Sermon on the Mount (detail), Henrik Olrik, ca. 1860

Transcription of Homily

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John. 

Jesus said to his disciples: “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 might be in you and your joy might be complete.”

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.

The Gospel of the Lord.

Today we have for our meditation this very central theme of the notion of what it means to truly love, and this means in the objective way. People say they love all sorts of things. I love cheeseburgers. I love my country. I love my family. But, obviously, according to the object, it can’t be the same notion of love. Love is to desire the good of the other. So obviously, if we say, “I love cheeseburgers”, we’re not willing that anything good happen to the cheeseburgers except that they disappear. Well, that’s not love. We can love our country. And we’ve seen the history of patriots who lay down their lives, according to Natural Law, for their country. People who love their family and sacrifice themselves for parents, who are perhaps ill, infirm, elderly, and generous children who sacrifice their time to take care of their parents. And so, this is willing the good of the other. So, there’s something about gift of self there; sacrifice, selflessness.

But then, Our Lord says, That as the Father loves Me, so I also love you. In other words, He’s incapable of diminishing His love. His love isn’t reduced according to the object, the type of person that He professes to love. So, if He loves something, it’s an infinite love. But then, He says, Remain in My love. In other words, He’s speaking of the fact that there is a possibility that we not remain in His love. There is a certain inner tension in this. And this is the drama of the life of a follower of Christ, of every Catholic, that it’s within my grasp to remain in His love, in an objective way, as we’ll see in a second, or to fall out of it. Doesn’t mean that He stops loving us, it means that we refuse His love. And what does this mean?

Moses the Prophet Icon, Coptic, Modern

He goes on to tell us: If you keep My Commandments, you will remain in My love. So, at the nucleus, at the heart of this, is obedience. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. We can’t say we love our Lord if we don’t do His will. So, Our Lord certainly wants our obedience. He wants our hearts. He wants them together, not one or the other. If we just give Him our love without obedience, that’s not love that’s sentimentalism, and it means nothing. If we just give Him an exterior, obedience, in a sort of a contractual relationship with Him, without gift of self, without loving Him, that doesn’t help anyone. So, these have to go together. There are two sides of one coin, loving and obedience. And it’s our obedience that is going to be the thermometer of the degree of our love.

Just as I have kept My Father’s Commandments and remain in His love. In other words, He’s saying, “I’ve done it with perfection.” And inasmuch as we are immersed in the life of grace, we are configured with Christ, this perfect obedience becomes possible for us as well and this is what we call holiness. And we see this in the lives of the saints who were perfectly obedient. And the saints, then, become icons of Christ, each one in their own milieu, with their own foibles, their gifts, their defects, their cultural baggage, each one an icon of Christ, according to its his own or her own spirituality, and the life that Our Lord has called that person to according to the vocation. That’s why saints don’t imitate saints.

If we look at the lives of the saints, and we see that, as a model for us to follow, you can get rather discouraged because, you know, how many of us levitate like St. Thomas Aquinas or bilocate like Padre Pio? Well, we’re not called to imitate the extraordinary, we’re called to imitate their loving obedience. But ultimately, they’re all imitating Christ. So, we don’t imitate the saints, we imitate Christ. He is the central point of all of this. And if we don’t have Christ as the prism, through which we see ourselves, we see others in the world we don’t see anything clearly.

And then, Our Lord goes on to say, I have told you this, so that My joy might be in you. In other words, the fruit of this loving obedience is His joy, not our own concept of joy, not something that we fashioned for ourselves that we think will make us happy. He’s always way beyond our own expectations. We have very, very narrow horizons and our understanding of happiness is… is rather… rather cheap… and broken. Our Lord has a happiness reserved for those who love Him and obey Him that is beyond all our imaginings, and it’s His joy. So we enter into His perfect joy. We enter into this Trinitarian life, of gift of self-gift, of self-receptivity, it’s a giving and taking, without any conditions on our part.

Recently, my Goddaughter was speaking about a sad situation in her family in which somebody had chosen a life of sin and disorder. And she wisely asked her uncle, “Haven’t you ever considered eternal life and the consequences of your choices?” And he just said, glibly, “Well, Jesus loves me.” Well, sure, but that’s a non-sequitur. Jesus loves Satan, and all the demons and the condemned souls. He loves the souls of purgatory, loves the souls in heaven, He loves us. That’s not an issue. That’s not a question. He loves everything He has created, and you can’t take His love back. In fact, that love that our Lord has for the demons and the condemned souls is their torture. They know themselves to be loved, and they violently resist it. So, what’s the difference then?

Well, if it’s the same love that our Lord has for saints, for those of us in this world, for those who are being purified in Purgatory, and those who are suffering the tortures of Hell, the difference is grace. And this is what the Church defines as gratia gratum faciens, that with a grace that makes us pleasing to God. So, that’s called merit. When we are in a state of grace, we are configured with Christ and therefore can merit. When we are configured with Christ, because we’re in a state of grace, then we are pleasing to God. His love for us doesn’t change, but we do please Him. Every parent knows what it is to love your children and not be pleased by them, to love your children and be proud of them. Well, it’s the life of grace that makes us pleasing to God. And so, there is an objective standard here.

Christ the Remunerator, Ary Scheffer, 1837

The question is not whether God loves us, but “Am I pleasing to Him?” And so, we ought to, rather than have a very low bar in following Christ by saying, “Is this a sin? — well, that’s… that’s a pretty low bar; it’s a very, it’s a rather contractual understanding of what it means to follow Christ – the question that ought to direct your thoughts or words or actions is not, “Is this a sin?”, but rather, “Does this give you glory? Does this please you, Lord?” When that is the question that directs my thoughts, my words, my actions, that changes everything. So long no longer am I thinking about, “Well, is this a sin? Does it sadden him? Will I hurt Him or not? It is, no, “Will I please you?” So, when our sole, and it should become even a neurosis, our sole thought is to do His will and to please Him, that is the recipe for joy.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Spirit, Amen.

— Fr. Ermatinger