One of the biggest misconceptions people have about the teaching of Jesus has to do with his commandment of love. You recall that when Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment of the Law” his answer was to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and our neighbor as ourselves. People have two major misconceptions about this teaching of Jesus.
First, they act like this was a new teaching, an advance over the religious understanding that prevailed prior to Jesus. Quite the contrary. The question was about the greatest commandment of the “Law,” meaning the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. And so Jesus answers by quoting Deuteronomy regarding love of God and Leviticus regarding love of neighbor. Nothing new here, at least not for a Jew.
Second, people act like this is the greatest commandment there is, which it isn’t. It’s the greatest commandment “of the Law.” The greatest commandment of the Old Testament. In the Gospel reading from John, which Sister Josefina Rose chose for this ceremony of religious profession, Jesus gives us an even greater commandment when he says, “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” And how has he loved us? By laying down his very life for us.
As Jesus says, “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends .” That’s a lot more than just loving others as we love ourselves, which in some cases may not even be very much. People who don’t love themselves have a hard time loving others. And so Jesus raises the bar: How has Jesus loved us? Totally, sacrificially, to the death. And so that’s how we are to love one another.
Sister Josefina Rose, you stand before us today eager to commit yourself to a life of sacrificial love, to the death. In offering Jesus your sexuality by promising chastity, you sacrifice many good things, not only sexual pleasure and physical closeness to a husband but also having children and having a family of your own. It is true that you become part of a much bigger family in Carmel and have access to far deeper levels of spiritual intimacy with more people than would ever be possible without the clear sexual boundaries that chastity protects — many blessings, to be sure — but a big sacrifice, nonetheless. And the same is true for your vow of poverty.
But for many in religious life, the bigger sacrifice is the promise of obedience, which involves the sacrifice of one’s will. Obedience is more than just compliance, doing whatever your prioress asks. It is also a special kind of listening — from the Latin ob-audire. Obedience is what goes on inside your heart; compliance by itself is just external behavior. Jesus didn’t just keep his Father’s commandments; he also “lives in his love” and invites us to do the same, listening with a loving heart, which is why he calls us friends rather than slaves. It is significant that the Old Testament word for “believer” really means “slave”— they used to belong to Pharaoh, but now they belong to God.
And so, Sister Josefina Rose, we gather today to formalize your response to the call of Jesus and his Church, committing yourself to a life of sacrificial love — loving others as Jesus has loved you. And therefore, Jesus speaks directly to you when in today’s Gospel, he says: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Sept. 10 at the Carmelite Monastery in Little Rock for the first profession of Sister Josefina Rose of Jesus.
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