Jesus has just broken the news to His disciples that He will not remain forever with them as they currently perceive and understand Him. He is pointing to His Ascension and to the sending of the Holy Spirit, which the Church will celebrate in the coming weeks. For now, the disciples need a pattern for living, and they’ve got it: As I have loved you, love one another. By observing this pattern, Jesus assures them of His continued presence and activity. For three years they have been observing Him at work and prayer. Having received from Him the commission of sacrificial service, and soon to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the remission of sins, Jesus’ disciples can assure the world that He will not abandon it. In fact, love for one another will be the single most convincing sign that Christ and His Church are right and necessary.
By the same token, sacrificial love also proves to be a burden of sorts. Paul and Barnabas warn the fledgling Church that “many trials” await them. Prayer, fasting, and mutual encouragement are the prescription that will sustain the Church through these trials, to the point that people will continue to join her ranks. The trials that seem so burdensome actually attract people to the Church and to the God who infuses her with His own life.
Once again, the Book of Revelation describes for us the triumph of the Church in spousal imagery: at the end of days she appears “as a bride adorned for her husband.” Trials will have become a thing of the past: “no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” will beset this dearly bought Bride. The work of the Trinity is universal restoration of the human race from within. By the Incarnation of the Son, humanity is wed to divinity, giving humanity a more-than-merely-cosmetic improvement.
And we could use one, all right! A country that harbors those who would destroy the innocent, that is moving toward the wholesale endorsement of same-sex marriage and forced contraception, whose president is thanking, and invoking God’s blessing upon, Planned Parenthood: We could use a more-than-merely-cosmetic improvement. And you know well that “there’s smoke in every kitchen”: everyone experiences the effects of sin and selfishness in their family lives.
But it is all too easy to avoid making the fearsome but crucial journey within. Jesus’ “new commandment” to love as He loves, reinforces our absolute need for His help. The Catechism notes: “It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God” (2842). The Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation purify and nourish our hearts to accomplish God’s will by being attentive to our own weaknesses and offering generous encouragement to our fellows. Who knows precisely how this sacrificial path will contribute to the “new heaven and new earth,” the adornment of the redeemed Bride of the Lamb!