The apostle John, of all the apostles, seems to have lived until a ripe old age.
Tradition records that all the others were martyred in some way, but John is said to have survived even being put in a vat of boiling oil, according to the legend. Whether that story is true or not, it does appear that John outlived all the other apostles. He had his own community and one day, so the story goes, one of his young disciples came up to him and said, “Good master, do you mind if I ask you a question?“ And John said to him, “Not at all, my son, go ahead.” “Well,“ said the young man, “why do you always, in your talks and all your writings, keep speaking about Love? Love, love, love – why don’t you talk about something else for a change?”
And St John looked at him and said, “Because, my son, there is nothing else – only love, love, love.”
The story comes to mind as I look at our second reading and gospel today and count up the number of times the word “love” is mentioned. Anyone want to have a guess? In fact, it is eighteen. Eighteen times in those two short passages. No wonder St John is known as the “Apostle of Love.” It is not that he couldn’t think of anything else to talk about. It’s just that, whatever his chosen subject, it would always turn round to a talk about love. If he was asked, for instance, by his community to talk about God, he would begin saying that,
“God is Love.”1 John 4:8
If they said: “Talk to us about the commandments,” he would respond:
”Jesus said: ‘This is my commandment- that you love one another as I have loved you.’“John 15:12
And if they said, “Well, what about the world?”, John would begin with,
“It was because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes him may not perish but may have eternal life.”John 3:16
You see, whatever the starting point, John would always find a way of turning it round to talking about his great subject: love, love, love.
It seems to me that John had found the way to fulfil Jesus’s words in our gospel today: to “abide in my love.” To abide means to stay, to remain, it is a continuous dwelling in. It is not an on-one-minute, off-the-next, kind of thing. John was continuously saturated in the love of God, the way a sponge shoved down in a bowl of water and held down and lifted out is saturated, such that water is pouring out of it. Those who abide in the love of Jesus ooze Jesus. If you squeeze an orange, what comes out of it? Pure orange juice. If you squeeze a lover of Jesus, what should come out of them? Jesus, pure Jesus. It is, or should be, the natural consequence of being a Christian – a Christ-ian – being full of Jesus. St Paul describes this condition very well when he says in Galatians:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the human life I now live,I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself on the cross for my sake.“Galatians 2:20-21
Here St Paul is echoing what St John says in our second reading: ”God loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Understand, brothers and sisters, that when we are talking about Love, in the way John speaks of it, we are speaking of a special kind of love. The ancient Greeks divided love into three main kinds: eros (romantic love), philos (the love between good friends), and agape (which is unconditional, undying, totally self-less and self-giving love). It is this last word, agape love, which St John is referring to in all the 18 times he mentions the word “love” in our second reading and gospel. Eros love is wonderful and lights the spark between two people that, hopefully, propels them to marriage. But it is just the spark and must mature into the other forms of love if it is to sustain. Philos love is warm and affectionate, and long-lasting, but sometimes even good friends can fall out with each other and the relationship fractures. But agape love is forever, and nothing can ever change it, even when it is offered and rejected.
As St Paul says in his famous chapter on love in his first letter to the Corinthians,
“Love never ends.”1 Cor 13:8
And it is this kind of love, agape love, unending, undying, unconditional love with which Jesus loves us, and wants us to abide in, and to share with others. It should flow out of us towards others, as water floods out of a saturated sponge, as juice flows out of an orange if you squeeze it. And this agape love Jesus has for us, for each one of us, flows from his Father towards him, and back from him towards his Father for all eternity. Except that, from the beginning of human creation, that agape love between Father and Son has been expanded to include every human being in its embrace. St Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:
”God destined us to live in love ,since before the foundation of the world.”Ephesians 1:3
Do you get that, really get that, brothers and sisters?
There has never been a time when God has not loved you, with total unending, unconditional, agape love. So Jesus can say, as he does in our gospel today: ”As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love”. In other words, “Saturate yourselves in this agape love of mine, so that it oozes out of you, floods out of you to embrace others . Saturate yourselves in this love as my beloved disciple, John, saturated himself in it, so that, as for him, everything for you will also be nothing but love, love, love.”
Hopefully by now, there is a desire throbbing in you, swelling into a great cry from your heart: “Lord, give me this agapelove. I must have it. I need it, I’m thirsting for it… Guess what, brothers and sisters? Jesus is thirsting for you to have it also, He wants each of us to experience it.
So how does it happen?
How do we get so full of Jesus that he simply oozes out of us? How can we learn to abide in the love of God? And the answer is: through the inpouring of the Holy Spirit. St Paul says in his letter to the Romans that:
”Hope will not disappoint us, because the love of God is being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
The Holy Spirit has been given to us in our baptism, and deepened at our confirmation, but that is never the end of the Holy Spirit filling us. St Paul says,
“Be filled with the Spirit.“Ephesians 5:18
Which actually means, “Go on being filled with the Spirit.” Jesus echoes this thought in Luke’s gospel:
”Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you.”Luke 11:9,13
Again the tense used is the continuous present, so Jesus is actually saying: ”Ask, and go on asking; seek, and go on seeking; knock and go on knocking.” Persist in the asking, seeking and knocking – not because God doesn’t really want to give it to you, or has to be arm-twisted to release it. No, Jesus ends his words here in Luke’s gospel by saying:
”If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”Luke 11:13
God wants, desires, longs for us to receive this greatest gift of his, the gift of his Holy Spirit.
We need to ask, and go on asking, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, because we leak. I leak, you leak. You know this, I know this. There are times when we feel really close to God, when we want to pray, read the Bible, go to church. And other times when the desire fades, when the last thing we want to do is pray or read scripture, or go to church. There are times when we are full of the desire to go help others, but there are other times when we wish they would leave us alone. This can be due to the presence of sin in our lives, or because of a particularly upsetting experience, or simply the devil just wears us down by sending negative thoughts about God and so on persistently into our minds and hearts and spirits. And so we need to fight back by asking for the Holy Spirit to come again and again to fill us up, fill us up with desire and passion and zeal for God and the things of God, to fill us up with the unending, unconquerable, limitless agape love of God.
So I am going to pray a prayer to the Holy Spirit now and ask you to say “Amen” at the end of it. But I will also leave this prayer at the end of my homily, which is put out on the website. And I invite you to pray it especially each day from this coming Thursday, 13th May, until Saturday 22nd May. Nine days, which makes a Novena. The apostles prayed a Novena to God, asking him to send the Holy Spirit down on them, as Jesus promised would happen, and after those nine days, on Pentecost Sunday, God answered and they were all filled with the power of God’s Holy Spirit, as we read in Acts of the Apostles chapter 2 : 1 – 4. So the Church encourages us to pray a similar Novena, and you can use this prayer below.
Or you can go onto the Internet and find another one, another Novena to the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, what matters is that you persist in prayer for the Holy Spirit to come, and fill you with the agape love of God .
Prayer to the Holy Spirit
O Holy Spirit of God , abide with me, abide in me.
Inspire all my thoughts, pervade my imaginations;
Suggest all my decisions, order all my doings.
Be with me in my speech and in my silence,
In my haste and in my leisure,
In company and in solitude.
In the freshness of the morning,
And in the weariness of the evening.
And give me the grace at all times
To humbly rejoice in your mysterious companionship.