One of my favorite movies is A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger. There is a part of the story where the knight’s love interest asks him to prove his love for her by intentionally losing the jousting tournament, a tournament he desperately wants to win. He begrudgingly acquiesces to her request. Just as he is about to lose the tournament she changes her request and demands that he win to prove his love, which he does. When the knight’s sidekick remarks on the things one does for love the knight says, “Yes, but now I hate her!”
Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” I used to think of his words as being like the knight’s love interest. In other words, I had to make a concerted effort through my behaviors to “prove” to Jesus and to everyone else that I love him, in some cases, begrudgingly. It is true that love is an act of the will that is not always “easy.” Yet, if loving Christ results in a begrudging attitude, something is amiss. Resentment and love don’t go well together. For example, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. He does not mean that we approach our enemies like school children being forced to begrudgingly apologize to each other after a fight on the playground. He means love them the way he loves them, as souls that he died for.
Eventually, I learned to hear the words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” in a different way. At first, it was, “You will do certain things and say certain things to demonstrate that your love for me is genuine.” Now I hear the words of Jesus saying to me, “A genuine love for me will transform you into a new creature that naturally desires to keep my commandments.” An analogy might be, “If you are a woodpecker, you will peck wood.” “If you are a fish, you will swim in and breathe water.” “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” because doing so will be a natural result of who you have become.
Christians do not always love Jesus. That is what sin is all about. Concupiscence is that part of us that does not completely go away with the new birth. It is the tendency to revert back to our non-transformed state of being and refuse to keep Christ’s commandments. That’s what sin is. It is non-love for Christ, others and self. But, when we love Christ, we are not sinning, we are keeping his commandments. Repentance and conversion do not happen in one moment. They happen over a lifetime and only reach completeness when we are in Heaven with God who is love. We need the Sacraments to sustain us and restore us. We need the Holy Scriptures and the teaching authority of the Church to guide us by the Holy Spirit.
Hearing the words of Christ in a new way refreshed my Christian walk. It helped me to focus less on my performance (a self-centered perspective) and more on loving Jesus (a Christ-centered and other-centered perspective). I’m far from perfect at it, but I’m grateful for the new perspective. I want to love Christ and to be naturally and continually transformed by him. That’s what makes following his commandments an “easy yoke” and a “light burden.”