The joy of love

Various reasons are given as to why John’s gospel has an extra chapter at the end. One could be that the author wanted to emphasize that love should reign at the centre of the Church’s service of the world. The disciples go about their ordinary business: fishing.

open_bibleAnd while they are at it – and not doing well – Jesus appears on the shore but they don’t know him. He gives them a word of advice and they net a large catch. They realise who he is: “the Lord!”

They have a meal together and then Jesus calls Peter to three professions of love and three commands of service. Peter is to be the rock, the centre, and if he is to encourage his brothers and sisters he needs to couple his three denials of Jesus, on that dreadful night, with three protests of love. Poor Peter! We sense his emotions. And we know his love would take him where he “would rather not go.”

Two days ago Pope Francis issued his letter about the synod sessions that took place in 2014 and 2015. He calls it Laetitia Amoris, the Joy of Love. It is quite long and I have only seen a summary but even that touche me with joy. If I am right, Francis says, we do not need more rules about marriage and the family. We already know the mind of the Lord and the ideals the Church puts before us from her reflection on the gospel.

What we need now is love, expressed in compassion and understanding. We are called to change our way of thinking and cease being caught up in what is permissible and what is not. We are to strive for what is right, the ideal – in marriage and family and in all social relations. But our default position has to cease to be reference to the rule book and become one of love and compassion, especially for people in difficult situations.

Someone close to me went through a divorce some years ago and then married a divorcee. He became angry with the Church for her attitude at the time; he felt, ‘from now on I am excluded. The Church has cast me out.’ And so he left. We know he is not alone and there are many who feel the Church insists on law rather than love.

After more than two years of consultation, reflection and prayer, the pope has come out with this message: do not judge; do not condemn. Rather, respect the conscience of others and their decision. Show your love and try to understand and welcome them. Do not abandon your ideals but be deeply compassionate about others who think and act differently.

Yes, we can say, “provided that …” Provided that they really have made a conscientious decision and are not just doing what they want without any reference to the ideals the Church upholds. But we can slip back into rigourism and being judgemental. The key is love. To love the person and discover the joy this love gives and the new life which follows for them and for me.

10 April 2016            Easter Sunday 3C
Acts 5:27…41            Revelation 5:11-14            John 21: 1-19

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