Die to Self and Love, Then You Will be Happy
Thursday May 22, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 15:7-21) Gospel (St. John 15:9-11)
Our Lord, in the Gospel reading today, tells us (as we have heard over the last several days) to remain in His love and that we will remain in His love as long as we keep His commandments. His commandment to us, of course, is to love. So it sounds like a circular argument: “You will remain in My love as long as you love, and as long as you love, you will love.” Well, that makes perfect sense, but it is to remain in His love. It is not to love with a natural love but with a supernatural love because He loves the Father and loves us also and so He gives us His love, and with that love that we receive from Our Lord, we are able to love others. Not of our own strength, not of our own ability, not of our own ingenuity, but with His love and by His grace.
We recognize that point of being able, then, to love on a supernatural level, to love in a divine manner, which is precisely the dignity that we have from our baptism. And so the Lord is asking us to live according to what it is that He has done for us. In the salvation which is ours in Christ, in the faith that we have in Christ, in the saving grace, as Saint Peter spoke of in the first reading, we have the love of Christ poured forth into our hearts and we are then able to use that love for others. It is not given merely for ourselves because Our Lord commands us to love others as He has loved us. And so we are to take that love in and then we are to use it.
Now we know that as grace operates it either grows or it decreases, and the only way it is going to grow is if we use it. If we try to keep it for ourselves, it is actually going to be depleted. So if we want to be able to love God more, we have to use the love that He is putting there. It is not like a bank account that will gain more if we stuff it away and do not use it; in fact, it is exactly the opposite. Recall that Our Lord condemned the guy who buried the treasure, but it was the ones who used it who doubled what they had. The Lord has given to each one of us this treasure of His own love, and now He is asking that each one of us will use that love, will act upon it, will respond to what He has done for us and be able to love others.
And since it is the very purpose for which we are created – knowing that it is our very being to be created in the very image and likeness of God, and God is love, therefore, the purpose of our creation is to love and to be loved – the Lord then goes on to tell us that He has told us this so His joy may be in us and our joy may be complete. Now this is critical because we run around trying to find joy in everything that will not bring it, in fact, trying to find joy in everything that will bring us misery: more materialism, more selfishness, more pleasure, more things, more stuff, more self. It’s all about “me, me, me, me, me, me”. That is what our society is, and we think we are going to find happiness in all of these things. So I simply suggest that you look around and ask yourself how many truly joyful people you know. In America, there are very, very few because we are not doing what we are supposed to. We are trying to find joy in external things; we are trying to find joy in everything that is not God, and we pay very little attention to the Lord. He tells it to us straight out: If you want complete joy, total fulfillment, the peace that the world cannot give, it can only come through the love of Jesus Christ, or as Saint Paul would say, “the love of God in Jesus Christ poured forth into our hearts”.
That is what will bring us true joy and complete fulfillment and the peace that Our Lord spoke of in yesterday’s Gospel: if we accept His love, if we return His love, and if we love others as we have been loved. That is the commandment the Lord has given, and the wonderful thing for us with God’s commandments is that He does not get anything out of it – we do. If we are obedient to what He is asking, we will find our fulfillment. What the Lord is doing is simply saying, “This is for your own good. This is what is the very best for you.” So even if you start out with a selfish motive, which is exactly the opposite of love, but even if you start out with a selfish motive – “I want to find happiness and contentment and peace and joy and all the other things” – here is the answer: Die to self and love, and you will have everything that you are looking for. The formula is exceedingly simple. The Lord gave us one commandment. He told us we will remain in His love if we fulfill that commandment and our joy will be complete if we fulfill that commandment, and that commandment is to love one another as He has loved us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.