In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week we heard in the Gospel reading something of divine love – of how it is undertaken in obedience to Jesus’ command, and of how love is the key to the secret wisdom of God.
In today’s Gospel reading, this teaching is recapitulated and expanded, in one of the most incredible of the Lord’s sayings: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” This bears repeating: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
The love of Christ, manifested in keeping his word, flows into love’s mutuality, into finding oneself to be God’s beloved, and more remarkably yet, in finding God and the Son of God making their home with us – abiding with us, making us the location of God’s own life, and so making us immortal. Loving Christ and keeping his word is the commencement of the spiritual life, the beginning (and – it is well to say – the content) of the road that leads to the fulfillment of every aspiration. Jesus said not only that he is the truth and the life, but that he is THE WAY to himself as the truth and the life.
But what does it mean for the love of Christ to be the commencement of the spiritual life? The spiritual life may practically be spoken-of as the life of prayer. Every Christian should have a definite rule of prayer. Each one of us should be praying every day, and praying in an ordered way and with discipline. And our prayer should not be simply asking God for things, for ourselves or on behalf of others. (We should do this, but our prayer should not be JUST this, or even mostly this.) Our daily prayer must also take the form of adoring God, of examining our conscience and confessing our sins to God, of thanking him for all that he has done and is doing for us. I have mentioned before a handy acronym: the word “acts” (as in the Acts of the Apostles): A= adoration, C= confession, T= thanksgiving, and S= supplication.
Now each of these elements of our daily prayer must be undertaken in union with Jesus. Yet what does that mean and how is it done? Here we might let the Eucharist (the Mass), and the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist, be our guide.
In the mass, we pray to God in all of the ways I just mentioned. 1) We adore him – we sing “Glory to God in the highest,” we praise him, we worship him, and we acknowledge his greatness and his fidelity; 2) we confess to him, we acknowledge that we are unworthy, that we have turned away from him, neglected him, and failed in our mission to love and obey him; 3) we thank him (the word “Eucharist” itself, in Greek, means “thanksgiving”), and indeed the great central prayer of the mass – the “Eucharistic Canon” is a prayer of thanksgiving. It begins like this:
We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son. For in these last days you sent him to be incarnate from the Virgin Mary, to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In him, you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.
And lastly (4), we also supplicate God in the mass – we ask him for things. And the main things we ask him for are spiritual things, things that we know to be unequivocally good because of the Lord’s own Word. We ask him for forgiveness, for mercy for ourselves and on behalf of others – for prisoners and captives, for the sick, for those who serve in our armed forces, for Christian clergy and the faithful throughout the world, for those who bear the authority of secular government; we ask God to unite us to Jesus, mercifully to remember the dead, and most of all, perhaps, we ask him for salvation in Christ. We ask that he would, in the fullness of time, put the whole universe in subjection under Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where with his holy apostles and martyrs and with all the saints we may enter the everlasting heritage of the children of God.
This is a brief sketch of what we do at mass, of the content of the mass. And the mass, considered as such, is a helpful guide to the shape of our personal, daily prayer. But I also mentioned that the Church’s teaching concerning the mass can help us to realize what it means for our love of Christ – and for Christ himself – to be the point of embarkation for all prayer, and so for the spiritual life generally. So what does the Church teach concerning the mass? A very central teaching is that very frequently called “the real presence” (or sometimes “transubstantiation”). To wit: that the mass is not merely symbolic, but that Christ is REALLY present in the mass, that he is REALLY offered to the Father on the altar, and is REALLY received by the faithful in the act of communion. All that we do at the mass, we do in union with Jesus, who is REALLY HERE, in the midst of us, just as he said he would be, every time we come together and DO THIS in remembrance of him, out of love for him, and in obedience to his command (cf. Luke 22.19).
So in the mass, we see a fulfillment of the Lord’s word in today’s reading from St. John’s Gospel: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him,” (John 14.23). God takes up his abode with us here and at every mass; he is here in the midst of us; we burn a candle in this place 24 hours a day to express our faith in that fact – that Christ is here, not just symbolically, but REALLY: his body, blood, soul, and divinity; his real, living and life-giving SELF. And so when we come together Sunday by Sunday (and day by day) to offer this sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood to the Father, we do it with, and in, and through Jesus Christ, who comes to be with us here. And it is not some new sacrifice; it is the one sacrifice, the one acceptable self-offering of Christ’s life to his Father; and we are caught up in it here, because we have been incorporated into Christ, we have put on Christ, we have become members of his body, and this thing we do here and now we do out of love for him, because he commanded us to do it. Sometimes people ask, “Why do I have to go to mass to look for God?” The answer is: because God comes to mass looking for me.
But this teaching is not only with respect to the Eucharist. Or, we might say, the Eucharist does not end with the Eucharist. But rather our WHOLE LIVES, seven days a week, must be Eucharistic. What happens here must penetrate what happens out there in the world, in our secular jobs, in all of our relationships, our family relationships, our marital relationships, our economic relationships – in EVERYTHING we do. It must all be informed and empowered by the spiritual dynamic of the mass; we must become Eucharistic beings – prayerfully undertaking all that we do in union with Jesus, out of love for him, seeking always to obey him, and into all of our actions we must pour our adoration of God; confessing our unworthiness and our failures, and so always acting in meekness and humility; thanking God for his love for us, his faithfulness to us, and asking him for the resources that we need to become his faithful servants in the contexts of our lives in the world. Doing this, we will come to realize that there is another walking beside us through life, and that that other is Jesus himself, and we will come to see that, in fact, the very content of our life was Christ loving the Father within us all along.
Practicing this, every day, and most of all by returning to this place, time and again, undertaking to “do this” in remembrance of the Lord at the mass, and allowing the dynamic power of the mass to follow us into the world in the ways I have mentioned, this is what it means to live a Christian life. And this is the route to the discovery of the fulfillment of the Lord’s word: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.