Loving God and Keeping His Word

Sixth Sunday of Easter. Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Ps 67:2-3,5-6,8; Rv 21:10-14,22-23; Jn 14:23-29

“Whoever loves me will keep my word”. In last week’s Gospel we heard the new commandment of Jesus Christ, ‘Love one another. As I have loved you.” In the Gospel this week we are told what it means to love Jesus himself: first, anyone who loves him will “keep his word’”; second, Jesus then promises that “my Father will love him”; third, he tells us what this will lead to: “we (that is, the Holy Trinity) will come to him and make our home with him.”

These three lines summarize the whole of our salvation, and since the whole goal of our life in this world is to be saved, I would like to devote this brief homily to try to explain how to put these words into practice.

First, when Jesus says, “whoever loves me will keep my word,” what does he mean by this? Obviously in one sense, keeping his word means keeping his commandments. Nevertheless, there can be some confusion over this point. Jesus does not say that if we lead a good, moral life we shall love him, a rather important point given that many people seem to think of Christian salvation as simply leading a moral life. Jesus’ words imply, of course, that morality is necessary, but the proper order is important, “whoever loves me will keep my word”. It is not that the virtuous life leads to the love of God; it is the love of God that leads to virtue. The first task of the Christian is to love God, through Jesus Christ. We do this by spending (or sacrificing) time in daily prayer and by making use of the sacraments – especially Mass and Confession. These things give us the grace to love God and then the strength to keep his word in the first sense by keeping his commandments.

However, there is a second sense of ‘keeping his word’, as shown by the example of our Blessed Mother. Luke’s Gospel says that Mary “kept” or “treasured” all these things, pondering them in her heart. ‘Keeping his word’ in this sense implies not only the exterior action of keeping the commandments, but also the interior action of treasuring his word and making it part of us. But how do we do this? Well, there are a number of practical disciplines that can help us. Reading and studying the Bible and classic spiritual books is one good way of pondering the words of Jesus. Another is to start to commit certain important things to memory. Memory is a rather neglected faculty today; there is very little memorization work in our schools or universities. However, when we commit something to memory, it is not like a computer storing data. It is more like an imprint on the mind, something that actually changes the soul. If we memorize some of the words of Jesus, or some of the psalms, or some traditional prayers of the Church, these things can help us to keep his word in the second sense, by treasuring his word in our hearts and allowing it to change us.

So to attain salvation, the first practical action is to receive the grace to love God by means of sacraments and prayer. This in turn makes the second action possible, to keep his word by keeping his commandments and by treasuring his words. And that is it. We do not have to do anything else to attain heaven since God takes care of the rest. In the words of today’s Gospel, “My Father will love him … we will come to him … (we) will make our dwelling with him.” All of these are actions that God promises to do. Now there is a popular hymn, “Let us build the city of God”, but this hymn always makes me smile. The point is that we do not, properly speaking, build the city of God; God builds the city of God. In fact, in today’s second reading, St. John says that, “the holy city Jerusalem (comes) down out of heaven from God.” All the marvelous images by which St. John communicates the radiance and splendour of the New Jerusalem are God’s work, not ours. God who created this temporary universe we now live in can certainly take care of creating a new and permanent home with His people.

So let us re-commit ourselves to the core principles of the Christian life: to love God through prayer and the sacraments, and to keep his word. If we do these two things eternal life will be ours. As always, Mary, who kept the word of God fully, shows us the perfection of this way. In her honour for the month of May, and to also ask for her unfailing help, I would like to conclude this homily by praying with you the Hail Mary.

Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Ambrose Church, 13th May 2007

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