The Identifying Sign of Christ’s Disciples

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on May 5, the Vigil of the Fifth Sunday of Easter, during the State Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Virginia Beach.

Many groups and organizations have an identifying sign, that is, something visible by which people know that this person belongs to a particular group or organization. Examples abound: a Catholic school uniform, a pin worn on one's jacket, an emblem. We Knights of Columbus are recognized by our pin, our officers by the jewels of each office, our Fourth Degree members by their distinctive cape, hat and sword.

Do we disciples of Christ have an identifying sign, a kind of "badge" by which people recognize us as belonging to Christ? How do people know that we are His disciples? In today's Gospel account, Jesus Himself clearly identifies the sign by which everyone will know that we belong to Him. Listen again to what He tells us! "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Not only does Jesus give us the unmistakable sign of our identity, the "how" of our recognition, but He also makes absolutely clear the kind of love which will be our "badge" or sign. "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." In other words, Jesus is telling us that the way He loved and still loves us is the only kind of love we are to live if we truly are His disciples. The measure of His love for us must be the measure of our love for one another.

So then, what is the way in which the Lord Jesus loved us? How can His love be described so that we can, with the help of His grace, make that kind of love our own? The love of Jesus is a love that is self-giving, sacrificial, persevering and enduring, and forgiving.

The love of Jesus is self-giving. Recall the endless hours Jesus spent teaching, preaching and healing, how He reached out to those in need, whether that was of body, mind or soul. Recall His long hours in prayer, interceding for the disciples and for us! Yes, self-giving love is marked by a love that puts others first, ahead of us, a love that is generous and selfless. Parental love is like this and so is the love of authentic friendship. Is our love self-giving, like Christ's?

The love of Jesus is sacrificial. Recall how, in obedient love for His Father and with faithful love for us, Jesus Christ willingly accepted suffering and death, even death on the cross. Because He loved us, He died for each one of us!

Yes, sacrificial love is marked by the willingness to accept difficulty, suffering and even death, so that others may live. This kind of sacrificial love was so evident in recent weeks during the horrendous atrocity at Virginia Tech, when a professor purposely blocked the door of the classroom with his body so that the students could escape through the window while he received the bullets which killed him. Is our love sacrificial like Christ's?

The love of Jesus is persevering and enduring. Recall how He unfailingly welcomed sinners, how He patiently awaited Peter's return after his triple denial, how He continues to intercede for us before the Father in heaven.

Yes, persevering and enduring love never gives up, never loses hope, despite what seems humanly impossible. Parents and friends reveal this kind of love when they refuse to give up on a son or daughter, a friend who no longer practices the faith or is addicted or estranged. Is our love persevering and enduring like Christ's?

The love of Jesus is forgiving. Recall how, while being nailed to the cross, Himself an innocent victim, Jesus prayed for those who were killing Him: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!" Recall how each one of us has been healed and restored by this forgiving love in the sacrament of penance, the sacrament of Divine Mercy!

Yes, forgiving love is marked by the spirit of giving oneself for the other, of seeking the other's total welfare, including the person's salvation, even though he or she has hurt or offended us. Is our love forgiving like Christ's?

If we are to be authentic disciples of Jesus, then our love must be like His: self-giving, sacrificial, persevering and enduring, and forgiving. Does this seem too much for us as human beings? Yes, on our own, we are not able to love like this. But, in giving us the new commandment of love, in telling us that we must love others as He loves us, in stating that we will be recognized as His disciples by the love we have for one another, Jesus is reminding us that we can love in this way, in His way, only when we are truly recreated and transformed by His grace at work in us.

How does this ongoing daily transformation take place? In prayer, both personal and liturgical, and especially in Eucharistic prayer: the prayer of the Mass and prayer before the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the tabernacle.

Where do we live this new kind of love, His kind of love? In those real worlds in which we find ourselves: our family, our workplace, our neighborhood, our parish, our local council.

When our love for one another is like Christ's: self-giving, sacrificial, persevering and enduring, and forgiving, then people will recognize us as belonging to Him. People will be drawn to come to Jesus and to belong to the community of His disciples where Christ-like love is really lived.

Yes, as Knights of Columbus and as family members of Knights, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we must love one another in only one way: the way Jesus loves us! That is the identifying sign of His disciples. A line from a very familiar song says it all: "Yes, they'll know that we are Christians by our love!"

Bishop Paul S. Loverde


Bp. Paul S. Loverde is the bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia.

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