Commentary on the Gospel of
Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
When I was studying Theology and Ministry in graduate school I clearly remember the first day of courses when a professor said to us, “If you do not have some crisis of faith during your three years of study here, you aren’t studying hard enough.” Well, that was quite an introduction! Her point was this: If you take the exploration of theology, Church history, ethics, pastoral ministry and spirituality seriously, you will most surely come upon moments of doubt, dryness or despair. What you do in those moments is the key.
I am not ashamed to admit that I have encountered periods (and still do) when I ask God, “Am I ‘doing’ this prayer/religion/belief thing right?” “How do I make sense of all that the faith teaches?” “Who are You and who I am I in the midst of who You are?” In the readings for the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales today, St. Paul suggests an antidote to such moments as he reminds the Ephesians to have “boldness” and “confidence” through their faith in Jesus. I find this to be a consoling stance to take as we settle into “ordinary” time beyond the rich and vibrant Advent and Christmas seasons. Even when all around or even within me feels bland, beige and boring, I am encouraged to muster up boldness and confidence (“with faith”).
In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus makes it even easier for me to understand. He knows my human mind and heart (he had them too!) and how easily they can be swayed, misled or misaligned by dark spirits or life, in general. Thus, he boils down the lists of commandments, laws and rules -- the DOs and DON’Ts -- into one clear, unmistakable commandment: “Love one another as I love you.” Now if that isn’t kryptonite for those periods of desolation and monotony I encounter, I don’t know what is!
However, as he always does, Jesus is not letting us off easy. In that simple seven word commandment, there are a few deeper messages to note:
Jesus does not use the past tense of the word “love”. It is an active, present tense! He is not asking us to just look back at the example of his life, but to look at how he is loving us right now.
Jesus certainly gave (and gives) a lot of love. To love one another as Jesus does is no small task. This is a radical and revolutionary kind of love.
In order to truly know how to love like Jesus, we must keep our eyes constantly on him. Buried within his commandment to us is an invitation to draw near to him and bask in the radiance of his love.
Jesus is bold and confident in his command to us: love one another. May we be so lavish, liberal and lofty in how we love today (friend and foe alike). There is nothing “ordinary” about that!
Evangelist underlines that Jesus called people whom he wanted to be his apostles. They did not choose him but he chose them. He did not call those whom the world thought more worthy and qualified. Their stature, appearance or ability were not the criteria for Jesus’ choice. He, in his call, chose men with hearts that can be melted and moulded. From the crowd he identified people who could be transformed into his apostles. The call narrative is very clear. Jesus calls them, appoints them and he changes them. Jesus chose right. They came to him. Greek text would say ‘they went away to him’, meaning, it was a heart response, they forsook everything for the sake of their call and new mission. Now before anything else, they would be with him. They would live in his presence, learning from him and receiving spiritual strength. Then they are ready to represent Him in the world as they are sent out as His envoys. They proclaim the message that Jesus entrusts them. They possess supernatural power to heal and to exorcise, because God has delegated his power to them. History tells us that the apostles, each one them, succeeded in accomplishing their call and mission. God has a place of service for each one. The only characteristic the apostles shared was their willingness to obey Jesus. All the rest was the work of the Spirit and power of His word. To be a good disciple is just a matter of having a willing heart.