6th Sunday of Easter (B)
13 May 2012
Someone has written years ago that love is primarily shown in presence, not presents. In our culture nowadays, which encourages labor migration, unable as the country is, to give employment to hordes of college graduates, love is done and executed long-distance. More than a decade ago, long distance telephone was the favorite means and method to convey love. In our times, it is “Facetime,” or, more probably “Skype” for a good number of our countrymen.
Many of us cannot afford to stay home and be jobless. Many of us who prefer to, do claim to stay put, and reap all the benefits of being present to one’s family and loved ones, but unless he or she was born with a silver spoon in the mouth, staying home and staying put does not necessarily put food on the table.
I speak of presence today, for that is what the Lord emphasizes in today’s gospel passage from John the Evangelist. He talks of love, of course, and that is something that seems so obvious from the English version of Scripture. But what is not so obvious is the deeper underlying meaning behind the word used to convey what, unfortunately, can only be translated into English in one word – love, for agape, not love, to stand for eros and philia, which are two other words in Greek for the same English “love.”
So what difference do they make?
To answer this, we need to go right back to the readings … to Scripture.
In the first reading, we hear of the pagan Cornelius submitting himself and his entire household to Baptism. God’s love, we are told indirectly, has no bounds. Let us face it … human love, that both eros and philia are, has its boundaries. It has its limits, beyond which it cannot go. As they say, “out of sight; out of mind.” When we love long-distance, sooner or later, we will lose touch. Sooner than we imagine, we lose warmth. No amount of daily Skype conversations can make up for one’s absence. As a counselor, I have heard so many stories of love lost, love grown cold, love crossed and forgotten, for one simple reason … people are absent to each other! Just as recently as three years ago, one of the parish volunteer drivers, a young man with a young wife and toddler kid, who went to Saudi Arabia, found someone else in less than a year. Love grew indifferent on account of distance.
Twenty years ago, I had a counselee seminarian, who, every time he talked about his mother, would burst out in tears, for she had been absent from his life ever since he was an elementary kid. Though she tried to make up for it, as invariably, all OFWs tried to do, by giving presents in exchange of presence, the same gnawing gap, and emotional vacuum, remained!
But again, in the first reading, God Himself broke through boundaries. He loved the pagan enough, as He loved everyone enough, to break through the human boundaries, and call Cornelius to conversion and new life. Peter puts it nicely: “God shows no partiality … whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
The human love called “eros,” we all know all too well, has got bounds. Our love is bound by beauty in mould and physical youthfulness. When youth and beauty are gone, then both eros and philia can disappear with the passing of time. Philial love can wane, as time moves on. Even brothers and sisters who used to be so close to one another can get estranged in adulthood, when sibling bonds grow cold, and when each one has taken each their own separate paths. Almost to the day, we hear of sad and sob stories of actresses who used to share the limelight as showbiz celebrities, but who at some point become bitter enemies.
But what does the second reading tell us? More on this, assuredly, but love of the divine kind not of the human kind. John exhorts his readers: “Beloved, let us love one another” … but he takes pains to show us what sort of love that is, and for what reason … “for love is of God.”
If this is the love that is of God, then it penetrates through walls and boundaries. It sees no barriers, nor deterrents. It suffers no breaks and bolts to bar its being shared around to all!
I need to hear this good news for myself, too. We all need to be reminded of this in our times. Repeatedly. Assuredly. Definitely. No ifs and buts, here allowed! God Himself says so … “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”
Human and frail as I am, I need this reminder. I need this good news. At a time when I feel so unappreciated and unloved by the very people I worked for over the last three years, only to be accused of things that never even crossed my mind, I need this piece of good news. I need to be reconnected. I need to be put back on the groove of God’s boundless love, no matter what; come what may; happen what might!
And what is this love all about for a clincher?
I would like you all to notice the words Christ uses … Remain in my love! In the original Greek, the word has more to do with stay … “Stay in place.” Stay in the right place. Put your heart in the right place! When one’s heart is in place, in the right place, then neither time nor distance, nor material things, is the primary consideration. All we need is presence. All we need to do is remain. All we are asked to do is stay.
And I’ve got one more piece of good news for you … no, not mine really, but still His! Guess what brought us here? Guess what led us close to the bosom of God? Not us, not them, not anyone who can give us money and presents, and offer us dowries and dreams of a lifetime, enough to make us filled, though not necessarily fulfilled!
And it is simply this … Let us hear it straight from the Lord: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”
Remain in Him. Stay. Stay in place, and put your right where it belongs – in God’s bosom!