It is perhaps one of the greatest countercultural acts of Christianity to proclaim, by words and deeds, the commandment given to us by Christ in today’s Gospel. “Love one another,” the Lord instructs us. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples.” This is a countercultural message, because the society in which we live claims on the one hand to care for others, and on the other limits the expression of the dignity of the human person in ways that not only oppose the care of the individual but also, in turn, reduces our the standing of each of us; our own worth in the eyes of our fellow man. In this we might think of some obvious examples: the objectification of the human person, and especially women, in the murky world of pornography and prostitution; the reduction of the human person to a biological entity or an object lacking any “quality of life” in the arena of abortion and euthanasia; the manipulation of the human person in the attempt to eradicate the natural complementarity of man and woman, in the realm of so-called ‘gender theory’ and in the name of sexual equality. Each of these represents a veiled attempt on the part of contemporary society to offer a rebuttal to some perceived injustice whilst failing, fundamentally and absolutely, to recognize the monumental damage that is done by these actions, not simply to the individual objects of the actions themselves, but to the dignity of the human race: the means by which we view ourselves and each other.
Speaking in Georgetown this past week, Cardinal Wuerl expressed his concern about this in a way that I think is helpful to repeat. Encouraging those present at the Mass for Life on Thursday evening, he said: “politically correct rhetoric … uses words to hide the true meaning. Those that favour killing the unborn child often speak of, ‘the product of conception’ as opposed to ‘the unborn child.’ They speak about ‘facilitating the conclusion of the life cycle’ instead of ‘assisting a suicide.’ So it is with choice. When you use the word ‘choice’ you have to complete the sentence. What is it you choose? . . . The word ‘choice’ is a smokescreen behind which those killing unborn children take refuge. Every chance you get, blow that smoke away . . . Do not ever be convinced by the rhetoric of liberation that killing unborn, innocent children is in any way similar to the great social justice struggles that our nation has faced—many times enlightened by the Church’s social teaching. Whether it was the fight against slavery, racial discrimination, or unjust working conditions, the Church’s proclamation of the dignity of all human life was the centre.”
For what it is worth, I add my own voice to his encouragement, and it is perhaps in the words of Christ himself in this evening’s Gospel that we find the air we need to inhale, and to blow away that smoke which seeks to cloud our view of the truth; to obstruct our sight of Christ, who is the very essence of life itself.
By inviting us to “love one another” as he has loved us, we first need to ask how this love of Christ for us looks. In the midst of the Easter season we are aided in this by our continuing celebration of his resurrection. Christ, who has risen from the dead and so shared his divine life with our human nature, first suffered and died. In order to offer us the life of beatitude he sacrificed his own self on the altar of the cross, so that —in his own words—we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10: 10).
In other words, the essence of his love for us is that same self-giving love which is characteristic of the life of God in the Most Holy Trinity, a life in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, give of themselves fully in an endless outpouring of love. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “God is wholly and only love, the purest, infinite and eternal love. He does not live in splendid solitude but rather is an inexhaustible source of life that is ceaselessly given and communicated.”
We enter into that life by virtue of our baptism, and in every offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, which we begin by recalling that communion: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. If we seek to know how Christ loves us, we find the answer in the supreme act of his love in the sacrifice of the cross. The love we are called to share with others, then, is that which by its very nature sets aside the individualistic desire that is a sign of our rejection of God’s love—choosing the apple of the tree of which we are commanded to not eat—in order to adopt a truly communitarian spirit, which flows from our identification with Christ and his life in the mystery of the Trinity.
This is the antidote to our society’s obsession with the self which, though often disguised in the language of ‘the common good’ is at odds with that very principle, instead focussed intensely on a relative understanding of truth. Christ calls us away from such inward-looking self-centeredness, and instead offers us his sacrificial love, that we might share that love with others. As we heard from the Book of Revelation: “God’s dwelling is with the human race . . . for the old order has passed away” (Rev. 21). It is that reality which we are called to manifest in our lives and society by what we do and say, and by how we live. That is how we will build the kingdom of God in this place; that is how all will know that we are his disciples; that is how other will come to know the joy of life in Christ, and to share in that life for all eternity.