Sixth Sunday of Easter: Friends of Christ, and Friends of Each Other

Valentin de Boulogne (+1632) The Last Supper

‘You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father’ (Jn. 15:14-15).

We are nearly at the end of the Easter Season, a privileged time of liturgical catechesis called mystagogy, which draws us into the Mystery of Christ. Today, the words of the Gospel express what living the Mystery of Christ in its fullness means in very simple terms: we become His friends.

In the scriptural texts of this liturgical season we have the content of what Our Lord in our Gospel reading refers to as everything that He has heard from the Father. What is this everything? It is the truth about God and man and specifically, how we have been created to share God’s own life; to partake in the divine nature (Cf. 2 Pt. 1:4). St. Paul says that this Mystery hidden for ages is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).  To know this and to live by this truth enables us to understand and to live life by a logic that governs how we live and relate to one another and to the world around us.

Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). This is our purpose, our meaning and our destiny. The fullest revelation of this Mystery is given to us in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, the Paschal Mystery. In the Mystery of human redemption the nature of God is revealed; as well as the truth about human beings created in the image and likeness of God. It is because of Our Lord’s redemptive death that we have life – both in the world – not a mere existence, but life; and, in the next world, eternal life. In the Paschal Mystery, the words of Scripture are fulfilled; and because all that took place did so according to the Scriptures and not by accident or betrayal or misunderstanding, this means that the truth about God, about us and about the universe is made known in Christ.

I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  The death of Jesus on the Cross is a revelation of God’s nature. As His friends, Our Lord makes known to us Who He is.  The Cross reveals to us that God is not solitary, but a Trinity of Persons. The Cross reveals to us that God’s Trinitarian life is essentially self-surrender and love. For this reason, to speak of the human person in absolute terms of individual isolation distorts the very nature of the human person and it leads to the dictatorship or tyranny of the self. The idea that one can be one’s own moral authority absolutely leads to the tyranny of the senses. Enshrined in law, this tyranny results in moral chaos and in the persecution of those who believe; simply because they take God at His word. The primacy of God cannot be supplanted by any state or power or by any person either in relation to others or to oneself – at least not without tragic consequences.  The Russian author Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, a victim of Russian Communism, speaking of the demise of Western culture, wisely noted: We must first recognize the horror perpetrated not by some outside force, not by class or national enemies, but within each of us individually and within every society. This is especially true of a free and highly developed society, for here in particular, we have surely brought everything upon ourselves, of our own free will. We ourselves, in our daily unthinking selfishness are pulling tight that noose. Our nation has suffered no violent revolution and yet our nation as many nations in the West are unrecognizable. We struggle with government overreach, moral chaos; and our rebellion against the laws of God is now codified in law. Simply stated, we know not our place in the grand scheme of things and for generations now, we have taught our children to be proud in the sight of God and to dare to demand that God and His law conform to our latest whims and fancies. We have isolated ourselves from God, and by consequence from one another; for there can be no communion of friendship in the absence of a shared logic of life, purpose, meaning and destiny.

We were created for friendship; ultimately, divine friendship, and this truth is essential to a proper understanding of personhood. God did indeed make us for relationships; and the relational nature of our being reflects the relational nature of God Himself, one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity (Athanasian Creed). The self-surrender and love of God’s Trinitarian life enables us to understand that Christian life, our life in Christ, can only be lived if understood in light of this logic of self-surrendering love; as a self-offering. In his Epistle to the Romans St. Paul exhorts us: I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Rom. 12:1).

The fullest expression of this Mystery is in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the devout reception of Holy Communion. In this Sacrifice, this Mystery of self-surrendering love becomes really present on this Altar; and our spiritual worship, the offering of our selves as a living sacrifice together with the Sacrifice of Jesus, the atoning sacrifice for our sins contains the everything that Our Lord has made known to us and the only thing that we need to know: namely, that God is love, self-giving and self-sacrificing love; that this self-sacrificing love is the logic that enables us to live our lives in imitation of Christ.

None of this however is possible without a deep spirit of prayer. It is by prayer alone that we become Our Lord’s true friends and His faithful disciples. Throughout the ages Catholics have looked to Our Lady as a model of Christian discipleship most worthy of imitation. In her we see the promises of the Lord fulfilled and from her we learn how to serve and how to live the Christian Mystery. Some of the most beautiful works of art whether in music or other forms celebrate this truth. Who is not moved at the hearing of the Ave Maria, whatever the musical setting?  How many artists have reproduced a Madonna and Child or Our Lady at the foot of the Cross? Who is not captivated by their beauty? But we must pray not only with our affectivity and our will; we must pray with our whole being, not least of all our understanding and our intellect. Prayer must be nourished by study and instruction if it is not to fall prey to subjective fantasy and whim. Judaeo-Christian prayer has always been characterized by its deep rootedness in revelation – what God has told us about Himself that we could never have discovered on our own. (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy). This is why we must be very clear about one thing: those who do violence to the integrity of the Word of God or alter its meaning in the service of any human cause commit a grave offence and deceive themselves if they presume to enjoy God’s friendship or communion with Him in the union of prayer.

There is a traditional form of prayer that guarantees our union with God and preserves us from the pride of life and from the self-deception of heresy: the Holy Rosary. The Mysteries of the Rosary are a summary of the Gospels. The Rosary teaches the fundamental doctrines of the faith and it opens us to mystery and grace. The Rosary is a blessed blending of mental and vocal prayer by which we honour and learn to imitate the mysteries and the virtues of the life, death, Passion and glory of Jesus and Mary (St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary, Part I).

This month of May is dedicated to Our Lady. This week we will celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima on May 13th. This date marks the first of a series of apparitions during which Our Lady called mankind to conversion and exhorted us to pray the Rosary every day. The events of the last year and what continues to unfold both in the life of the world and of the Church make our response to this call to conversion a matter of urgency. The Rosary devoutly prayed deepens our knowledge that Christ Our Lord is the Passover Lamb of Sacrifice through Whom we have life; and this is ultimately, the one thing we need to know. In the Eucharist this knowledge is given to us by Our Lord Himself. For this reason we celebrate this Holy Sacrifice reverently and devoutly, with hearts burning with love; for here, in Word and Sacrament, Our Lord who deigns to call us His friends, shares with us everything that He has heard from the Father.