Friday, April 30, 2010

What's New About The New Commandment?

5th Sunday of Easter, John 13:31-33a,34-35

“I give you a new commandment: love one another.” –It may seem that this commandment to love is not new. Even under the Old Law, the Jews were commanded to love God above all (Deut. 6:5) and to love their neighbor as themselves (Lev. 19:18).

There are, in fact, three particular reasons why this commandment is said to be new:

First, because of the newness, the renewal, it produces. This newness is from charity, the charity to which Christ urges us.

Secondly, this commandment is said to be new because of the cause which produces this renewal; and this is a new spirit. There are two spirits: the old and the new. The old spirit is the spirit of slavery; the new is the spirit of love. The first produces slaves; the second, children by adoption. The spirit sets us on fire with love because "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5).

Thirdly, it is a new commandment because of the effect it established, that is, a New Covenant. The difference between the New and the Old Covenant is that between love and fear. Under the Old Covenant, this commandment was observed through fear; under the New Covenant it is observed through love. So this commandment was in the Old Law, not as characteristic of it, but as a preparation for the New Law.

 That we might fulfill this new commandment, Christ has sent into our hearts the Holy Spirit. Hence, it is most appropriate that this Gospel be proclaimed by the Church in preparation for the solemn feast of Pentecost.

See St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John 13,7.

“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” –It is as though Christ says: “Because I have loved you in a new and especial manner, taking upon me your flesh and giving it to you by means of the Eucharist which I have just instituted as the food of your soul, that in this Sacrament I might unite you all to me, and to one another in me; for this cause I likewise demand of you, 0 Christians, that you love one another with a new and peculiar love, not merely as man loves man, because of their common nature, but as a Christian ought to love one who is united to himself in Christ, a fellow-member of the same Church of Christ and participator of the same Eucharist.”

Thus, the love of Christ for us, should in turn stir up our love for one another. For those whom Christ loves, we his followers ought also to love. And Christ has indeed loved his Church in a marvelous way, giving himself to her in the Holy Eucharist and uniting all her members to himself and to one another through this Sacrament.
See Cornelius a’ Lapide, Commentary on John.

Now Christ loved us three ways: gratuitously, effectively and rightly.

He loved us gratuitously because he began to love us and did not wait for us to begin to love him. In the same way we should first love our neighbors and not wait to be loved by them or for them to do us a favor.

Christ loved us effectively, which is obvious from what he did; for love is proven to exist from what one does. The greatest thing a person can do for a friend is to give himself for that friend. This is what Christ did. We also should be led by this example and love one another effectively and fruitfully: "Let us not love in word or in speech but in deed and in truth" (1 Jn 3:18).

Christ also loved us rightly. Since all friendship is based on some kind of sharing (for similarity is a cause of love), that friendship is right which is based on a similarity or a sharing in some good. Now Christ loved us as similar to himself by the grace of adoption, loving us in the light of this similarity in order to draw us to God. We also, in the one we love, should love what pertains to God and not so much the pleasure or benefits the loved one gives to us. In this kind of love for our neighbor, even the love of God is included.

See St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John 13,7.


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