MAY 15, 2009 –SAINT PACHOMIUS:  ACTS 15:22-3l; JOHN 15:12-17

 

JESUS SAID TO HIS DISCIPLES, “THIS IS MY COMMANDMENT: LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” These words of our Lord are particularly fitting on this occasion when we recall the life and work of the founder of Cenobitic life in the Church, Saint Pachomius, for only fraternal love can create a Christian community that flourishes by witnessing to the Gospel. ‘Cenobitic’ is a more technical term; it means ‘communal”, sharing in common. Such sharing in common is truly the practical fruit of the love that Jesus proclaims as the mark of his followers.

 

If we are to put into effect what he commands here, whether in the monastery or in the larger society, of our world, we do well to consider just what features of his love Jesus had in mind when he gave this order to his followers. For at various stages of life love assumes different expressions and has distinctive forms. In children love takes the form of obedience and trusting confidence; there is a large measure of dependence in love at this stage of our human development. As the person advances in years the individual takes more initiative and love is more active and independent. Jesus, Saint Luke tells us, arrived at this stage quite early, when he was twelve he felt ready to act independent of family support, relying only on his heavenly Father. As an adult he displayed a much larger freedom of thought and act so that he did not hesitate to correct the views of religious authorities, an even openly to criticize them fearlessly. He himself made it explicit even at the age of twelve, that the basis of his confidence and human freedom was his trust in the Father’s love. As opposition to his person and message grew the depth of his commitment to the will of his Father became increasingly evident. Finally, as his passion approached, selfless fidelity took the form of an active obedience that was tested above all on the cross. Even when he felt abandoned by the Father whose cause he served he commended his spirit with trust into his keeping.

 

The character of Jesus’ love that finds its most adequate expression was stated by our Lord himself: “greater love than this no man has that he lay down his life for his friends.”(John 15:13).  When Saint Bernard reflected on this question he coined a memorable phrase: “the measure of the love of God is to love without measure.”

 

Whoever takes our Lord’s commandment of love to heart and sought to put it into daily practice soon discovers that love is a word that has a variety of meanings. The most common idea is that love is an intense affectionate disposition toward another that engages the mind and imagination as well as the feelings. Often the cause of such a love is readily evident in the qualities of beauty and goodness found in the beloved. This kind of love is often best described as Eros especially when accompanied by sexual attraction. But there is also a love of friendship that is based on the more personal qualities of the mind and character than the outward form and body that may well have little relation to sex. Such a love can prove a strong stimulus to virtue, so as to be worthy of the kind of appreciation and affection offered by such a friend. There is a further kind of love that is a devoted concern for the true welfare of another, without the sense of attraction, indeed, even in spite of repugnance for one reason or another. Such love may come only at a high price of self-discipline, of self-advantage, even of life itself. The love of a teacher for a dull pupil, of a physician for a patient rendered unpleasant by some disease or personal character, the dedication of a soldier to his country in the face of hardship and danger, concern for the poor and disadvantaged who are unappreciative of one’s services—these are also expressions of love, and it is especially this kind of willing self-giving that Jesus has in mind when he speaks of the love that is his chief commandment Love of this kind is not a spontaneous movement of our sensibility but rather the fruit of daily choices. We must discipline and train our self if we would consistently display this kind of love for one another. Such love involves taking up the cross daily, as the Lord made clear on another occasion.

 

This is the kind of love that Jesus himself represented by his life and teaching and that led him to his passion and death. It is this self-giving love that was rewarded with his resurrection and glorification that we celebrate at this Eucharist. In participating in this sacrament we are offered the strength and grace we need to make such loving service and fidelity give meaning and fruitfulness to our life. May we prove faithful stewards of such a gift of love. &          


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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