– Homilies for a Time of Pandemic –

* Christ empowers Christian love *


One of the consequences of the regulations we now have to protect as many as possible from the coronavirus is pressure on our capacity to love.  Many are not used to spending so much time at home together because social venues are closed – hotels, restaurants, bars, sports venues and so on.  Tolerance can be a problem.


Many too are not used to thinking of new ways of reaching out to others living in isolation.  The elderly being in locked down care facilities have a special need for other forms of contact.


Teenagers may be growing in frustration at not being able to engage in their normal social groups.  Then there will be families who are trying to cope with a drug addicted member who can no longer get drugs.


These and countless other examples highlight how challenging people may find it to love others.


As we reflect upon the action of Jesus during the Last Supper, we are reminded that the Risen Jesus seeks to empower us to love.


Christian love different from purely human love

We just need to listen to songs on the radio, watch dramas on TV or read basic literature to realise that there are many ideas about what is love.  Hence love is common to people of all religions and no religion. 


No religion has a monopoly on human love as even people who reject any notion of God love in human ways.  The source of human love is human nature, which our Creator created in the image and likeness of a loving God. [1]


Jesus, on the other hand, taught Christian love.  This is the love which strengthens human love of those who relate with God in the ways Jesus taught. 


Human love is weakened by selfishness, jealousies, resentments, desires for revenge, greed and a range of other human weaknesses.  Christian love grows gradually in the responsive so that, increasingly, they can rise above these weaknesses.


Human love will struggle in many of the relationship situations people face in this period of social isolation.  For those who relate with God in the ways Jesus taught, there will be gradual empowerment to rise above the challenges of these times.


Jesus prepared his listeners before teaching Christian love

Like any good teacher, Jesus prepared his hearers in stages before teaching Christian love.  What is critical to observe is that Jesus always taught about how he would empower people before he taught the demands of Christian love.


To present any Gospel demand outside the context of empowerment by Christ is to set people up for failure.  Many who have given up religious practice have done so because they found Jesus’ teachings too hard.


The Golden Rule

Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming the kingdom of God being greater than the kingdom of Satan. [2]  Those who ‘repent and believe’ in him can seek his power to conquer all within them that was not part of God’s original creation before the Fall.  This includes the human weaknesses which undermine people’s efforts to love.


In this context, Jesus taught the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ [3]


So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets.


Jesus here was teaching the real meaning of what his hearers knew as the ‘Silver Rule’ [4]


Do to no one what you would not want done to yourself.


The Golden Rule in the context of the kingdom is to do loving things, drawing on Christ’s power to rise above human weaknesses which make this difficult – regardless of how we feel about the other person.  It is to love even if we do not like the other person.


The two greatest commandments in the Law

Next, Jesus taught what were the two greatest Commandments in the Law of the Sinai Covenant  [5]


You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.


But before this, he taught the kingdom also as drawing on the power of his Resurrection.  Obviously, a power which causes the dead to rise can empower to love in greater ways than could have human love alone.  As death is the greatest of all human limitations, no human weakness or failing is beyond the power of Christ’s Resurrection.


Jesus taught that he would suffer and die and rise again.  [6]  Then he taught that his followers need to follow the same path so that they too could experience the power of his

Resurrection [7]


Anyone who wants to be a follower of mine must renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.


The first great Commandment is to love God so that we can be empowered to love our neighbour as ourselves.  But this love is not just doing loving things: it is actually to love from the heart – which is much more difficult.


However, again, Jesus is teaching the proper understanding of the love God commanded before Jesus came.

What is Christian love?

Finally, Jesus taught that the reason he came was to share with all who believed his own divine life through Baptism [8]


I came that they may have life and have it to the full.


This life is experienced as divine love, which is why the First Letter of John proclaims in relation to Christian love [9]


No one who fails to love knows God, because God is love.


This is the love which the Holy Spirit communicates with the divine life through Baptism [10]


… since the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit …


The need for the Eucharist to nourish this love

As human life needs nourishment to grow, so the divine life which Jesus shares needs nourishment to grow stronger in our hearts and our lives.  He stressed that we need to nourish this life, and so this love, with the Eucharist.


Speaking in the cultural manner of his time, where absolute terms were used for emphasis, we read him saying in John’s Gospel [11]


… if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.


Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life …


No one can nourish the divine life without the Eucharist and so the Eucharist is essential for anyone seeking to live the Christian life as Jesus taught it.  This is why we have the Catholic practice of Mass on the Lord’s Day.



The love commandment of Jesus

Only in the context of the Last Supper, where Jesus gave us the Eucharist, did he give his own love commandment  [12]


This is my commandment, that you should love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.


Christian love, therefore, empowered by the Holy Spirit and nourished with the Eucharist, is self sacrificing love.  It is Christ-like love.


It is not just treating others as we want them to treat us – or loving others as we love ourselves.  It is self sacrificing.


It is the love St Paul described in the text which is so attractive to couples in their marriage ceremony [13]


Love is patient; love is kind; love is not jealous; love is not boastful, or puffed up or rude; it does not insist on its rights, it does not take offence, it does not plan evil, it does not rejoice at wrong doing … it puts up with everything.


The words of St Paul are like pieces of the mosaic portraying the vision of Christian love to which all the baptised can aspire.  People’s journeys towards this vision will differ with their personalities.


The shy may be at a different stage onn the journey from the extrovert; the person from an unhappy childhood from someone who grew up in a happy family.  As Jesus taught, we

can never judge.  [14]


Examples of how we fail to love in these ways are examples of our need to keep striving to nurture the divine life we share with Jesus through our Baptism. 


Many today find that they lack the strength to love in times of challenge because they have not been receiving the Eucharist, and so are suffering from spiritual malnutrition.


Jesus modelled this love

To help his disciples understand that his death was a choice to love, Jesus during the Last Supper modelled Christian love as service by washing their feet.


As the Teacher, Jesus could expect to be waited upon by his disciples.  The disciples could expect to be served by a slave.


Jesus dressed like a slave and washed his disciples’ feet, an act so culturally shocking that Peter said ‘You shall never wash my feet’. [15]  Yet, Jesus taught [16]


If I, then, the Teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.


Jesus taught Christian love, therefore, as a love he empowers by sharing his own divine life – and love.  He calls his followers to keep striving to grow in this love, for it is a life-time journey.  Believers will be at different stages for personality and other reasons.


Today, it is all too common for people to be condemned as ‘not being Christian’ because they fail to love in some way or another.  Jesus never intended his teachings on love to be used as bats with which to beat others.


To love as a Christian is to encourage and affirm ways others are reflecting  Christian love, encouraging them too to seek Christ’s power always.


Conversation with Christ

As I mentioned at the start, these testing times will certainly test people’s capacity to love.  There can be greater demands than normal for tolerance, forgiveness, patience, compassion, understanding and other challenges.


Though we cannot receive the Eucharist at present, we can turn to the Risen Jesus and seek his power to help us love by conversing with him daily about challenges to our efforts to love.  Whatever our starting point, we will find ourselves empowered to love a little more than possibly previously.


Let us pause now, asking the Lord in our own words for greater faith in his empowerment so that we may seek it in our efforts to love in these trying times.







Bishop Gerard Holohan

9 April 2020

[1] Genesis 1:27

[2] Mark 1:15; Matthew 12:25

[3] Matthew 7:12

[4] Tobias 4:15

[5] Luke 10:27

[6] Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34

[7] Mark 8:34

[8] John 10:10

[9] 1 John 4:8

[10] Romans 5:5

[11] John 6:53-54

[12] John 15:12-13

[13] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

[14] Matthew 7:1

[15] John 13:8

[16] John 13:14