How Do I Know You’re a Christian?

If the local newspaper had been following you around during this past week looking for evidence that you were a disciple of Christ, what evidence would be most convincing? Would it be the vision statement on for your corporation or apostolate? Would it be your ability to raise funds to drive your project? Would it be how many times you went to mass or prayed the rosary? What would be the most convincing evidence that would lead the reader to conclude that you were a Christian?

Jesus tells his followers: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:31-33a, 34-35). In Jesus' new commandment, not only are we to love our neighbor as ourselves, now we are to love them as Christ loved, with a sacrificial love. If the local reporters had been following you, would they have noticed the practice of this new commandment in your life and concluded that you belonged to Christ?

So often our love for one another takes a back seat to our political views or to attaining a position of prestige within a Church organization or to doctrinal issues. Emphasis on these issues, while being important, is not the primary witness needed to win the hearts of a lost generation, but loving one another is. Why? Because an example of sacrificial love demonstrates the kind of love the world is seeking. We live in a culture that is desperately seeking love and acceptance through external transformations, through power and fame, yet all these things have proven empty when it comes to changing hearts. If we have more money, more power, more projects yet do not love one another we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are successful as Christ's disciples. As Christians we are family and all of our efforts should have a common goal: to make Christ known and loved.

What did it mean when Jesus gave his followers the new command to love one another? The answer is found in the definition of the word love. There are several words for "love" used in the Bible. The city of Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love. The Greek verb phileo means to love in the sense of being friendly, to delight in or long for, or to do with pleasure. This word represents "tender affection."  Phileo is emotionally based and prompted by emotions. We are certainly called to love one another with a brotherly love, but the love which Christ commands us to love one another is quite different.

The word for love used in John 13:35 is agape, which is a love that goes further than brotherly love; it is based in covenant relationship. Agape love is unselfish love found only in the heart of the Trinity and demonstrated in the life of Christ. As Christ loved the world with a sacrificial outpouring of self, we are to love one another. We are commanded to give ourselves to one another with the hope that all our acquaintances will be fully formed to Christ. Frankly, this is difficult and requires a dying to ourselves. In order to agape one another we must listen to each other, reason with each other, and find common ground to show forth the love of Christ in the community. This does not require a compromise of our Catholic convictions, but an investment in each other through prayer and treating each other with respect.

The clear distinction between the two kinds of love is seen in the application. Since love (phileo) as an emotion is prompted by feelings, it cannot be commanded. In contrast, love as a self sacrificial choice may be commanded; hence, Jesus commanded His disciples to "love (agape) your enemies" (Matthew 5:44), or "Husbands, love (agape) your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5:25). The love we are called to can only be known by the actions it prompts.

So often we fail to love one another because we settle for the type of love that I call Rodney King love, "can't we just all get along?" Just "getting along" will not turn the cold hearts of our generation, but a demonstration of Christ's sacrificial love in our relationships within the Church will open up hardened hearts to that which they really seek, a compelling glimpse of Christ.

Walking in agape love on a daily basis requires that we always keep Christ's will as the primary focus and goal. Think about all the people that you must work with each day. No doubt there are disagreements when it comes to opinions on doctrine and practices, but what can you do to better love your friends or colleague? How can you change your approach to better reflect the love of Christ? Are you more concerned with winning arguments or with helping your brother or sister in Christ be more perfectly conformed to Jesus?

Will our love for one another provide a strong witness come election time? Will our love for one another become obvious in how one group works with another within the local parish? Will various apostolates love one another within the archdiocese? Remember that the world is watching us very carefully and they will make a determination about Christ based on our love for one another. Jesus said, "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (John 17:20-21).

In short, we can raise spectacular amounts of money, win apologetic debates, get our bills passed through congress, but if we have failed to love one another as Christ has loved us we will be nothing more than clanging cymbals, a sound the world does not want to hear. Let's pray that the sound the world will hear is our love for one another.

Reflections

1.    Ask yourself the question: In my dealings with others, what must change in my attitude towards them if Christ's will is to be accomplished?

2.    Many Christians are working in an apostolate and feel that there are those within their Church that oppose them. What can you do to foster common ground and work toward a common goal? How can you protect the integrity of the Church in the public arena?