love, friendship, and joy

at times for wedding mass preparation, the couple allows the priest to choose the gospel reading. whenever this happened to me, i would choose john 15: 9-17

this passage is one of my favorites to proclaim at liturgy; we will hear it if we are at mass this weekend. it concisely brings together the connection of major themes in john: friendship, joy, the call, the commandments, bearing fruit, and remaining in love.

here it is:

“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another. ( John 15: 9-17 )

the key to understand this dynamic is: jesus has loved us first. this love is a foundation of the christian faith. with covenantal love in our lives, the christian way can become relationally heart-felt: humans respond in love to love. how is it that God can choose me for this love? i am just a speck in the history of the universe. how can jesus choose and appoint us to continue this love?

part of this love is being a “friend” of jesus. this call moves into the freedom that only God can give. as opposed to following, hearing and obeying jesus in a slave-like manner, we respond as a friend would. jesus’ friendship-love is extreme: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. rarely do we this type of act in our lives. but jesus has shown us this self sacrificing love on the cross and resurrection; he invites us to share in this divine love. we are to give our lives for one another– love one another– as jesus loves us.

we will constantly fail in this lofty ideal of self giving love. knowing our weakness makes us even more thankful for divine mercy. jesus knows we will fail. at calvary, he saw all of the apostles abandon him and the greatest of them all– peter– deny he even knew jesus. this is our condition too. in choosing us as we are makes jesus’ love for us all the more miraculous and grace-filled.

becoming selfless is aspirational since self-centerness can be so strong in us. selfishness brings us misery as it is the opposite of love. selfishness separates us from one another; in its extreme, we despair. but we are at our best when we give ourselves to one another; we discover who we really are when we serve one another. this is the kind of love that jesus exemplifies and invites us to do.

if we share our lives with one another in action, we remain in jesus’ love. when we remain in this love, joy in our lives follows. jesus’ will for us is our complete joy! the more we remain in self giving love, the more joy we experience.

other fruits– such as peace, kindness and gentleness– will follow too when we go forth and share ourselves in the way of this love commandment.

we cannot live out this love on our own– our sin diverts us away from it. but the Holy Spirit will give us the graces and gifts towards this self giving love– the Spirit helps us in our weakness

mary, the mother of jesus, knew well of this self giving– she gave her son to us all; jesus gives her back to us. mary knew the joy of this love– especially in the power of the Spirit at pentecost. let us ask her to pray for us that we may remain in jesus’ friendship-love and bear much fruit:

Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.

Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
pray for us. Amen. Alleluia!

– Pope Francis, Evangelii Guadium, 11/24/13

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