This Sunday the Church invites us to look back at the Last Supper to the words Jesus spoke to the Apostles after Judas had left the room. The words he speaks to them are words of tenderness and affection. He calls them little children; an expression which has a very gentle and endearing tone to it. Presumably he means that in comparison to his own complete knowledge of how things really are the Apostles only have a hesitant and partial knowledge of what is actually going on.
This concept of being like innocent little children in the face of an experienced adult is a good analogy for our relationship with God. We are like children who are only beginning to understand how things really are and who remain in a position of dependency; while God is like the parent who has complete knowledge of the world and who protects his children and gradually unfolds the world to them.
In these verses of scripture Jesus talks about love. In the context of his great love for them he tells the Apostles that they should love one another and points out that it is the depth of their love for one another which will allow all the other people in the world to recognise that they are his disciples.
Here we are at the Last Supper, at the most crucial point in the whole story of salvation, and Christ uses this most important occasion to stress to his Apostles that love is what he is all about. As Julian of Norwich so beautifully expressed it, ‘Love was his meaning.’
If we are to understand anything at all about God then we must understand that his driving force is nothing else other than love. Love is what God is all about and there could be no greater sign of this than the fact that Christ gave his life on the Cross of Calvary for our salvation.
This is not any merely human love; this is not emotional sentimentality; this is not attraction or infatuation. No, this is love in its truest and deepest and fullest sense. Our human love can only ever be a faint shadow of the tremendousness of God’s love. If we could only begin to appreciate just what love means to God it would take us far beyond anything we could possibly comprehend.
For us love means freely giving our whole selves to another, and this finds its best expression in marriage where we normally find the couple living their lives in mutual and lasting fidelity to each other. But for God, love, which finds its source in the great mystery of the Trinity, goes far beyond what the human mind can comprehend. It is deeper, wider, vaster that anything that we could possibly understand.
This means that it is only by living lives wholly committed to love that we can ever grow in our appreciation and knowledge of God. It is only by deeply devoting ourselves to our partners in marriage and by finding ways to express our love for the whole of humanity that we can ever even begin to understand what Christ means when he talks about love.
Christ tells his Apostles at the Last Supper that it is only by demonstrating their love for each other that outsiders will begin to come to know and appreciate God. He tells them that this is the best way that they can preach the Gospel. Not to use words but simply to love one another. This is Good News because we know that it is only in living lives of love that we can ever find our true fulfilment in life.
We see around us people who are bitter and twisted, people who are turned in on themselves, people who are materialistic and superficial, people who are violent or nasty. There are plenty of people like this living all around us. We see such people and instinctively we realise that to live our lives in these ways would mean that we were heading for disaster.
We understand very well that the only wholesome way of living is given to us in the pages of the New Testament and through the words of Jesus. We recognise that it is only by pursuing such things as goodness, truth and beauty that we can live truly worthy lives; lives which bring real fulfilment and satisfaction.
The obvious conclusion for anyone who takes the words of Jesus seriously is that if we want to be his followers then we have to acquire the virtues. Among the virtues we find things such as kindness, generosity, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, patience, perseverance, courage and so on.
In theological terms charity, which is another word for love, is the greatest of the virtues and anyone who regards themselves as a Christian would assiduously acquire this virtue. The virtue of love has two aspects: the love of God and the love of man which includes the love of neighbour and oneself. We therefore need to cultivate this virtue of love in these two areas. Most obviously the best way to express and deepen our love for God is to pray. This provides us with an open line of communication between us and God.
A good way to think about the various aspects of prayer is to compare it with how we would communicate with a lover. The person in love expresses a whole range of attitudes towards their beloved. They praise the one they love, they tell them how grateful they are to even know them, they immediately apologise for every trivial offence they may have caused, they listen carefully to them, they are constantly offering gifts and so on. In relation to our communication with God all these things constitute the various aspects of prayer.
In fact you can see all these different types of prayer in the mass. At the Penitential Rite we say sorry, at the Readings we listen, at the Intercessions we make requests, at the Offertory we present gifts, in the Eucharistic Prayer we offer praise and thanks, and the Communion becomes a consummation of all that went before.
We should then think of the Mass as a microcosm of our entire relationship with God, for all the modes of our communication with him are present in it. It is the best place therefore to express our love for God and, of course, also the best place to deepen our relationship with him.
By constantly celebrating the Mass, by participating in the Eucharist, we are able to deepen, widen, strengthen and open up our relationship with the supreme being in the most intimate way imaginable.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket