TRUE LOVE IS SACRIFICE EMPOWERED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
1st Reading: Acts 14:21-27; 2nd Reading: Revelation 21:1-5; Gospel: John 13:31-35
Many people have written wonderful and classical definitions of love at their own level of understanding. Most times, however, they only talk eloquently about love, but in the actual sense, they do not understand its implications, not to mention practice it. Love goes beyond mere feelings or what most people imagine; it is action embellished with mercy, kindness, compassion, care, and sacrifice for the welfare of others, no matter what it may cost, even in the face of persecution.
In the first reading, Paul and Barnabas were very happy to proclaim the Gospel of Christ during their first missionary journey despite suffering severely from the Jews. No wonder they were “courageously strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Undoubtedly, the secret behind the successes they recorded, in spite of all the persecutions and hardships that encroached on them, which they patiently endured and were always ready to sacrifice their lives for God and for humanity, was because of the power of the Holy Spirit they received, which propelled and strengthened them. Of course, the reason is very clear: they were motivated by the love of Christ and hungry for the salvation of souls. That was the main reason they never despaired when faced with tribulations and hardships.
In the Gospel, Jesus Christ says to His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have a love for one another” (John 13:34–35). But how can this be new? Does it mean that people were not required to love before the time of Jesus? Certainly, the Jews had two commandments of love enunciated in Deuteronomy 6:5 (love of God) and Leviticus 19:18 (love of neighbour). Even Jesus Christ affirmed them to be the first and second greatest commandments of the law (Matthew 22:37–39). So how is the commandment given by Jesus new?
Meanwhile, the Jewish commandment of love was “Love your neighbour as yourself”, that is, the way you treat yourself. Even some people do not love themselves, not to mention others. But Jesus’ New Commandment is: “Love one another even as I have loved you” (John 15:12). So, how did He actually prove this? Jesus Christ made it clear to His disciples: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Subsequently, He practically demonstrated His new commandment of love by His sacrificial death on the Cross for the salvation of our souls (salus animarum). His disciples understood this sacrificial love very well and demonstrated it in an exact manner, and that was why they were called Christians at Antioch because they were doing exactly what Jesus Christ did (Acts 11:26).
Unfortunately, some people who claim to love reject sacrifices, pains, persecutions, insults, etc. in the process, forgetting that they are the conditio sine qua non (necessary conditions) as well as the consequences or elements of love. They always think that love is all about what they can gain from their friends, which engenders momentary happiness and enjoyment that is void of hurts and pains. Yes, they may be right to some extent, but that is only 20% of what love is, which is a selfish one; the other 80% of what love is all about is sacrifice imbued with suffering, which is a selfless one.
It is worthy of note that the purest form of love is sacrifice, which is the expression of selflessness, and it is far more than anything related to the physical body. Sacrifice goes beyond what most people imagine. Unlike other kinds of love, selflessness does not care about what it gains or whether it is worth it.
True love is to sacrifice one’s own comforts, energy, time, resources, and talents for the sake of others, being merciful and compassionate, as well as giving a listening ear to the poor, weak, depressed, etc. Where there is no sacrifice, there is no love, and where there is no love, then there is no Christianity. Only those who are possessed by the Power of the Holy Spirit will be able to endure suffering and pain for the sake of others and thus derive joy when people’s lives are touched positively.
Moreover, once we allow Jesus Christ to dwell in our hearts, we will definitely receive His Power to love selflessly, which is the Holy Spirit. Without this, we may be acting like the stone-hearted Pharisees, who lacked human sympathy and always laid more emphasis on the external observances of the law to the detriment of humanity. For the presence of the Holy Spirit engenders love, happiness, joy, peace, patience, forgiveness, kindness, and endurance, and pushes away the frontiers of hatred, pain, anxiety, animosity, etc., amidst all suffering. Once He is present in our lives, then He will wipe away all tears from our eyes, just as was revealed to John in the second reading: “The New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21: 2). Surely, this Book of Revelation is full of visions that attempt to describe in symbolic language the past, the present, and especially the future.
Finally, as Christians who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we are called to love selflessly, as Jesus Christ did. Nevertheless, we may not necessarily offer our lives to be crucified or martyred physically but to sacrifice or deny ourselves certain things we need in order to save the lives or souls of others, even our enemies (Luke 6:27), no matter what it may cost us. However, we cannot achieve these with our own abilities but must rely on the Power of the Holy Spirit through fervent prayers. When we allow ourselves to be possessed by the Holy Spirit and motivated by the love of Christ, then that is the only time we will have inner joy and peace, even amidst our suffering for the sake of others.
When we must have passed through difficulties and challenges in carrying out our duties with the love of God and humanity, then at the end of our lives here on earth, we shall gain eternal life and enjoy the New Heavenly Jerusalem, where God will wipe away all tears from our eyes, and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, crying, or pain anymore. For there shall be true unending joy, happiness, and peace.
May the Power of the Holy Spirit strengthen and protect you and your family, so that you will be able to selflessly sacrifice your life for the sake of others amidst all tribulations, and at the end of your life here on earth, may God welcome you into His Heavenly Kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!!!
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Benjamin Okala, C.S.Sp.