21 May 2006

Homily - 21 May 2006

The Sixth Sunday of Easter (B)

It is this passage from the First Letter of Saint John that gave rise to Pope Benedict XVI’s first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est, God is Love. In this beautiful and moving reflection on the God who loves, the Holy Father reminds us that the foundational tenet of the Christian faith is this very passage, that “God is love” (I John 4:8). In fact, this belief and truth is expressly unique to Judaism and Christianity; in terms of the religions of the world, it is something entirely new and unheard of.

We learn from the Old Testament that the Lord God has created everything that is, that “all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3). With this in mind, the Holy Father says we can learn two things: first, that

the whole world comes into existence by the power of his creative Word. Consequently, his creation is dear to him, for it was willed by him and “made” by him. The second important element now emerges: this God loves man (Deus Caritas Est, 9).
In the ancient world the notion that God would love humanity seemed absurd and bizarre at best. Today, too, many people are tempted to believe the same. How could it be that God loves mankind, they ask. Look at what people do to one another, look at how people even ignore their God. How could God possibly love man? Even worse, some people go so far as to ask, “How could God love me?” To this very question Jesus responds clearly, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love” (John 15:9).

It is true to say that we do not deserve the love that the Lord has for us, but it is precisely here that the beauty and wonder of this love is made manifest. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (I John 4:10).

Just as the Old Testament teaches us something new about the God who loves, so, too, does the New Testament. The New Testament is, of course, primarily concerned with the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of his continuing activity in the Church through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Father reminds us that

The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts – an unprecedented realism. In the Old Testament, the novelty of the Bible did not consist merely in abstract notions but in God’s unpredictable and in some sense unprecedented activity. This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the “stray sheep”, a suffering and lost humanity (Deus Caritas Est, 12).
Can there be any greater wonder than this? People often say to me that religion is boring, and by this they mean Christianity. Whenever they say this I have to wonder if they have been even the slightest bit of real attention throughout their entire lives. Can anything be more exciting than this?

Purely out of love God created us and fashioned us for himself. Purely out of pride we sinned against him and forfeited the graced relationship we had with him and were thereby condemned to death. Even so, God never stopped loving us. We might even say that his love even intensified as he continually lovingly called us back to himself, even as we continually turned away. But then, in the fullness of time, God did something seemingly unimaginable: he took on flesh and blood for us sinners, to redeem us and save us, and to restore our relationship with him. Such is the power and the depth of his love! Even when we did not love him he still loved us! So great is his love for us that, seeing us in the dark misery and pain of sin and death, forever separated from him, he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins. In Christ Jesus we learn firsthand that, as the only Son of God says to us, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends…” (John 15:13-14). In the Christ Jesus, “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power” (Antiphon, Psalm 98). Amen. Alleluia!

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