May 5, 2024 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter [Year B]

Fr. Michael Brungardt

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

Probably one of the most misunderstood things we do as Catholics is go to confession. Because (as with many things we do as Catholics) we were taught in second grade, which means that a second grade understanding is often the level we’re operating at. For example, “examining my conscience” becomes, “What are all the ‘Catholic rules’ I broke?” And we confess the “broken rules.”

But confession is much more than owning up to the rules we’ve broken. I’ve had penitents say things like, “Well, I know it’s bad, and you’re probably going to judge me—but I insulted my mother,” as if breaking the rule is the problem. And to this I will say, “Look, I don’t care that you insulted your mother. The question is: Do you believe that insulting your mother is an obstacle to your desire to love her?” Because that is the crucial question. Do you think that what you’re doing is an obstacle to your desire to love? To love God, to love your mom or dad, to love yourself, to love your girlfriend, to love your boyfriend, to love your husband or your wife? This is at the heart of it. It’s the distinction between: “Did I break this arbitrary rule on this sheet I was given that tells me ‘the sins’?” Or, “Did I do something that prevents me from truly loving?”

In this Gospel today, Jesus gives us the greatest of the commandments: “Love one another as I have loved you.…Love one another.” This is not a lovey-dovey, feel-good, warm-tingly-feelings-inside “love,” no. Jesus Christ loved us to the point of dying for us—so not a lot of warm tingles there. So then what?

As the Angelic Doctor himself said, “A person’s life consists in the affection that chiefly sustains him and in which he finds the greatest satisfaction” (Summa Theologiae II-II, 179, 1). In other words, you can learn a lot about a person by asking one question: “Where do you find the greatest satisfaction in life?” If you catch someone with their guard down so that they answer honestly, you’ll learn a lot, literally, what their life consists of. “Where do you find the greatest satisfaction in life? What has your affection? What do you love that gives life and joy and newness to your life?”

The things people say when they’re being brutally honest are: “If I didn’t have my job, I would die! I would kill myself.” Some people are a little wary to admit it out loud, but it’s sports, whether the sports they play or watch. Teenagers will talk about the love of their thirteen-year-old-life, and how without that person, their life would be over. More and more.

Ok. So what can you learn? You can learn that in which a person’s life consists. You can learn what has their chief affection, their preference, their love. You learn what they are willing to make sacrifices for, what comes first in their life. You can learn what they are willing to give their life to, what they’re willing to give their life for. You can learn that place where they find the greatest satisfaction, the place they are willing to do anything to remain.

When there is something, and especially when there is someone that captivates us, someone who causes everything within us to be stirred up, someone that attracts us because they promise some good—that is when what Jesus is saying, this dynamic of “love” as the great commandment begins to make sense. And not only does it begin to make sense, but you begin to understand that what Jesus is saying is not a new, arbitrary “rule.” Jesus is revealing something that is truly human, deeply and profoundly human.

Truly human morality, the beginning of living the morality of Christ, the beginning of any truly human morality is an act of love. This new morality Jesus proposes is love, not just some rules to follow.

What you love, what has your preference, your affection, the place where you find the greatest satisfaction—it determines your life. You live a strict morality based on it. It’s not just “rules you have to follow.” If there is a presence, something, someone that has your affection, that gives you great satisfaction—you will remain, you will love, you will sacrifice, no questions asked.

“Do you believe that all of these things you’re doing—do you believe that they are an obstacle to your desire to follow Jesus Christ, to remain with him, to love him?” When the Lord has our affection, when he sustains us and we find our greatest satisfaction in relationship with him—well, then the question is no longer, “Did I break some ‘rules’?” Rather, “Is _____ an obstacle in my desire to love him?”