Today, the Church continues in its Easter catechesis with a consideration of the boundless love of God, which brought the Church into being in the first place and which has continued to sustain us and strengthen all Christians down through the ages. This is a love that cannot be contained or described by human boundaries but is universal in its scope. It is the kind of love that completely transforms us.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, love conquers the age old division between God’s Chosen People and those whom they described as being “far off,” the Gentiles. St. Luke carefully describes an encounter between Peter and a Roman centurion by the name of Cornelius. In his Gospel, St. Luke had previously described an encounter between Jesus and a Roman centurion whose servant was dying. Now he writes a parallel story in which Peter comes to realize that God’s love is not reserved to one kind of people but embraces all people. While we usually think of St. Paul as being the apostle to the Gentiles, we hear how Peter came to say: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” God’s love knows no boundaries.
In the First Letter of St. John, the evangelist is writing to the community to counter a disturbing development. Some in the community have begun to separate themselves from those who are illiterate and uneducated. They had begun to place the power of the intellect and their knowledge of God ahead of the commandment that Jesus had given them to love one another as he had loved them. He reminds them that God had loved them even before they had placed their faith in Jesus whom God sent to save us. God acted first to love us. We did nothing to earn God’s love. It is a free gift that is simply there for those who would take it.
The words of the Gospel are taken from the lengthy Farewell Discourse of St. John’s Gospel. In a rather remarkable passage, Jesus calls us friends. This may seem a rather insignificant title. However, then we stop to realize that in the entire body of the Hebrew Scriptures, only one other person is called a friend of God; namely, Abraham. All the other great prophets and patriarch of the Old Testament are called servants of God. Only Abraham was called God’s friend. Yet Jesus refers to us as his friends, and by association, God’s friends as well. Indeed, it is God’s love demonstrated through the redemptive death of Jesus which has transformed us from servant of God to friend of God. God’s love breaks boundaries between people of different cultures and different races. It also breaks the boundaries between God and the human family that came about through sin and disobedience. God’s love simply will not be hemmed in by any human limits or boundaries. Comprehending God’s love and how it transforms our lives is a life- long project. Each time we think we have come to understand it, God shows us another way to live out the love that is asked of us.
Embraced by such love, we are gradually transformed. We begin to recognize God’s love in places where we never suspected it would be found. We discover that what we once judged as unworthy may merely be an unfamiliar openness to God’s truth. We discover that our own insistence on legitimate religious practices may really be spiritual elitism. Our eyes are opened to ways we have tried to confine God’s love to the conventional boundaries that we ourselves have set.
Human beings are fond of noticing differences. God knows not the differences. God only sees what makes us God’s children. Human beings tend to look for love in familiar places and among familiar people. God loves to pull us into the unfamiliar and the new. Human beings tend to limit how much love they will offer until they get some love in return. God holds nothing back and simply waits patiently for us to love in return. God loves us so much that he literally gives us his very Body and Blood upon which to eat and drink, a meal that will in fact bring us firmly into God’s embrace for eternity, for we eat and drink eternal life with God when we gather around this table and enter into this meal. Amen. Alleluia.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator