Jn 15.9-17                 AA 10.25-26,34-35,44-48            1Jn 4.11-16

From the images of the Good Shepherd tending his sheep and the Vine and the Branches being pruned and producing the good fruits of the Spirit, now Jesus moves to his core message, that we are to be known as his friends, not servants or slaves, but with the obvious implication that this comes from our response in faith to hearing his word and living it out, sharing the love.

There’s no heavy theology here, just the simple instruction to apply his love for you and me to the lives of those around us and beyond.  The call to love is universal, yet so often humanity concentrates on the differences and divisions in our world, which lead to misunderstanding and conflict, rather than open communication and trust.

We might wish for peace, but wonder when humanity will ever learn, as we look at the hostilities going on at present, in so many places in our world.  On the other hand, we just have to look at the proliferation of travel guides and promotions, to be given the illusion that all is well on our troubled planet!  We keep hoping for better times for all.

A big issue at present has become the campaign against violence to women in our own society, given the many abusive and tragic incidents which have been recorded in recent times.  There are arguments about the cause of such repulsive and evil violence, with the suggestion that all men be reflective about their attitude to women, and act accordingly, with respect, understanding and appropriate love.

The sad thing is how a once loving relationship can descend, not just into disrespect or disregard, but into disdain and even hatred, even moreso where children are involved.  Domestic violence is said to be common enough, often behind closed doors, and either on an emotional or a physical level.  Having done annulment judgements for nearly 40 years now, I can vouch for the fact that it can go both ways sometimes, but statistically,  it’s generally more common that it is the male who is the primary offender here.

Columnist Waleed Aly has been criticised for suggesting violence against women is not so much disrespect as humiliation, shame and guilt on the part of the aggressor or perpetrator, quoting a prison psychiatrist saying: “The most dangerous men on earth are those who are afraid they are wimps”!!   In brief, Waleed speaks in simple terms of “things we’ve never wanted to mention, but with much clearer connections to violence: among them alcohol, gambling, porn and abusive and neglectful childhood environments – cycles we can try to break… Much of this violence and abuse comes from a minority of people, many of whom exhibit clear risk factors we have some hope of addressing. Accordingly, it makes little sense to treat every man as potentially violent and aim the national strategy at all of them.”  I tend to agree with his perspective, since, I’d like to think that most of us have a deep respect for, and good will, towards women, and others in general.

There is potential good in all of us, but the dark side can creep out, particularly where there have been  the negative influences of background malformation, and lack of a positive nurturing environment, in terms of family and peers. Bad or obnoxious behaviour is never acceptable, but the root causes need to be considered and addressed, rather than thinking we all need to be re-educated on the subject of respect for all. That’s not to say the younger generation don’t need to be enlightened on these issues, which they most certainly do!

Once I responded to a critique in the Sydney Morning Herald, where it was alleged that Catholic priests encouraged or even directed women in abusive relationships to remain in their marriages, to which I responded, as a priest of 36 years (now nearly 46) and ecclesiastical judge for 28 years at the time, that I had never taken such an approach, as there was nothing sacred about a dysfunctional or abusive relationship, and had happily annulled thousands of marriages, where such circumstances had arisen, enabling individuals to be free to get on with their lives in society, and the Catholic Church, unimpeded by intolerable, unresolvable, physically or emotionally abusive situations.  It was published as a letter to the editor, in response, I suspect to the chagrin of some!

Here, in today’s Gospel, we have Jesus encouraging us to believe in him and to act as his friends, by continuing to apply his call to love in our lives, in all of its dimensions. His call to love and friendship echoes down through the ages, but has so often been downplayed, with an unbalanced emphasis on conformity, ritual observance and blind obedience, without sufficient opportunity for reflection and thinking for ourselves.  Once again, the need to use free will well in choosing good over evil and applying a well-informed conscience to our personal decision-making needs to be emphasized.  For us Catholics, it’s far more than a matter of “pray, pay and obey”, which was one of the trite and misguided old mantras prior to Vatican II!

We all have an obligation to be loving, respectful, accepting and welcoming towards others.  Jesus is so clear in his teachings that all are equally important, with an inherent dignity, and we hear Peter taking this up today in his address to early Christians about God having “no favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God (in a positive sense) and does what is right, is acceptable to him.”

Then we have John in his letter reminding us that “God is love, and that anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God in that person.”

Our friend Claude Mostowik MSC puts it well: “Jesus preached a radical love which urges us to act for anyone who is oppressed… His parting words in the gospel summarise the call to love the ‘others’, especially the most vulnerable. Jesus blurs the relationship between himself and the disciples. He remains in them, they remain in him. They all remain in God. There is a reciprocity, a greater mutuality and a shared vulnerability.”

So, in the end, it’s a simple message about sharing the love, in all of its dimensions, as we continue to try to live life as faithful disciples of Jesus, producing the fruits of the coming Spirit!

john hannon                                                                         5th May 2024

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