An old man was forced into retirement on the Isle of Patmos. In his younger years, he was known as the “beloved disciple.” He was a contemplative fellow. He started out as a follower of John the Baptist. Then John the Baptist passed him over to Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” said the Baptizer to his disciples, handing off his followers to Jesus. The Baptizer was doing what he said would be done: “He must increase. I must decrease” (John 3:30). When “the beloved disciple” and Andrew first followed Christ, Jesus turned around and asked, “What do you seek?” They said, “Where do you live?” Jesus said, “Come and see.” Not a bad start for the Church. St. John and St. Andrew passed an afternoon at Jesus’ home in Capernaum. Like the Visitation, I wish I’d been there just to hear what was said. Little did young John know that he’d be an Apostle, let alone the favorite. Long after his Master’s death and resurrection, and long after Pentecost, John ran into Church issues. Personnel problems. Despite being the last surviving Apostle, and having escaped martyrdom, John was run out of town. He sailed to Patmos, where God granted him a vision. He documented it in The Book of Revelation: he saw the drama of Christ versus the Anti-Christ, the struggle of the Church, the End of the World, and the beauty of a Heavenly City and a New World.
It’s a prophetic vision: the definitive uniting of God and his people in a New Paradise and a Heavenly City. He describes a Bride in a wedding, descending from a beautiful heaven, wearing a radiant wedding garment, processing to meet her Bridegroom. The ceremony is solemn and sacred. The joy is undisturbed. The Bridegroom, the Risen One, is radiant and priestly vested. The Bride is the purified Church, cleansed by the Lamb’s Blood. In flawless beauty, she approaches her Bridegroom, adored by angels, each a universe unto itself, singing a new hymn to the Bride and Groom. All sang in tones hitherto unheard, exuberant and chaste, profound in beauty and wisdom, revealing the forthcoming splendor of a New World wed to the Risen Christ.
It’s as much a graduation as a wedding, a birth into a New World. To all graduates (whatever you’re graduating from), hear these words of the Risen Christ: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). In our troubled world, the Church plants and nurtures the seed of this New Life. What is this way of life? Jesus tells us: “To love one another as I have loved you!” This is not a political ideal. Nor is it romantic. It’s painful and personal. Love navigates through a sea of human weakness and sin. It takes grace. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another,” said Jesus. The love question is critical. It’s more important than the economy, politics or foreign relations. More so than medicine or science. More than technology or law. All of these pursuits come to nothing without the most difficult subject of all: real-deal love. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, all knowledge that does not lead to love is useless.
People propose all kinds of ideas about love, mostly sentimental and idealistic. But “what is love” and “how to love” are not questions we can afford to get wrong. Too much is at stake. To get the “love question” wrong is, ultimately, to get everything wrong. If we get it right, we gain immortality and unending joy. Everyone’s destiny stands or falls on the question of love. We must stand on what is tried and true.
“Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths: Where the good way is, and walk in it. And you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
Jesus said at the Last Supper, “If you love me, follow my commandments.” Christ’s Commandment “to love” is grounded in the Ten Commandments. These are not the end of love, but are its rudiments. The Commandments should not be viewed legalistically. Rather, they should be contemplated with a view to forming human sensibilities. This is what prepares us for the New Creation. The first three Commandments are rudiments for loving God: Put God first and avoid manipulative spirituality; honor everything sacred; attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days and pray daily. The last seven Commandments are rudiments for loving neighbor. Life’s basics. If you follow them, you will become more human. If a society follows them, it will become more humane.
Honor your father and mother. This doesn’t mean you must do everything they want. As an adult, your life is your own. Carve your own path. When you marry, you and your spouse – not your parents or in-laws – rule your life together. Some things you must figure out on your own. Seek advice from the experienced. Yes, you owe your parents and elders reverence and respect. Value their input. But the best thing about advice is that you don’t have to take it. Notwithstanding their faults, parents, elders and ancestors stand in God’s place. That doesn’t mean they’re always right. It just means they gave you something that came from God. Providence placed them over you, to provide for you and to give you culture. Don’t confuse their gifts with their faults. Good soil is made by centuries of life and death. Any child can point out the faults of a parent or teacher. But a child cannot see the hidden trials that duty imposes on parents – even faulty parents – everyday. Always remember: Your criticisms of an older generation will come back to you someday, from a generation not far behind.
You shall not kill. Respect the body and soul of every person, including yourself. It teaches you not only to avoid harming others, but to avoid self-destructive behavior. Avoid scandal. Life is a gift. The Fifth Commandment teaches gratitude for that.
The Sixth Commandment is about chastity. Love 101. Willful sins against chastity strike violently at love’s delicate flower. Today’s world sees sexuality as mere biology, a health issue, or a personal matter. But sex is an instinct that creates a society. We cannot separate it from that. Otherwise, it’s bound to turn in on itself and end in bitterness. There’s no way around it. If sex is to be life-giving, it must be performed with a view to making great sacrifices. On your part, this will require preparation: in school, in work and in prayer. Your studies are not just about preparing for a career. They’re about preparing for a family. In the meantime, your chastity – coupled with humility and honesty – will be a life-giving force that breeds friendship, family, community, trust, kindness, and self-respect. Economically, chastity lends itself to prosperity because it generates healthy and honest relationships, cooperation and community. Sex and sacrifice cannot be separated. “What God has joined, let no one separate” (Mark 10:9).
The Seventh and Eighth Commandments are about honesty. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. The world suffers not only from a crisis of chastity, but also a crisis of honesty. In fact, the two – chastity and honesty – are intertwined with each another, like twins. When one falls, the other falls. When one stands, the other stands. As young people entering the world, commit yourselves to honesty at all costs, in word and deed. Bear courageous witness to honesty (honesty requires courage), even if it costs you. You’ve received a tongue to speak the truth. Lying and deceit are about manipulation, not love. They end in isolation and sadness. Truth is about love because it leads to trust. Trust leads to friendship and joy.
“Mors et vitae in minibus linguae” – “Death and life are in the hands of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
The last two Commandments are about envy and greed. Be content with what Providence provides. Bloom where you’re planted. Be content with (1) what you have and (2) what you can get through honest work and effort. Envy and greed are two tanks that never fill up. Gratitude wins more blessings from God.
“Better is a dry morsel in quietness than a house of feasting with strife” (Proverbs 17:1).
The peace of a New World begins with a heart formed by grace and challenged to grow in the Commandments. When we fail in keeping the Commandments, the Father himself picks us up, like a fallen child, and puts us upright to begin the adventure of walking all over again. In his vision, St. John saw the final blessings of persevering in God’s grace.
Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever. And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, and the Lord, the God of prophetic spirits, sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon. Behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic message of this book” (Revelation 22:1-7).
Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor