forbidden fruit. Adam and Eve were unwilling to die to self-will and conform their wills to God’s will through obedience.

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