(Sung:) “Do you love me?” You may recall Fiddler on the Roof, a musical theater presentation that features a deeply moving and tender moment when Tevye asks his wife
Golde, (sung:) “Do you love me?” The entire musical poses this same question in a variety of ways. It portrays their arranged marriage of 25 years, their children growing up with far more romantic overtures than actual prospects for decent marriages, and the issue of how parents juggle love for their children whose values clash with the parents' beliefs and traditions. And all this happens during a time of terrifying political persecution.
(Sung:) Do you love me?” After considering her 25 years of bearing his children, of cooking,
washing and laboring in the fields alongside her husband, Golde answers Tevye's question in four words, “I suppose I do!” It was not a flippant response. Rather, it was well thought-out. With no stars-in-her eyes, with her graying hair, calloused hands and constant devotion to him and to their children over all this time, this in itself was more than enough evidence to confirm Golde's words.
In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks for the first time of his disciples' love for him. Previously he told them he was the way, the truth and the life, he was their bread of life, their light of the world – all these were descriptions of what Jesus is offered them. He often called his disciples to believe in him, to trust him. But now Jesus introduces them to a level that is deeply personal: “Do you love me?” “If you do,” he says, “You will keep my commands.” By the word “commands,” Jesus is not referring to the many Jewish purity rituals of cleansing the body. Nor is he referring to the Ten Commandments given through Moses, the Hebrew patriarch. Jesus' commands are not commands of Law. These are commands of the human heart that has grown to love, as Golde's heart had grown for her husband. Jesus is calling each of us to love him as he loves his Father. Their love for each other is mutual. It has nothing to do with rules. It is a full sharing of each others lives.
When Jesus invites us to love him, he is inviting us to intimacy, to mysticism. Mysticism is not about apparitions, not about halos, levitation or pious behavior. A mystic is a person who discovers God in the ordinary circumstances of ones life. All creation then carries us beyond ourselves, becoming in effect a stairway to heaven, a springboard to God. Yes, love does change everything and everyone. That's what Jesus is calling us to, expecting from us: to love him as he loves us.
Loving Jesus this way brings us the gift of his Abiding Spirit as our lifetime companion so we never walk alone. (Sung:) “Do you love me?” How do we answer that simple, direct question?
[This homily is based upon Sister Mary McGlone's spiritual reflection in the National Catholic Reporter of May 20, 2017]