Love is the only path we can have to God

  • May 4, 2007

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year C)  May 13 (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29/Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23/John 14:23-29)

They decided not to impose any burden greater than was absolutely necessary. It seems to be a case of obvious common sense, and yet so often common sense is not common at all — it’s in rather short supply.

This passage from Acts describes the first real controversy and crisis faced by the emerging Christian church: what must one do to belong? There were those who believed sincerely and passionately that one must become a full member of the Jewish covenant, which meant circumcision and the full observance of the dietary and purity laws. This would have severely limited the number of people who would have entered the community. Christianity would probably have remained a small sect within Judaism.

There were those such as Paul and Barnabas who can be described as minimalists. They believed just as sincerely and passionately that a new spiritual order was inaugurated by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It was the turning of the ages, and it was important that as many gentiles as possible be brought to the household of faith.

The issue threatened to tear the community apart, and we see the venom it generated reflected in some of the letters of Paul. History has proven Paul and his party the victors, but in the process there was a price to pay. The price was the growing estrangement from our Jewish brothers and sisters and an increasing theological contempt for Judaism.

In many controversial issues, there are no heroes and villains, but only people who believe passionately in their point of view. Not everyone can be right, but we can all be much more humble and respectful of our opponents. Even if we are substantially correct, that does not mean that the other party is totally wrong. And above all, the well-being of people is paramount. No theology worthy of the name causes emotional, psychological or spiritual damage to people or hinders them in any way from approaching God. And that principle is applicable in every age and in every controversy.

No temple, no sun, no moon, no lamp. Can we imagine a city in which these things are lacking? They are lacking only because they are no longer needed. The New Jerusalem is not a place that can be found, but an inner spiritual reality to which one can aspire. The sun and the moon and lamps give light and without them we would stumble in the dark. Light is always a metaphor for God in the Bible. A temple is a place to go to worship God, but the time will come when we will not need a temple because we will be in God and God in us and we will be fully conscious of it. The distance between us and God will be dissolved, and the light will illumine us from within. 

There are allusions to this spiritual state in the passage from John. On the eve of His departure from this world, Jesus informs His followers that the only way they will know God or remain in Jesus is through love. When one loves with the same sort of self-sacrificing love that defined Jesus, both He and the Father will set up residence in us. There is no other way — no shortcuts, no magic words, no way of reasoning — love is the only path to God.

The return of Jesus to the Father is a joyful event, for it will result in the sending of the Paraclete — the spirit — to guide and teach us. This spirit can only be received by means of love, and it is not something that can be possessed or manipulated.

The unearthly peace that Jesus bestows is something far different from our usual definition of the word. The perfunctory peace people offer one another at Mass is the palest of reflections of this divine peace. This peace can only be bestowed by God, and there are no suitable substitutes. It is the experience not only of being unconditionally loved, but of being united with God in the present.

It is the lack of this transcendent peace and love in human hearts and the presence of fear that is the cause of the world’s violence and injustice. We should certainly pray and work for peace and justice, but this must be accompanied by meeting God within ourselves. We will not find outside of ourselves that which we cannot find within.