The Servant of God Catherine de Hueck, Foundress of the Madonna House Apostolate, once said: “A bell is not a bell till you ring it. A song is no song till you sing it. The love in your heart was not put there to stay. Love is not love till you give it away.”
Roy B. Zuck tells us that in describing the first century Christians to the Roman Emperor Hadrian, Aristides said, “They love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who will hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger, they ask him home and are happy, as though he were a real brother. They don’t consider themselves brothers and sisters in the usual sense, but brothers and sisters instead through the Spirit, in God.”
Indeed, love is not just an emotion; it is a decision and an action. Love is willing, seeking, pursuing and sacrificing for the good of the other. Love is the giving of oneself for the well-being of the beloved. For love to be genuine and effective, it has to be practical love. It has to be love that is shown in action, as the early Christians showed the world.
That love must be shown in action is one of the important points of Jesus in the gospel reading today. “Whoever loves me will keep my word… Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives some qualities of love. He says, “Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not envious, it is not boastful, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” What a beautiful description of love! To be added to this list of qualities of love on the basis of gospel passage, I suggest, is obedience. Love is obedient.
In our contemporary world that emphasizes personal freedom and personal expression, some people may not like love being obedient, especially in the sense of blind obedience. Love must be free and it must be free to obey.
That love must be obedient will make a lot of sense if we take note that the Latin root word of obedience is “obedire,” which means, “to pay attention to, to give ear, literally, to listen to.” Obedience, its Latin root word tells us, has something to do with listening. A love that is obedient knows how to listen.
Many psychologists and spiritual writers tell us that listening is an act of love. Listening is loving and great listeners are great lovers. Indeed, listening must take the big portion of the art of communication and interaction.
Listening as an act of love demands that we pay respectful attention to the other. We empty ourselves of our self-preoccupations and interests so that we can provide a sacred space, especially in the heart, for the other to be and to express himself or herself. We try to see things from the perspective of the other and not just from our point of view. Then, we act and respond accordingly and lovingly. Indeed, there can never be genuine obedience without loving and respectful listening. We do not really love if we do not know how to listen to people we say we love.
Listening involves a lot of self-sacrifice and a dying to oneself, to one’s ego and often to the self-righteous obsession to be heard. Listening involves being more concerned about the other than about oneself.
Nowadays, the art of listening has become so difficult. Even some family members do not know how to listen to one another. Many husbands and wives quarrel a lot because they do not know how to listen to one another. Parents and children misunderstand each other because of lack of true listening in their communication. We experience so many quarrels and so much misunderstanding because of the break down in communication, especially in listening.
In response to the question, “Why is it more difficult to listen these days?” somebody answered, “Because of all our high technology, and also because there is so much narcissism in today’s society. People tend to want to hear ‘all about me,’ not the other person.”
It is very clear from the gospels that love is the fundamental message of Jesus. And Jesus challenges us to a demanding and self-sacrificing love. The gospel today tells us that only those who follow the Lord’s sacrificial example and obey his directives can be said to truly love.
In fact, more than a requirement for love, obedience is more a consequence of it. Because we love, therefore we listen and obey. If we as disciples truly love Jesus, we will truly listen to Jesus and obey and act on his commandments. In the gospels, a disciple is one who listens to and acts on the word or will of God.
Aside from themes of obedience and listening as an act of loving Jesus, in the gospel passage today, also talks about the giving of the Holy Spirit and the gift of peace. “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” How do we connect these different themes?
The Holy Spirit given to us is divine love, divine life, divine indwelling. When we truly allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, the Holy Spirit leads us to live with all the compassion and mercy, love and obedience, care and concern that exist within the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit teaches us to surrender ourselves to God’s life within us and prompts obedience to what God asks of us and opens us to receive the peace only God can give.
The peace that we receive is not just the absence of conflict, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us. Peace, in the Bible, has something to do with having good and right relationships with God, with others and with oneself. When we truly manifest obedient love, a kind of love that really listens to God and others, and when we truly allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, then peace arises as a gift from the Lord. Indeed, peace is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and an offshoot of obedient love that listens, respects, dialogues and cares.
Someone describes Christian love in the following words:
“Christian love is silence when your words would hurt. It is patience when your neighbors are mean. It is thoughtfulness for another’s problems. It is promptness when a stern duty calls. It is courage when misfortune falls.”
Still another person speaks of Christian love in this way:
Christian love is slow to suspect… quick to trust. Slow to condemn… quick to justify. Slow to offend… quick to defend. Slow to reprimand… quick to forbear. Slow to provoke… quick to conciliate. Slow to hinder… quick to help. Slow to resent… quick to forgive.
Indeed, love is an action. What kind of actions do we show and do to manifest the love that we say we have in our hearts?