Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 15, 2022. Gospel of St. John 13:31-35. Theme: Jesus-Caritas, aka Jesus-Love
Today in Rome, a man who lived the first part of his life only for himself and whose behavior was so immoral that it got him booted out of the French military, is being canonized a saint by Pope Francis. His name is Charles de Foucauld, a member of the wealthy and famous French nobility, but he spent most of his adult life known as Little Brother Charles of Jesus, giving witness to Christ in a lifestyle of poor simplicity among Arab nomads in the Sahara. And it’s so providential that he’s being declared an official saint on this day because today’s Gospel was the theme of his converted new life in Christ.
In that Gospel, Jesus says to us, “I give you a NEW commandment…” so that might make us ask ourselves: what was the old commandment? Well, you might recall that the original commandment was this, “love your neighbor as yourself.” But you see, that old commandment was just a starting point that put us on the same playing field as most other religions. The prophets of Judaism taught this kind of love and we see in the Old Testament. Islam embraces this kind of love in its solemn duty of sacred hospitality. But all of these expressions of loving others as oneself keep it on the purely human level.
However, Jesus calls those who follow him to aim higher. In Biblical language, “to follow” someone means to imitate them. Not in their mannerisms nor the way they dress or speak, but in how they think and how they act. In other words, it means to have the same mind, the same type of outlook, the same sort of attitude. And so for the Christian, to love as Jesus loves means to go beyond the original commandment. It means to love others MORE than we love ourselves and to prove it by our actions.
This is exactly what Charles de Foucauld set out to do when he left France to live the Gospel among the Moslems of Morocco and Algeria. Inspired by Jesus’ words that people would know what it means to be Christian by seeing love-in-action, he made this the entire theme, program and mission of his life. He called himself the Universal Brother accepting all who came to him and making his home and chapel a place of hospitality and welcome. He took the original commandant of love and through his union with Jesus, especially in the Eucharist, sought to make it supernatural, transforming human-love into Jesus-love. As a matter of fact his personal motto in Latin was “Jesus-Caritas”, which means “Jesus-Love”.
And to be honest, this is a love which is not easily understood by many. Because from our limited and all too often selfish point of view, Jesus-Love is crazy love, foolish love. It’s a love that doesn’t make sense apart from Christ. Jesus-love doesn’t focus on what it will cost the lover, the giver. To love as Jesus loves means that our love must be unconditional. To love as Jesus loves means that our love must be sacrificial. To love as Jesus loves means that our love must be forgiving.
To say that Jesus-Love is unconditional means that it’s not attached to a list of what others must be like or act like before we will be loving towards them. Notice in the Gospels how Jesus met with, socialized with and helped all who came to him with sincere hearts no matter if they were Jew or Gentile, foreigner or countryman, saint or sinner, friend or foe. Jesus-love encompasses all.
To call Jesus-Love love sacrificial means that it is unselfish and puts the welfare of others before one’s own. Now, for us frail human beings, it’s a struggle to love like that, and it’s especially difficult to keep on doing so consistently! However, in Christ it can indeed be done because his Spirit empowers us to do things that we didn't think we were ever capable of doing.
Lastly, Jesus-Love must be forgiving. Forgiving doesn’t mean that the bad things people have done to us are insignificant or even forgotten. It means that we refuse to allow their evil actions to master us and have the last word in our lives and relationships. We refuse to make ourselves victims of hatred and ambassadors of revenge. It means that we will do our best to love like Jesus loves no matter how others act towards us because we are called and empowered to live on a higher plane.
Notice that Jesus gave us his new commandment of love within the context of the Last Supper. And his words about being glorified bring us to his crucifixion which will lead to resurrection. How fitting it is that the commandment of love is connected to both of these things because, as St. Charles of Jesus teaches us, the Eucharist is what fuels Jesus-Love within us and the Passion is where we see it lived out in its stark reality. The figure of Jesus crucified, with his arms outstretched and his pierced heart opened, is the most powerful example we have to urge us on to love unconditionally, to sacrifice freely, and to forgive humbly. If we have this Jesus-Love within us like St. Charles de Foucauld, we can become universal brothers and sisters to those who come into our lives, witnessing to Jesus and his Gospel by our kindness and hospitality.
St.Charles of Jesus de Foucauld