Beloved: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments and his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood. The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth. 1 John 5:1-6
I have recently participated in a Facebook debate, and this one was particularly unpleasant, one side claiming to be on the side of love and tolerance, the other (the side I was "liking") was asking for justification for abusive and slanderous posts that included an inflammatory picture of the a bishop with the word bigot scrawled across it. We received no justification, only over-generalized reasons for disdain of the Catholic hierarchy and Catholic moral teachings and, of course, the standard Jesus platitudes were stated and restated. Calling a bishop a bigot was rationalized and defending him called sown an angry tirade of how we were: "casting stones"and how we should "remove the beam from our own eyes!" It was ugly and it was sad. Love was diminished to complacent acceptance, if you did not accept what they accepted you were of course, rejected.
What do I mean by a Jesus platitude? A platitude is a statement , supposedly profound, but in reality it is flat, dull and banal. How can anything that the Alpha-Omega, Eternal son of the Living God, victor over the universe and all powers of darkness be banal and trite? The answer: When you remove it from the deep and profound Truths that the Lord God revealed to the Children of Israel and her prophets. Then, the summation of the law: Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself, becomes so malleable that it essentially means whatever the follower wants it to mean. So, the biggest problem with Jesus platitudes is they stifle the power of Jesus' love by reducing His power to mere words; then they trivialize and relativize it. In a way, they inoculate you against the transformitive love of Christ. Now, His love merely accepts you, it does not transform or reform you. Since we are truly made for higher pleasures - we have much more heroic ambitions and deeper desires of which platitudes only superficially address - and are often used to excuse the misdirection of these ambitions and desires - this can only lead to shallow love and ultimately to angry despair. Because despite all of your efforts to live a life that is worth living, without being begotten by God you will not even be able to live up to the platitudes. There is no way to live an integral moral life with such great desires, so many earthly pleasures and this banal version of the Lord.
So when I read the second reading, especially grounded in the rest of this Sunday's readings, I see a much fuller picture of how the love of Jesus transforms, and of how it is nourished and inflamed and regenerated in the sacraments of the Church. He first speaks of belief in Jesus, and then of obedience to the commandments, obedience that is empowered by His love in us. The last passage grounds our relationship with Jesus in his flesh and blood, not merely words and platitudes, but as a man who loved us so passionately that He poured out his blood from his pierced heart for each one of us.
Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth explains verses 6-8, the verses about water and blood and Spirit this way:
"Here John very obviously gives the motif (of blood and water) a polemical turn against a form of Christianity that acknowledges Jesus' Baptism as a saving event but does not acknowledge his death on the Cross in the same way. He is responding to a form of Christianity that, so to speak wants only the word, but not the flesh and blood. Jesus' body and his death ultimately play no role. So all that is left of Christianity is mere "water"-without Jesus' bodiliness the word loses its power. Christianity becomes mere doctrine, mere moralism, and intellectual affair, but lacks any flesh and blood."My Facebook encounter left me sad because I saw an intellectualized faith, that was really highly moralistic but not at all grounded in authentic love or objective morality, thus all the moralizing was to affirm others in being possessed by their passions instead of seeking the One to whom those passions point to. Anyone who rejected this was treated to a barrage of words; quotes from Jesus thrown at them like the stones. Yet, in a true encounter with Christ your passions, your love and your desires will begin to be reordered to their true purpose. It is impossible without Christ, but as you fall deeper in love with the Jesus - the authentic Jesus who is flesh and blood, strength and power - you will find that His Passion is reforming yours.
If that sounds too ethereal, I can assure you that it is not. But it takes daily prayer, and Scripture. It takes sacrifice and sacraments. It takes a willingness to look to Christ not as a one dimensional moral and spiritual teacher, but as the Beloved, the Eternal Flame which burns but never consumes, the pillar of fire, the still small voice, the thunderous theophany carving His law into stone and then on Calvary pouring out his Spirit into out hearts. He is the Divine lover, and in Him all things are fulfilled. The depth of love that you are willing to enter into with Him will not be burdensome, when you love some one deeply wellsprings of strength and courage build up and you will live a life that has much more to offer than mere platitudes.
Peace and Grace
BTW, if you have time Monsignor Pope's latest article is not to be missed!