God Is Love, as Reflected in the Holy Spirit
User’s Guide to Sunday, May 9
Sunday, May 9, is the Sixth Sunday of Easter.
Mass Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17.
Welcome to the Sixth Sunday of Easter. We are getting very close to Pentecost, and our readings for this Sunday revolve around love and the Holy Spirit. In 1967 the Beatles wrote and performed a song for one of the first worldwide TV broadcasts called All You Need Is Love. In a sense, they were right, even if they didn’t really understand what true love is. Regardless, “All You Need Is Love” could serve as the theme for this Sunday’s readings.
Our first reading is “The Gentile Pentecost,” the dramatic story in Acts 10 of how St. Peter was present for the first time the Holy Spirit fell on uncircumcised Gentiles. Circumcision was the mark of Jewishness; so this is the first time the Holy Spirit came on those who were “fully un-Jewish,” a huge step forward as the Gospel moved out to all nations. Though it doesn’t mention love, this reading is closely connected with the others for this Sunday, because you can’t separate divine love from the Holy Spirit:
“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
The Holy Spirit is the Divine Love, and we need him in our heart to fulfill the command of love which Jesus gives us, which is not otherwise humanly possible to fulfill.
Our Responsorial Psalm is 98: “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power!” The Church has us sing this Psalm in part to remind us that, even in the Old Covenant, there was strong hope that God would save all people, not just Israel. The Israelites were heirs to the promises of Abraham, but these promises looked forward to the blessing of all the nations (Genesis 12:3; 22:18). In fact, according to St. Paul, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the blessing of the nations that was promised to Abraham, the father of Israel (see Galatians 3:14).
Our second reading is 1 John 4:7-10, including the famous line: “God is love.” Everyone loves this passage; maybe even the Beetles would agree “God is love” — but they would never go on to sing about “the Son of God who is an expiation for our sins,” in the last verse of our reading. They didn’t want to think about that sin concept. However, true love never ignores truth, and the truth is that sin cannot be dealt with in some trivial way without a costly act of God — in fact, the costliest act of God: the giving of his only Son. And no one can love God without acknowledging the costly gift of his Son and repenting of our sins that made it necessary.
In our Gospel reading (John 15:9-17), we continue the Last Supper Discourse. Jesus teaches the disciples about the Spirit in the Upper Room, “As the Father loves me, so also I love you.” Then he commands, “Love one another as I love you.”
So the Father’s love for Jesus is the same as Jesus’ love for us; and Jesus’ love for us must be replicated in our love for each other. What is happening here is that the whole Church is being called to enter into the awe-inspiring circle of divine love which is the Trinity.
But how can we? How can finite persons endure the burning flames of divine love? It is beyond our human capacity; yet that is the connection with the first reading. We cannot love this way without being “divinized” ourselves through a “participation in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) through the reception of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10 makes it possible for us to live out the otherwise-impossible command Jesus gives us in the Gospel.