Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read John 14:15–21
From a young age, we are shown that the more excellent one’s performance is, the higher the reward. In third grade, if you are the first to memorize your times tables, you receive a prize. In middle school and high school, if you have a certain number of A’s and B’s, you are placed on the honor roll (or even high honors), and if you’re lucky enough, your parents will proudly slap a “my child is an honor student” sticker on the back of their car. In college, excellence in academia and involvement in extracurricular activities earns you particular titles and colored cords so that upon your graduation, others may bear witness to your greatness. In sports, the faster and more capable you are, the more noticed you become: your name is printed in the paper, a banner raised in a gym, a medal (hopefully in gold) hung around your neck, and a place on the podium to stand. This continues into adulthood: excellence is measured in salaries, bonuses, job titles, the grandeur of a house, dress size, vacations, and type of car. And when we become parents, we are tempted to let this cycle come full circle, allowing our children’s achievements to reflect our own merits.
It’s not surprising, then, in this performance-based culture, that many of us wrongly apply this philosophy to our faith. We falsely believe that if we merely “follow the rules”—recite enough prayers, perform various charitable acts, and (mostly) avoid doing wrong—we are necessarily holy and worthy of heaven. Conversely, when we fail to do something or fall short of our perceived idea of perfection, we incorrectly believe we are demoted or unloved in the eyes of God.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells His disciples, not once but twice, that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21). When we read this, the narrative we might subconsciously add, “And if you keep Jesus’ commandments, then, and only then, will He love you.”
But this subconscious addition could not be further from the truth. It’s a lie that we must reject. In a homily on this very passage, St. Augustine of Hippo wisely notes,
“It isn’t, then, that in order for him to love us, we must first keep his commandments, but rather that, unless he loves us, we are unable to keep his commandments” (emphasis added).
St. John the Evangelist proclaims, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Thus, following the commandments is only possible because God first loves us. Regardless of whether or not we choose to return His love, God loves us.
And so to keep God’s commandments, to love Him with all of our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37, 39), we must allow His love to reach us and transform our being, our entire being. If we reserve a portion of our heart for ourselves, and only give Jesus access to certain parts of our life, we will always fall short.
God knows that we are incapable of the love He calls us to on our own, nor are we worthy enough to spend eternity in His presence. Even still, God desires each of us to be in communion with Him because we, the work of His hands, are very good (Genesis 1:31). He loves and draws close to us so that we might draw close to Him.
He loves us so much that He not only sends His only begotten Son to earth to die for our sins so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16) but also gifts us with His very Spirit—the Advocate (John 14:16–17), who will be with us forever. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us,
“The Spirit will teach us everything, remind us of all Christ said to us and bear witness to him. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth and glorify Christ.”
It is comforting to know that the Holy Spirit will never leave us. Living in a society that disregards many of the commandments or being around people in our own lives who choose to ignore them can leave us feeling lonely and tempt us to disregard the ways of God. But the Holy Spirit is alongside us, advocating for, teaching, and guiding us. The Spirit is reorienting our distracted minds back to the heart of Jesus so that we can follow the commandments and “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1). In the Walking with Purpose Bible study, Grounded in Hope: A Study of the Letter to the Hebrews, Lisa Brenninkmeyer reminds us of the important truth that our salvation is not up to us:
“It is not all up to you. Jesus has come to fill in all the gaps where you are lacking, where you are not enough. God the Father doesn’t expect your good works to be so perfect that they connect you to heaven. Only Jesus can bridge that gap between you and the Father.”
Today, let us ask for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit—Jesus’ gift to us—so that we might boldly respond to God’s invitation of love and in doing so, follow His commandments. Indeed, “the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26).
Food for thought or journaling…
What sin are you struggling with? Have you invited Jesus into this place of your heart?
Come Holy Spirit. Rest on me. Fill me with Your presence. Teach me in the way of truth so that I may glorify and love Jesus. Sanctify me so that I may follow the commandments more faithfully. Amen.
 St. Augustine of Hippo, Homilies on the Gospel of John: 41-124 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2021), 82.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Vatican City: Vatican Press, 1997), #729
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope: A Study of the Letter to the Hebrews (USA: Walking with Purpose, Inc., 2019), 29.