If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
On the face of it, Christ’s words seem obvious: of course we’ll obey Christ because we love Him! Yet, when it comes down to it, loving the Lord and living His commandments feel like two entirely different propositions.
Well, first off, we, as Christians, are defined by His Love. Jesus said,
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
We know we are broken and desperately in need of the Love of Christ, and we love to be loved by Him, enjoying the warmth of His Love pouring down upon us from His Heavenly window through His Presence on earth in the Blessed Sacrament.
But His Presence and Love are also most truly keenly felt in the Cross. As He was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” so we also are called to the same perfect obedience by living in true accord with the commands of Christ. What are His commands? He gave us two: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
How do we love God and our neighbor? Telling them we love them, and thinking about how much we love them, are a fine start, but do thoughts and words alone constitute genuine love?
According to St. Paul, love is manifold.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends… So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The essence of love—what love is—is the union of the multiple qualities of virtue. Look at all those active verbs St. Paul uses to show what love is all about. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” What can’t love do? Only one thing: love can never end. In some translations, this is rendered: “Love never fails.”
Love this strong, this pure, this beautiful is utterly invaluable. How awesome that we can share in the very essence and Life of God Himself, Who is Love. Yet Love, though freely chosen, is not without a price: since the Fall, Love is uniquely and intricately bound up with suffering in this world.
Love a person, and they may deceive you, abandon you, deny you, betray you. Love any mortal creature, and again you are risking much: they can hurt you, disappoint you, test you, and even the most perfect will, sooner or later, die.
In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
Love hurts. Sacrifices and sufferings freely accepted out of love cost us much, and the cost seems heavier than the reward when Heaven seems so far off in time and space (appearing to confine us here on earth). But this kind of an approach to love, as though we could ‘earn’ our way to Heaven, seems shallow. At the end of the day, when we tally up our good deeds and (if we’re feeling especially confident!) nod contentedly because they so clearly outweigh our sins, do we find the joy and peace for which we long in this score-keeping with God?
No, not really.
Our hearts want something else. Something more. The sufferings we endure: are they really to be borne indifferently for the sake of love? If so, they seem to only have value insofar as we can ‘convert’ them to proofs of love. But what if the very moments of suffering, though apparently loathsome and difficult in themselves, are not merely the means, but the very essence of the Christian Life, the moments when we meet our Beloved Lord Heart-to-heart? What if this moment of trial and terror is not merely to be offered up and set aside as quickly as possible, nor again to be relished with a ghastly ‘heroic’ delight, but seen and embraced as the Cross of Christ, given to us? What if these moments of suffering, offered for love, are the very stepping stones to sanctity?
If this is the case, then everything has value. Getting back to the words of St. Paul, love literally embraces absolutely everything. Yes, love means suffering so often in this world, but no suffering, however great, can detract from the overwhelming share in the Life of God which we embrace when we love.
Why endure the pain of Love? Because we are, by nature, called into communion with the One Who is Love, and the pain is the price of the great joy fulfilled only in Him, for Whom we long. For, “You have formed us for Yourself,” Dear God, and truly, “our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.