Sunday, May 9, 2021

 SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

(Acts 10:25-26.34-35.44-48; I John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17)

These days not only young men say to their girlfriends, "I love you." Mothers say it to their children and spouses to each other.  Even friends and family frequently repeat it to each other. The words bring a sense of peace and well-being. Yes, the phrase can be overused so that it becomes trivialized. Even still it provides a mode of satisfaction.

Certainly the love between a couple married for twenty years or the love of parents for their children differs from profane love. Profane love is associated with greed. The person who loves profanely has his own good in mind, not that of the beloved. This is certainly the case when the person says, "I love chocolate" or, "I love New York." Greedy love is also indicated when speaking of "making love." What matters to the person who "makes love" is the pleasure that he receives. He ignores the fact that the act is vicious and may ruin at least the soul of the other.

In the second reading, the presbyter John makes the intriguing comment that "God is love." He means that because God created the universe to share the good of his being, true love is the willingness to give oneself for the good of the other. When Jesus commands in the gospel today that we love one another, he has this kind of love in mind. You see this love in adults taking care of their parents. During lockdown we heard many stories of people taking care of all the tasks of their elderly parents so that they would not be exposed to the virus.

What prevents this love of Christ is the self. We worry that if we engage in service for the other, we will lose something precious to us. The loss could be outings for recreation, the comfort of having one’s time off work for oneself, or the peace of mind when we get involved in other people's problems. But there is something else at stake here. The self always wants more. The inner desire for attention and admiration is never satisfied. Instead of trying to satisfy this voracious appetite, we should be mindful of the duty of Christians according to Pope Saint John Paul II.  He said that first we must accept the love of God for us as individual persons. Convinced of His love, we will do everything necessary to unite ourselves with Him. As Jesus never tires of telling us in this Gospel of John, we have to love one another to have eternal life.

Father Henri Nouwen was perhaps the most renowned writer on Christian spirituality of the second half of the last century. He wrote many books on how to get closer to God. His last writings focused on the community of disabled person in which he lived. He said that the disabled person that he helped every day taught him an essential truth about life.  That truth is that one’s mind does not make the person an image of God, but it is the heart that leaves concern with self behind to give oneself to the other in love. Then we can say that if we are going to live according to the nobility of our being, we have to love like Christ.

Today is Mother's Day. We toast our mothers first for giving us birth. In this age of abortion, carrying a baby to term can represent a great sacrifice. But even more we celebrate our mothers today for giving themselves to us in love for all of our lives. This is the kind of love that Jesus wants us to give to one another. We are not going to do it with the same dedication and intensity that we have for our mothers. Nevertheless, we are going to show the willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others. It is what Jesus did for us and what he asks us to do for others.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17)

In one of Shakespeare’s greatest speeches King Henry V rallies the English army against the numerous French.  The king calls his men “brothers” so that they will stand with him in the fight.  After they win the battle, however, Henry retreats from the metaphor.  The soldiers are no longer “brothers.”  In today’s gospel Jesus calls his disciples not “brothers” but “friends.”  Unlike Henry, he will not take back that relationship.

The word “friends” may make some people think that the relationship between Jesus and his disciples is shallow.  After all, some people have thousands of “friends” on Facebook.  But assuredly that is not Jesus’ intention here. St. Thomas Aquinas sees “friends” as “other selves” as Aristotle defines the term.  Jesus’ friends not only know all about him but also are enriched by his insights into and affection for them.

We too share Jesus’ friendship if we obey his commandments.  As he says many times, his commandments boil down to a sincere love for one another.  Our friendship with Jesus results also in our sharing his destiny.  We become heirs of his eternal life.


Thursday, May 6, 2021

 Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:7-21; John 15:9-11)

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples to keep his commandments.  In this way, he says, his joy will be in them.  The joy that he is referring to is the exultation of completing his mission and experiencing the resurrection.  To appreciate the wonder of this joy, it is helpful to compare it with pleasure, its counterfeit.

Many seek pleasure and count it as happiness.  But joy is a much better approximation of the happiness people desire deep within.  Pleasure is superficial.  It is a phenomenon of the sensual faculties that lasts a moment and then clamors for more sensation.  Joy, on the other hand, is spiritual satisfaction that pervades one’s being. Gained only with effort, it lasts a long time and gives continual consolation.

Jesus’ promise to share with us his joy implies that we follow him.  In all likelihood, our discipleship will not cost us our lives.  But it will entail our sacrifice of self in love.  This is a meager cost for the exultation that his joy brings.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8)

A second-century layman named Marcion taught that Christians did not need the Old Testament.  For him the God of the Old Testament was fierce and distinct from the loving Father of Jesus Christ.  If Marcion had been in charge when Paul was converting gentiles, Paul might not have needed to go to Jerusalem in today’s first reading.

But Paul would certainly have rejected Marcion’s theology.  He would have acknowledged the continuity between the Old Testament and the New.  He certainly saw Christ as the fulfillment of the promise God made to the Jews since Abraham.  This truth, however, did not resolve the most pressing issue in the first century Church: did a male Gentile have to be circumcised before he could be incorporated into Christ.  If he had to be circumcised, the thrust of preaching Christ to the Gentiles, would have been almost surely thwarted.  But Paul was not looking for an easy way to convert Gentiles.  He always insisted on practicing “the truth of the gospel.”

The text says that the apostles and “the presbyters of the Jerusalem community met together” to resolve the matter.  It could not be decided by the fiat of one person but necessitated the injunction of the Holy Spirit.  Knotty issues of our time need the same kind of deliberation and prayer.  Should the Church deny Holy Communion to politicians who defy its explicit teaching on abortion?  Should the Church accept married men for ordination to the priesthood where there is an acute shortage of priests?  How might the Church allow women into positions of governance?  These are the kind of concerns that requires intensive solicitation of the Holy Spirit. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

 Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

 (Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a)

 Abraham Lincoln steered the United States through its most perilous moment.  He is often considered strong as a bull and clear-sighted as an eagle.  In truth he suffered from severe depression that made him consider suicide.  But he refused to allow himself that way out.  He rebounded from his melancholy to think himself through personal difficulties and to give due attention to the great challenge of his time.  In the first reading today we see Paul responding to a crisis with similar resiliency.

 Paul deeply wants his fellow Jews to believe in Jesus.  He knows that they will find salvation only through him.  He preaches Jesus’ lordship in the synagogues of Asia Minor, but the assemblies continually reject his message.  In today’s reading from Acts he is beaten and left for dead by the Jews in the town of Lystra.  But Paul rises from the setback to redirect his message.  If he cannot convince the Jews of Jesus, he surmises that the pagans may heed him.  Then, he will reason later, the Jews might convert from a sense of missing out on something glorious.

 We too may feel defeated at times.  Perhaps our friends don’t believe in Jesus or are at best lukewarm about their faith.  Still to us Jesus not only is our destiny but our joy in attaining it.  We must not lose heart.  Rather we can find in Jesus the wisdom and strength to overcome the indifference of friends.  Also, we will meet others with similar experiences and convictions as ours to support us along the way.