Friday of the Thirty-second Week
2 Jn:4-9; Lk 17:26-37
Church music surely has its period pieces. I nominate the following song as a period piece for the 1970s in Latin Rite parishes: “And They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” I recall hearing it four decades ago, but I don’t recall hearing it much after that. In keeping with the spirit of the 1970s, the song was evocative but not very deep. The song’s last verse, though, is significant. It repeats the counsel Jesus gives to the apostles at the Last Supper: “This I command you: love one another.” (Jn 15:17)
For two days, today and tomorrow, we listen to readings from very short New Testament books – Second John and Third John. Because these two Letters belong to the Johannine tradition, we recognize in them an affinity with the Fourth Gospel.
In today’s first reading, the sacred author is clear that he is not conveying a new commandment. It is one from the beginning (cf. 2 Jn:5), he says. We are urged then to walk in the commandment of love. (cf. 2 Jn:6) Abide in love, yes; but we’re also bid to take steps in it, to advance in it.
But we must be careful. Taking steps and advancing is not the same as being “progressive.” When we take steps outside of what Christ teaches, we no longer have God according to the sacred author. (cf. 2 Jn:9)
Walking is far from inconsequential in today’s text. At the beginning of the passage, Saint John commends those who are walking in the truth. (cf. 2 Jn:4) This walking – in truth, that is – has an authority too. It has been commanded by Our Father in heaven. (cf. 2 Jn:4)
As we come to the end of the liturgical year, it is right to take stock, to consider how well we have loved and how truthful we have been. But we cannot engage in this examination as if truth and love are independent of each other. The fact is they are integrally related. We cannot abide in one and not the other, we cannot walk in one and not the other.
In Saint John’s Gospel, the evangelist depicts how Jesus washes the feet of the apostles. (cf. Jn 13:1-20) After the washing, Jesus says to the apostles, “You call me teacher . . . and rightly so, for indeed I am.” (Jn 13:13) For Jesus, there is no disjunction between what He says as teacher and how He acts as servant. The two are not opposed to each other.
We have come to call Jesus’ washing the feet of the apostles the mandatum. Loving service is mandatory for the Lord’s disciples. Yet the same holds for our service to the truth. It is incumbent upon us to search for the truth, and having found it to teach it to others.
De-coupling love and truth, pulling them apart, is a hazard not always avoided. It shows up, for instance, in the media. On one page of the newspaper, you have an editorial praising the Church’s care of AIDS patients; on the op-ed page, you have a piece attacking the Church for her teaching that “safe sex” is morally impermissible.
That’s the media, though. What about ourselves? Are there fault lines in us over love and truth?
Well, obviously there are lines. We see and recognize them in the distinctions we draw. But are we at fault for the breaches which occur, when the seamlessness between love and truth disappears?
I would like to return to the upper room and the mandatum if I may. As Jesus explains what He is about to do, Peter’s impetuousness is evident. He objects, “You will never wash my feet.” (Jn 13:8) Jesus answers him: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” (Jn 13:8)
Peter has been walking with the Lord literally and figuratively over the course of the public ministry. And still he needs help to understand Jesus’ design. Help comes to Peter in the form of love. Peter is loved to the end as are all of us. (cf. Jn 13:1)
The Lord entrusts to Peter the ministry by which he presides in love. And there is no other way to understand presiding in love without simultaneously including in it the work of teaching. The feeding that Peter is charged with after the Lord’s Resurrection pertains not just to giving the flock the Eucharist. (cf. Jn 21:15-19) Christ’s pure bread extends to doctrine as well.
The saint whom we honor in the liturgy today – Saint Josaphat – bears eloquent witness to the complementarity of love and truth. In his ministry as a bishop, he gave himself completely to the point of shedding his blood. It was his love for the truth, in particular, the primacy of the Petrine ministry, which brought him suffering in this world but happiness in the next.
As we wind down the liturgical year and ready ourselves for a new year of grace, we recall that in the Farewell Discourse Jesus petitions that the love He has for the Father be in the apostles (cf. Jn 17:26) and that the apostles be consecrated in the truth. (cf. Jn 17:19) This prayer issues forth from the lips of Jesus as He sends the apostles into the world. (cf. Jn 17:18) Love and truth are borne by the same messengers.
A commitment to orthodoxy and to orthopraxis* finds expression in doxology. For it is through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
[* Orthopraxis emphasizes conduct, and refers to the correctness of religious practice, including: traditions, offerings, cultural integrity, issues of purity, and more, whereas Orthodoxy refers to correctness of belief.]
Msgr Robert Batule
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