Complete joy

The saving events we remember during the Easter season are the high point of the church's liturgical year. It is from them that we receive new life in Christ and in them that we that we discover the true measure of God's unfathomable love for us. The readings for the sixth Sunday in Easter invite us to slow down and ponder that love - to let Jesus transform our stony hearts into hearts of flesh.

The Father's love for us is wonderfully simple and clear throughout the Old Testament beginning with the truth that He fashioned each of us in His image and likeness. It includes powerful moments of testing and chastisement, but also the generous offer of His protection and care in the various covenants made with Noah, Abraham and Moses. God's love is also manifest in the lives and words of the great prophets, including Isaiah and Ezekiel.

As great as all of these moments were, we know that in the fullness of time God did something that no one could have predicted or even conceived of asking our Heavenly Father to do on our behalf: "In this way the love of God was revealed to us; God sent His only Son into the world so that we might have life through Him."

Jesus, the supreme gift of the Father's love, was not something that we earned or deserved. He was a gift that far surpassed all human calculations and wisdom. "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins." God sent His most precious gift to suffer, die and rise for us that we might be restored to a grace-filled union with Him that reaches its apex in His offer of eternal life.

Jesus uses the word "friendship" to describe this restored and elevated relationship with Him and His Eternal Father. "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends." This friendship is not distant like "Friends of the National Zoo," but rather intimate like a dear friend, a best friend who has weathered every storm with us.

It is in Christ and in this newfound relationship with God (bestowed upon us in baptism when we become adopted sons and daughters) that we experience a whole new world of joy. We were made to be in a relationship with God. Sin profoundly damages and sometimes even destroys that relationship. Our lives are profoundly incomplete without God at the very center. Jesus' death and Resurrection destroyed sin and repaired that relationship. It restored the joy that flows from true love and, in fact, brings it to a whole new level: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete." Now that our relationship has a share in the very relationship that Jesus has with His Father, our joy can reach otherwise unimagined heights.

This love marks the life of the Christian and has a sacrificial nature to it. With Christ as our model, Christian love is self-surrendering and self-emptying. It truly and deeply desires the good of the other. It is willing to make enormous sacrifices for the beloved: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Christian love is beautifully oriented to the other.

One final dimension of the love of Christ is that it leads filial obedience to the Father: "If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in His love." A genuine love for God flows into humble obedience to the divine will. We love what the Father loves. We love the Gospel way of life.

The beauty is that when offered to the Father in faith and charity, our gift of filial obedience is easy and the burden is light. Even when His plans are hard to understand and the sacrifice demanded asks us to go beyond our human limits, this love both strengthens us and eases the burden.

Today, we ponder one of the great mysteries of life: Only in the genuine love of God do we come to complete joy.

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington and director of the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015