Last weekend millions of Catholics joined Pope Francis in a vigil of prayer and penanceasking God for peace in our world, and particularly a peaceful and just solution to the tensions in Syria. This past week we have marked another anniversary of 9/11. Sometimes the world seems hell-bent on destruction, or at least survival of the fittest. And yet our Faith shows us a completely different perspective! As Monsignor Bransfield reminds us, “The only way to make sense of life is to give it away as an authentic gift: this is what God does for us in the Eucharist.”Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:33–35)
Sr. Sean Mayer
To the world, it may seem as if Jesus is always giving us one more thing to do. He says, “I give you a new . . .” And everyone waits for the next word. A new what? A new place? A new job? A new friend? No. “I give you a new commandment.” He gives another rule? As if the first ten were not enough? We still don’t have those down, but he gives us one more thing to do. Why was it so important to hold this one until now? But, as is always the case with Jesus, more is at work.
Consider when Jesus spoke these words: Holy Thursday evening, the night of the Last Supper. He has just washed the apostles’ feet. And Judas has just turned on his heel and walked out on him, on the way to betray the Lord. Jesus turns to the apostles and gives them the new commandment: to love one another. Precisely at the moment when Jesus was abandoned by one he has called to follow him, a moment rife with duplicity and treachery, Jesus calls his Church to a new measure of love.
In this moment of loss, pain, and sorrow, Jesus uses the word “new.” We focus on the word commandment, but focus instead on the word new. In saying “new,” Jesus reaches into the very depths of our being and of existence itself. He is giving us the command to be new. He does this in a moment of such distress, rejection, and grief, that no moment of ours can ever be far from or immune to his newness of love. Every moment we spend throughout our day obeying the commandments opens up as the way to otherwise undiscoverable newness. New does not mean shiny, unused, or the opposite of old. Jesus gives a commandment just as he is about to undergo his crucifixion.
In giving us the new commandment, which is so close to the Eucharist and the cross, God has placed directly in our path an event that interrupts the timeless tendency always at work in the world and in our hearts: to be so easily caught up in and preoccupied with ourselves. This new commandment opens a new way of life: to love one another. In giving this commandment precisely at the moment when Jesus had every reason to be angry, embittered, and fearful, he declares that every moment, every relationship, every beginning and every conclusion is forever invested with a depth, a hidden passage, which leads directly to the throne of God. Ordinary human existence is forever changed, sabotaged from the inside out, so that it can always be transformed into a path to God despite any difficulty. The world attempts to convince us there is no way to God, but only a way to ourselves, that the only way worth following is that of acclaim, personal reward, and getting ahead. Jesus, instead, declares the newness: no matter who we are or how distant from God we may feel, even the most hopeless sinner is now confronted with an event of love in which and by which God makes all things new. We can turn to God at any moment. The turn is a turn of love, and love always has the shape of sacrifice.
Sacrifice is not simply what we do with chocolate during Lent. No. Sacrifice is the very nature and heartbeat of love. Sacrifice is the love by which I give myself up for the other: spouse, son, daughter, father, mother, friend, stranger, or enemy. I give myself not grudgingly, not simply out of duty or obligation. Love and sacrifice happen when both are inconvenient. I sacrifice because I have seen the face of God. This is the newness of love. The fact that we can love means we can create and offer the gift of self in the very next moment. For all of our attempts at it, God is still attempting to introduce us to love. Love means I give myself over and up—for this person, and thus move to God.
The only way to make sense of life is to give it away as an authentic gift: this is what God does for us in the Eucharist. God is constantly searching our mind and heart to transform us, so that we might rediscover the beauty of such love and follow him. Then we are released from all the things we have talked ourselves into during life: the shortcuts, frustrations, and dead ends. The event of love in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is so new it simply will never end. It always seems like there is one more thing. But with God that one more thing contains heaven. God gives us the new commandment because it is the way we become like him.
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About the Author:
Reverend J. Brian Bransfield is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He currently serves as the Associate General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Fr. Bransfield received his doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Prior to his current appointment, he served as professor of Moral Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He also wrote The Human Person: According to John Paul II.
About the Book Meeting Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Word
“Steal a few moments…and spend them with God.” An unguided personal retreat, Meeting Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Word will draw you into conversation with Jesus. With simple, but rich language, Mgr. Bransfield opens the door to where Jesus lives in Scripture, and welcomes you in.