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In Order to Faithfully Observe the Commandments, It is Necessary to Truly Love the Good

By Deacon F. K. Bartels
5/25/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In order to pursue the good wholeheartedly, it is necessary to truly love the good, to see it as a highly desirable treasure.

In order to pursue the good wholeheartedly, it is necessary to truly love the good, to see it as a highly desirable treasure. The ancient philosopher Plato understood that if we love the good, our emotions and dispositions will move toward it spontaneously and with a sense of delight. God's law is truly beautiful and wondrous, to be pursued with constant persistence and great energy, for its beauty is founded on the unsurpassable greatness, wisdom and beauty of its Divine Origin.

GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online)--Today's gospel (Jn 14:15-21) is drawn from what is often referred to as the "farewell discourse" of Jesus, and opens with these words: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." The gospel closes with the same theme as Jesus reminds his disciples that those who observe his commandments are the one's who love him.

"Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him" (Jn 14:21).

With these beautiful and comforting words of divine promise, Jesus draws an inseparable connection between loving him and free and loving obedience to his word. To love Jesus is to love both what he has done and what he has said. Within this free exchange of love, we are caught up in the love of the Father as Jesus reveals himself to us. It can be said that we come to know who Jesus really is by giving ourselves over to his teaching. An intimate relationship with Jesus is, then, conditional on our faithfulness to his deeds and words.

ACQUIRE THE COMMANDMENTS

Note that Jesus says, "Whoever has my commandments . . ." Presumably, then, not everyone has the commandments of Christ. In the first century, when Jesus traveled from town to town, teaching and healing and forgiving, not everyone had his commandments because not everyone knew of him. The same can be said of today; there remain people in both isolated and densely populated areas of the world who have not yet heard the gospel, nor do they know of Jesus Christ.

There are others, however, who do know of Jesus, and perhaps have some of his commandments, but not all of them. When we listen to the words of Christ, it becomes clear that receiving his commandments and observing them is integral in some way to Christ revealing himself to us. This is not to say that those who are invincibly ignorant of Christ's commands, the word of God, the Church and so forth, cannot encounter Christ. Yet it is to say that, for those of us who know of Christ, receiving and observing the commandments is more than simply important. It is crucial, urgent.

Generally speaking, it is not so often the case that Catholics and other Christians intentionally reject the commandments of Jesus; it is more often the case that they fail-whether intentionally or not-to take the time to learn them, study them, and embrace them. Why is this so?

There are a number of reasons. Sometimes people find learning the commandments unpalatable because of the internal struggle that often develops as their consciences are formed through hearing the word of God. "Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

Others are so immersed in the bustle of life that they simply fail to take the time to learn the commandments. Some are indifferent to them. And there are people whose ears are highly selective: they listen to those commands compatible with their lifestyle and silence those contrary to it.

But why is it crucial to learn and study the commandments? First, because Jesus tells us to do so. That should be reason enough. Nevertheless, there are other reasons. The commandments are not merely a set of rules to live by; they are far above that, for they are rooted in the love of the Father for his children. They are like divine treasures, in a manner of speaking, whose wealth is available to every hungry soul. They are gifts of truth showered from heaven to earth in order for us to know how to live a complete and fully human life, which is to say they help us to know how to become like God. In receiving and observing the commandments of Christ, our spirituality and holiness grow toward maturity and perfection. We are helped along the path of our destiny toward our eternal end in God.

LEARN TO LOVE THE GOOD

Nevertheless, due to the effects of original sin and a wounded human nature, faithfulness to the commandments is not always easy, at least not at first. Some commandments, however, such as the proscription against murder found in the Decalogue that is also a part of the natural moral law, are relatively easy to observe. Murder is a grave sin that most people have little trouble avoiding. Other commandments, though, can be challenging. What about the great twofold commandment given by Christ: love God above all else, and love your neighbor as another self? Not so easy.

Clearly, the right perspective is needed. It is important to recognize the commandments as true goodness. The law of God is good because God is perfectly good. God's law is truly beautiful and wondrous, to be pursued with constant persistence and great energy, for its beauty is founded on the unsurpassable greatness and wisdom of its Divine Origin.

In order to pursue the good wholeheartedly, it is necessary to truly love the good, to see it as a highly desirable treasure. The ancient philosopher Plato understood that if we love the good, our emotions and dispositions will move toward it spontaneously and with a sense of delight.

Consider human love. When you love someone, you desire to learn their interests and desires, their history and what is important to them; but more than that, you desire to please them. When you are in love, what was before a chore becomes a delight when done for the sake of the one who is loved. Even difficult tasks, although they might bring some amount of suffering, are gladly undertaken. Love moves you to desire to give yourself to the other, which is the mutual exchange that takes place in a relationship of love.

Now consider divine and human love. If you love Jesus Christ, you thirst to learn who he really is. You want to know about his deeds and words, and you desire to observe them-all of them-and apply them to your life. But more than that, your heart swells with a burning desire to become like the Savior who became like you in all things but sin. Within this exchange of divine and human love, commandments are no longer viewed as difficult, restrictive rules dictated harshly or threateningly by a God who sits upon the high throne of judgment, but sublime treasures through which you are given the opportunity not only to prove your love but enter into it more fully, deeply, completely.

"Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (Jn 14:23).

What sublime words of beauty! Because God is Love Itself, perfectly merciful and just, your acts of loving obedience are not simply rewarded but received and returned in overflowing measure: "He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne" (Rev. 3:21).

GRACE IS NECESSARY TO TRULY LOVE THE GOOD

The ability to truly love the good and take delight in pursuing it even though it might bring about some temporary suffering or displeasure is not something naturally acquired. One does not simply decide to love the good and then automatically truly love the authentic good in the same way as one would flip on a light switch; for to love the good is to desire to suffer, if necessary, in order to attain it. Enduring pain for goodness' sake is not natural. In order to possess such an ability, which is a virtue, divine assistance is necessary. We call this assistance grace.

Here we arrive at the crucial importance of copious prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ, you are nothing:

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned" (Jn 15:5-6).

It is also important to point out the grace obtained through the divine liturgy and the sacraments of Christ conferred on the faithful by the Church. Within the context of the divine liturgy, a sacred event surpassing all others (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7 ยง 4), the body and blood of Christ is offered to the Father through the Holy Spirit for the redemption of humankind.

"At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47).

This highest form of Christian prayer, the Mass, which re-presents the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, is the greatest possible action in the entire universe in virtue of its infinite nature and the fact that it is God's own action. The faithful are participants in this great symphony of the Holy Trinity, which immerses us in the astonishing loving goodness of God.

In receiving Eucharist, the glorified body of the Risen Lord is consumed, which imparts to you a share in the very life of God. The Eucharist is, then, not simply food for life, it is the food of supernatural life. In consuming Christ, you are transformed by him and into him Whom you have received, and thus delight in a share in the supernatural, divine life of the Savior of the world. To receive the Eucharist is to truly receive the Real Presence of Christ in his glory. The Eucharist is the food in which you receive Divine and Human Goodness Itself.

Through the sacrament of Reconciliation, the penitent is forgiven by God, reconciled to the Church, and infused with sanctifying grace which heals and elevates, imparting a share in the divine life of God. Through the reception of the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, you encounter the living Christ whose attributes are mercy, forgiveness, love and goodness.

While much more could be said, all of these things instill in us a real love for the good through the supernatural aid of God. In living the sacramental life in the heart of the Church, the Spirit heals, elevates and perfects us, granting us a share in the life of God, making us like God, which gives also the ability not only to take delight in pursuing the good but to truly love it. To be like God is to love goodness as God loves it.

Consider the love of Christ for goodness: he willingly died a bloody and brutal death on the Roman cross, sacrificing his sacred humanity, for the love of goodness, for the love of humanity, and for the love of the will of the Father, which is pure goodness.

Yet we must do the human part. We must actively and concretely pursue goodness with all our strength. This begins with, aided by the Spirit, our ardent desire to learn, study and observe the commandments of Christ.

"Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him" (Jn 14:21).

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Deacon Fred Bartels serves the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, as a member of the Catholic Clergy. He is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at joyintruth.com

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