Obedient love

Published on 22 Oct 2020

Almighty ever-living God, increase our faith hope and charity, and make us love what you command, so that we may merit what you promise [1].  

We ask for grace to love what you command.   With God’s help we can love him with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind [2]. To enable us to love him with our whole being, God commands us to do so.  His invitation to found our life on him is very insistent.  It is an order.  He gives us plenty of other support, but first he issues a commandment.  By a combination of law and grace, God empowers us to be in the right relation to him.

To show us how to love him wholeheartedly, the Father has sent us his Son.  The Holy Spirit is with us all the time, prompting us and strengthening us to live in accordance with what we have been taught.  Jesus Christ shows us the love of God.    He demonstrates to us what it is to keep the greatest and first commandment [3].  Obedience subtracts nothing from love.  To love because God has told us to do so is to love better and more intensely.  Our loving out of obedience purifies us of selfishness.  You must give back what has been pledged [4].  You must help the stranger. You must not be harsh [5].  The commandments and prohibitions descend to details as also does love which is thoroughgoing. 

Our discipleship of Christ is the practical framework for our wholehearted love of God.  The increase of faith, hope and charity which the Lord seeks to confer on us enables to hear, understand and do what is asked of us. Jesus gives us what we need.  He is already within us prompting our best response. It was with the joy of the Holy Spirit that you took to the Gospel [6] The virtues required are the reliable divine gift.  To love God as commanded would be impossible for us on our own.  He commands and enables obedience in the gracious presence in our life of the Son.   Jesus lives in us and walks with us.   The great commandments are repeated to us by one who is our brother and friend as well as our Lord.  The reinforcement is in his spiritual in-dwelling, in his good example and in his teaching. 

The word of God addresses our sinfulness as well as the receptivity which has been planted in us. You broke with idolatry when you were converted to God and became servants of the real, living God [7].  We listen because we have been primed to do so, but also because a great resistance in us is being overcome.  The history of our conversion continues.  Idolatries, old and new tempt us. The true God sees off the false ones. However he is not in petty competition with our delusions.  His authority cuts through foolishness and distractions.  From shadows and images into truth [8].  God sent us into the world. He accompanies us on our journey and awaits us at the next stage.

The retribution which is coming [9] focuses our attention.  Despite God’s abundant love of us our responding love might fail.  The commandment issued risks finding no answering obedience.  The faith, hope and charity are willingly conferred but can wither.  The Spirit within, reminding, encouraging and sanctifying, knows what it is to be ignored and even scorned.  Our conversion is enough of a work in progress for these possibilities to be both real and alarming.  My God is the rock where I take refuge: my shield my mighty help, my stronghold [10].  We ask again for his help to keep his commandments.  We do so with confidence but also with a vivid sense of our need. Praised be the God who saves me [11].

The Jesus who walks with us welcomes our questions.  He also shows us how to share his answers with others.  The into truth of the motto[12] reminds us that the pilgrimage on which we are engaged brings us, along with many others, towards ever deeper knowledge of God.  Yet the resistant-to-Christ part of us can proceed in a quite contrary way.  They got together, and to disconcert him, one of them put a question [13].  We are tempted to set the commandments in opposition to each other.  They will have less authority over us, we reason perversely, if we can suggest that they are self-contradictory.  In this we join forces with all who are drawn to the project of disconcerting the One who speaks truth to us.

The Lord peacefully shows us the harmony of the divine will for us.  The virtues are unified.  The goodness they construct is completely at peace with itself.  The commandments are in tune with each other and the love of God contains all our other good loves. The second resembles it; you must love your neighbour as yourself.  On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets also [14].  The details turn our to be consistent and coherent.   Jesus teaches us to live a life in which the loving service of God and the loving service of our neighbour are two aspects of the same truth.  Our obedience to quite detailed positive instructions and prohibitions builds up a general fidelity to the commandment of love. This commandment is old and new.  Christ makes all things new, however, since the beginning of everything he has been building up the wisdom to which he gives us access.  His fidelity is from all ages and he rediscovers in us an old acceptance of our creaturely nature.  I love you, Lord, my strength, my rock, my fortress, my saviour [15].

So that we merit what you promise [16].   Jesus transforms us and gives us the credit for the changes he brings about.  A merciful providence reunites that for which we were created with the fruits of the mission of our redeemer, always at work in our heart.  Christ lives in us by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit.  With abundant grace, he builds up our strength and breaks down our resistance.  He calms our quarrelsome tendencies.  He fulfils the divine vision of our life. Such is the humility of Jesus that he allows his work in us to belong to us.  His achievement becomes ours.  His faith, hope and charity make us obedient, trusting and grateful.  The merit is his, but with is he adorns our freedom.  His wholehearted love of the Father merges into our service of God and of our brothers and sisters. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment [17].  The grace-filled commandment brings about an obedient love.  The needs of others, including the most urgent ones, present themselves as part of a duty to love.  Jesus does for us what is required of us.  He shares with us his own love of the Father, and of all his children, which is extravagant and obedient all at once. If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him [18].

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]              Roman Missal, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Collect

[2]              Matthew 22.37

[3]              Matthew 22.38

[4]              Exodus 22.26

[5]              Exodus 22.22

[6]              1 Thessalonians 1.6

[7]              1 Thessalonians 1.9

[8]              ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem Saint John Henry Newman’s chosen epitaph

[9]              1 Thessalonians 1.10

[10]            Psalm (18) 17.2

[11]            Psalm (18) 17.48

[12]            see note above

[13]            Matthew 22.34-35

[14]            Matthew 22.39-40

[15]            Psalm (18) 17.1-2

[16]            Roman Missal, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Collect

[17]            Matthew 22.37-38

[18]            John 14.23