John 15:9–17: Biblical Narration
After the tearful detour to Bethany, Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem. Joyous acclamations accompany Him, but He knows that the hour of His suffering and death is drawing near. Before that hour arrives, and away from the misguided crowds, He takes the opportunity to provide His apostles with a few final lessons, the thrust of which He will enact in the coming week.
Prior to His “farewell discourse” (John 14–17), Jesus washes the feet of the apostles, performing for them the fundamental action He asks of every disciple, namely, that they treat others as more important to them than they are to themselves. He warns His companions of His forthcoming betrayal and foretells their denial. At the same time, He declares that He will not abandon them but will, instead, send the Spirit of Truth to help them.
Perhaps perplexed by the seemingly conflicting messages, and probably overwhelmed by the finality of their Master’s words, the apostles must have been growing distraught. They made it this far with Him, but the next steps in their discipleship appear risky at best and futile at worst. Will they emerge unscathed from the forces of violent opposition marshalling all around them? Can they survive on their own without the wisdom and power of the One who has brought them this far?
Jesus seems to sense their interior struggle as He prepares for His own. Recognizing the stressful situation, He seeks in this farewell discourse to assure them that they are not alone. From the heart He speaks with affection the words that embrace the whole of their shared journey: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”
There. He has said it. And that says it all.
The apostles understand the premise to be true, for they have heard the voice from the heavens say so. Considering the encouraging words and compassionate deeds they have witnessed during their time with Jesus, they could also assume the truth of the conclusion. But hearing Him say it — so plainly, so clearly, so directly — they now know unmistakably what regard He has for them. In those words — “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” — they experience the Sacred Heart speaking to them.
But beyond sharing a sentiment or stating a fact, as profound as that is, the Master also extends an invitation to them — to remain there, to dwell in that divine love. As a vine is connected to its branches, so the hearts of Jesus and His apostles are now intertwined. He is the vine; they are the branches (see John 15:5). He who is eternally united with the Father has made known God’s Word to them. Now He promises to abide in them, to remain present to them and with them and for them, to be the vital source of the rest of their lives.
In turn, He bids them to abide in His love. When they do so — they who have been chosen and appointed and are now called “friends” — they will bear the good fruit of living in love for one another. And by their living of this new commandment, people will come to know the One whose disciples they are.
“Abiding” in Love
Frequently repeated in this chapter of John’s Gospel, the notion of “abiding” (from the Greek .ένω) conveys a sense of permanent dwelling. More than simply a reference to time or place, the term evokes a sense of expectancy in the context of a relationship that endures.
Those who have followed Jesus so closely in the journey toward the kingdom can now be confident that He will not abandon them. Though He departs from them, Jesus nevertheless remains with them. The love of the Lord for them continues, just as the Father’s love for the Beloved Son abides eternally.
That, in summary, is the gospel message — not only for the apostles but for all who follow Christ. Jesus remains with us; His divine presence is not somewhere else, distant from us. Abiding with us, He continues to assure us of His friendship. When our hearts remain connected to the Lord’s, then His joy will be in us. When we remain aware of how He has loved us, then our joy will be full. And when we return love for love, then our lives will be complete. The Sacred Heart assures us of this.
A Salesian Approach
The Salesian tradition encourages discernment of God’s abiding presence everywhere, including in the works of creation, the operation of the Church, and the grace of the sacraments. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Paraclete that Jesus promised to send to His apostles, God remains present also within us through His “inspirations.” St. Francis de Sales describes these as “all those interior attractions, motions, acts of self-reproach and remorse, lights, and conceptions that God works in us and predisposes our hearts by his blessing, fatherly care, and love in order to awaken, stimulate, urge, and attract us to holy virtues, heavenly love, and good resolutions, in short, to everything that sends us on our way to everlasting welfare” (Introduction, 2:18).
As we make that journey to eternal life, the saint counsels us, we should conduct our daily lives according to the dual dynamic of devotion, namely, paying attention and directing our intention. The former seeks a deepening awareness of God’s presence in our lives, which can happen through moments of recollection or “spiritual retreat” in which we pause from the busyness of our lives to consider how God remains with us. “Indeed,” St. Francis de Sales notes, “our tasks are seldom so important as to keep us from withdrawing our hearts from them from time to time in order to retire into this divine solitude” (Introduction, 2:12). The busy bishop of Geneva lived by his own words, almost continuously dwelling in a recollected state, as St. Jane de Chantal attests: “I once asked him whether he ever went for any length of time without actually and explicitly turning his mind to God, and he said: ‘Sometimes for as long as about a quarter of an hour’” (Testimony, 97).
But, like the apostles and all the saints, we must practice the “new commandment” of loving one another in all things to abide in the divine presence. To this end, St. Francis de Sales proposes that we use our minds and hearts and wills to direct our intention to God in all that we do. Specifically, he advises that if we wish to thrive and advance in the way of our Lord, we should, at the beginning of our actions, both exterior and interior, ask for his grace and offer to his divine Goodness all the good we will do. In this way we will be prepared to bear with peace and serenity all the pain and suffering we will encounter as coming from the fatherly hand of our good God and Savior. His most holy intention is to have us merit by such means in order to reward us afterward out of the abundance of his love.
Drawing upon our awareness of Jesus’ love dwelling within us and among us, we can strive to return love for love by intentionally doing whatever we do for God’s sake. Then we, too, shall abide in His love.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Dailey’s latest book, Behold This Heart: St. Francis de Sales and Devotion to the Sacred Heart. It is available from your favorite bookseller or online through Sophia Institute Press.