"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" (Jn 15:9-13).
The Gospel this week is from St. John 15:9-17.
It is only a few weeks since Good Friday when we commemorated the agonizing death of Christ on Mount Calvary. This was an excruciating, shameful death even for hardened criminals who deserved it. But for our loving Savior, the innocent lamb of God, one who had never offended God or neighbor, it was something of which the whole human race should be ashamed forever. What caused Christ that torment and death on the cross was our sins, the sins of all mankind and not the spite and hatred of his Jewish opponents, who were only instruments in the tragedy. Atonement had to be made to God for the sins of the world, so that men could reach the eternal inheritance which the incarnation made available to them. However, not all the acts of the entire human race could make a sufficient atonement to God. A sacrifice, an expiation of infinite value was needed. The death of the Son of God in his human nature was alone capable of making such an expiation.
That Christ willingly accepted crucifixion for our sakes, that he gave the greatest proof of love which the world has ever known, by laying down his life for his friends, did not make his sufferings any less, did not ease any of the pains of Calvary. His agony in the Garden before his arrest shows this: he foresaw all the tortures and pains which he was to undergo and sweated blood at the thought of what awaited him. But he was to keep his Father's commandment "not my will but thine be done." We Christians must have hearts of stone, hearts devoid of all sense of gratitude, when we forget what Christ has done for us and deliberately offend him! Alas, this is what all of us do sometimes, and many of us do all the time. Christ died to bring us to heaven but we tell him, by our sins, that he was wasting his time. We do not want to go to heaven, we are making our happiness here!
How far can human ingratitude and thanklessness go? Christ told us, through the disciples on Holy Thursday night, that he had made us his friends, his intimates. We are no longer servants in the household, who merely earn their daily wage and have no intimacy with the family and no hope of ever sharing in the family possessions. Instead, we have been adopted into the family by Christ becoming man, we have been guaranteed all the rights of children intimacy with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the future sharing in the eternal happiness of that divine household. Christ's incarnation made us God's children; Christ's death on the cross removed sin. Sin is the one obstacle that could prevent us reaching our eternal inheritance.
Because God gave us a free will we can in a moment of folly, a moment of madness really, deprive ourselves of the privileges and possessions which Christ has made available to us. We can choose to exchange an eternity of happiness for a few fleeting years of self-indulgence on earth. We can fling Christ's gift of love back in his face and tell him we don't want it. God forbid that we should ever act like this, that we should ever forget God's purpose in creating us. It is a marvelous thing to be alive, if we have hope in a future life. If nothing awaited us but the grave, then to live on this earth, which is a valley of sorrow and tears for the vast majority, would be the cruelest of jests. But of this we need have no fear. Life on earth is but a short prelude to our real existence. If we use this brief period as Christ has told us how to use it, death for us will be the passage into the eternal mansions. Be grateful to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; love the Blessed Trinity; prove your love by loving your fellowmen. By doing this you are fulfilling the whole law and the prophets; and you are assuring yourself of the place in heaven which Christ has won for you.
Grant, almighty God, that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy, which we keep in honor of the risen Lord, and that what we relieve in remembrance we may always hold to in what we do.