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May 6: The Sixth Sunday of Easter [B]

First Reading Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48
Second Reading 1 John 4:7-10
Gospel John 15:9-17

“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.”

Saint John, the Beloved Disciple, in his scriptural writings fleshes out his description of God as “love”. In the last sentence of today’s Second Reading St. John does so very poignantly, telling us that “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.”

The first part of St. John’s description insists on the primacy of God’s love. God doesn’t wait to love you until He determines whether you have loved Him enough, or whether you will love Him in the future as He hopes. God doesn’t stop loving you if you stop loving Him. In a word, God’s Love is primary. Our love for Him can only be a response, and any response from us cannot diminish His love for us.

But we all know from experience that confusion arises here. Human beings feel at times as if God does not love them. One reason for this feeling is that love—at least, divine love—is itself not a feeling. When people expect God to make them feel good about themselves, or for that matter about Him, they can easily become confused about God’s Presence. This doesn’t mean that our feelings are illusory, or that God cannot manifest Himself through emotions: it’s to say that divine Love is not identical with positive emotions.

The second main reason that someone might feel that God no longer loves him is the fact that it’s not unusual for God to be absent from the human soul. Yet God being absent from someone’s soul does not mean that God does not love that person. There can be very different reasons for this absence, one negative and one positive.

On the one hand, the absence of God from a human soul can be the result of mortal sin. A serious moral wrong that’s freely and knowingly chosen causes all grace to leave that soul. What’s more, the presence of a mortal sin is like a force field surrounding one’s soul, blocking God’s love from penetrating the human soul. Ironic though it may seem, it’s a sign of God’s love that He endows the human person with a free will strong enough to keep His own love at bay.

On the other hand, the absence of God from someone’s soul can be a sign of immanent growth. Saints such as St. John of the Cross teach us how God spurs the disciple towards growth by removing Himself from the human soul, in order to increase the disciple’s longing for Him. This teaches the human person to live for God alone, which means to live for authentic love alone.

Charity—the love of Christ—urges us forward throughout the course of earthly life: to high school, to college, to our first full-time job, into our vocation, to further growth in holiness, even to death and Heaven’s gates. It’s to convince us of this simple truth that we hear Jesus today: “I command you: love one another.”