If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (Jn 14) Divine Providence was at work when they etched those words in stone above the front door of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Richmond. You see, many years after the cathedral was built, they would build the college campus of Virginia Commonwealth University surrounding it. And furthermore, they would place the dorms, so that a certain undergraduate would pass this message three times a day on the way to the cafeteria.
Later in the next chapter of John Our Lord would tweak His message to, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (Jn 15:13) That sounds so odd or inauthentic. I remember newly arriving at VCU and being approached by fraternity members looking for me to pledge. Their pitch reminds me of Our Lord’s teaching, ‘if you come and do what we say, we’ll be your friend.’ I steered clear of these guys. No offense to you frat boys. Although the beer was enticing, I already had friends so I declined. Later I would join the oldest and largest fraternity in the world. I pledged the Alpha and Omega house.
If I rejected the friendship of the Greek fraternities on the grounds of insincere friendship, why do accept the Lord’s? The friendship that He came to establish is what is called a covenant. We can see how this relationship has been developing throughout the OT.
- God’s promise – I give you paradise
- His command – Be fruitful and multiply, and don’t eat of the tree
- Promise – “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood.” (Gn 9:15)
- Command – “Be fertile, then, and multiply; abound on earth and subdue it.” (Gn 9:7)
- Promise – great nation and descendants as numerous a the stars
- Command – Worship God (the only), circumcision
- Promise – freedom from slavery, Promised Land, Divine Presence (tabernacle, pillar of cloud and fire)
- Command – 10 Commandments and a way of life (yearly cycle of feasts)
- Promise – freedom from sin, salvation, personal involvement in our live and His abiding sacramental presence
- Command – be Catholic
Hopefully, we have all heard that God loves us. Well, love demands a response. Just as a young man professes his love to his girlfriend and he expects her to respond with the intention to exclusively spend her time with him, so there is a proper way to respond to God’s love – 10 Commandments.
In the Catechism before we get to the section of the moral life, we study the Creed. Likewise today’s Gospel passage is from the 14th chapter of John, the second half of his presentation of Christ’s life. Jesus establishes who He is and His love for us well before He starts in on commanding us. How wrong would it be for the young man demanding exclusivity and all the free time of a girl on the first date?
We have heard people complain that the Church is all about is rules. But is it not really all about a relationship? Like your homes, it isn’t uncommon for the teenaged member of the family to have such a great desire for independence that the love and support of the parents is obscured and all he sees is rules, rules, rules. This adolescent perspective isn’t lacking in our culture. There is an influential part of our society that wants complete and utter independence from any authority that can’t be controlled or manipulated by them. They bristle at the idea that one has to accept a rule that they can’t control, like human life is sacred, marriage can’t be reconfigured or gender reassigned. If their premise were accepted, that all rules have to be under human control, this would mean that the principles that govern mankind are merely governed by things in creation. We are more than the things of earth. Our bodies are only a part of who we are. We are created in God’s image and likeness. Our souls have higher law.
Just laws are in accord with one’s nature. I can’t expect the cat that shares my house to sit at the dinner table, wait for me to say grace and then be deft with the manners that govern the proper use of fork and knife. Why is it that often the oldest children are scolded before the younger ones? They have an ability that the younger ones don’t. They know better. Likewise our appetites and strengths don’t govern right and wrong like they do for animals. We answer to a higher law. In turn we enjoy the higher powers of freedom and immortality.
Human freedom is ordered to the good and not evil. To do evil is not freedom, nor a part of freedom, but only a sign that one is free. Freedom is not rooted in the physical ability to do evil, but in the moral ability to do good. “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the “slavery of sin.”” (CCC 1733) “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Rom 6:16)
A sports analogy can help. There was a movie that came out a few years ago, called Million Dollar Arm. It’s based on the idea that there are those with extraordinary athletic abilities, no matter what sport they play. So, a baseball scout goes to India and to find some athletes who excel at cricket and bring them back to America to play baseball. Now, to bring these boys into professional baseball, they will have to surrender their way of throwing a ball for a cricket. I don’t know anything about cricket, but I do know that you can’t excel at golf, that is, you will lack the freedom to move the golf ball around the links as you wish, if you insist on using a baseball swing, stance, and grip. Now, tell me. Is this a lack of freedom? Who is more free, the one who insists on using the baseball, hockey, lacrosse or cricket swing to hit the golf ball, because after all these are more options, or the person who is disciplined and stays within the natural physics of golf?
The key to our excelling and living like the immortal divine family member is the moral life. Like the Indian boys pulled from the grinding poverty of India to be professional ball players in the US, they will have to adapt to new rules. When Christ teaches, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. He wants us to know what it is like to live like a royal member of His household. “I no longer call you slaves … but friends…” (Jn 15:13) We don’t know what it is like to live with slaves, but we do own pets. Why do we give them the privilege of living in AC, eating table scraps, watching t.v., going on trips and sharing the intimacy and love of our family?
Well, because our pets aren’t living like they do in nature. If they were tearing up the furniture, doing their business where and when they want, biting and abusing the members of the family, I’m sure that we would reconsider their status as indoor companions. But because they have altered their lifestyle, in as much as their nature permits, they live with us. In fact we extend their lifespan as much as our power permits. Well, Jesus doesn’t want to leave us outdoors to die like an animal. I will not leave you orphans. Yet let’s not get carried away with ourselves, it isn’t our nature to be divine. How will we know what is expected at God’s divine banquet table?
When Moses was sent down river as a baby in a basket, he was a condemned criminal for being born Hebrew. He is an image of the human race that lives under a death sentence because of our birth. In a wonderful way, according to God’s plan, the families that gave Moses this death sentence were the ones who saved him. The mother that gave him his Hebrew status, the very thing that condemned him, surrendered him so as to save him. And the daughter of Pharaoh, the king who condemned him, saved him by taking him in as his own mother. The daughter of Pharaoh gave him royal status. Yet at the same time, Moses natural mother is called in to nurse him.
Our mothers gave us life and a death sentence. The moment we are born, we started to die. To remedy to this problem, most of our mothers sent us down stream as infants. They brought us to the waters of Baptism and we entered into a new family. God became our Father and we are now brothers and sisters of His Son. Moses was nursed by his natural mother but then lived as Pharaoh’s son. Likewise our natural parents raise us but we live with the promised inheritance of living in the Kingdom of Heaven, as members of the royal family of the King of Kings
It was Pharaoh’s royal daughter that brought the lowborn Hebrew baby, Moses, into Pharaoh’s royal family. Our new mother likewise has a status far beyond her adopted children. She is the one whom the angel declared to be “full of grace.” The Blessed Virgin Mary is always the mother of Jesus, a natural member of the divine family, but also she is the mother of those whom her Son adopts, us. Mary’s new status as our adoptive mother is established when Jesus tells John the Apostle, a representative of His the new Church, “Behold, your mother.” (Jn 19:27)
To attain heaven, to live as a child of God, we have an adopted mother. How will we know what is expected at God’s divine banquet table? Follow the instructions of your mother. Devotion to her is a certain path to our heavenly home. Ad Iesum per Mariam. If we were to take her up on her plan that we pray the Rosary daily like she instructed the children at Fatima, how could we fail to miss her maternal guidance?