Friday, May 7, 2010

The New Commandment

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe

The resurrection of Jesus ushered in newness to creation. The book of Revelation which was our 2nd reading spoke of the new heavens and the new earth and also the New Jerusalem. “Behold, I make all things new,” said the Lord at the end of the reading. It is in the context of this newness of creation that we should understand what Jesus said in the Gospel: “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” This is the new law in the new Jerusalem: the law of love.

Those familiar with Scripture will find this new commandment strange. How can the commandment to love one another be new? Love isn’t necessarily a New Testament novelty. Isn’t the greatest commandment of the Old Testament about love? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and all your mind, and all your heart, and all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Yes, love wasn’t an invention of the Lord Jesus. Even before he came as man, the world has already known what love is. And so why call it a novelty? What makes this commandment of Jesus really new?

It is not the idea of love that is new but rather the standard of love. The commandment of old has made the self as the standard of love: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When our Lord promulgated his new commandment, he made himself as the standard of love: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” By doing so, the Lord Jesus elevated the standard of love. For when we have thought that there could be no one else who could love us more than ourselves, the Lord tells us that he loves us more than we can ever love our own selves. “As the Father loves me, so do I love you,” the Lord tells us. The standard of Jesus’ love for us is the love of the Father for him. This is a tremendous mystery for no one can ever comprehend the love between the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity! Nothing can surpass the love of the Father for his Son. And he loves us in the way he is loved by the Father! He loves us with the same intensity and the same infinity of the Father’s love for him. When this incomprehensible Divine Love is translated in human measurable terms, it becomes an awesome sight: it is the image of Christ on the Cross. Christ on the Cross is the most profound expression of love until the end: “There can be no greater love than this: that a man should lay down his life for his friends!” And this love which is to the end is the very standard of our love for each other: “Christ suffered for you to leave you an example so that you may follow in his footsteps.” “Christ laid down his life for us. We should lay down our lives for each other.” It is by his sacrifice on the Cross that Christ is glorified by the Father and that Christ glorified his Father. If we love one another by laying down our lives in the fashion of Christ’s generous self-donation, we likewise glorify Christ and in him, we glorify the Father.

In the middle of World War II, a Polish Conventual priest, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, was imprisoned in the labor camp in Auschwitz. One day, a prisoner from the block where Fr. Kolbe belonged escape. Ten men will have to pay for this escape with their own lives. When the men were randomly selected, one of them cried: "My wife! My children!" To the surprise of all, Fr. Kolbe stepped out of line and volunteered to take the place of the crying man. "I am a Catholic priest," he said, "I wish to take his place." The crying man was released and Fr. Kolbe, together with nine other prisoners, were brought to a bunker to die of starvation. Days have passed, and when the prisoners died one after another, Fr. Kolbe was found alive, weakened but still kneeling in prayer. His arm was injected with carbolic acid which ended his heroic life. No greater love can there be than the one who lays down his life for his friends.

The mark of the Cross in our lives distinguishes us as Christians. And the Cross is well the symbol of love – love that forgets itself and gives itself until the very end. “This is how all will know hat you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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