Peace be with you on this, our celebration of the Mass for the 5th Sunday of Easter. I sincerely hope everyone is still experiencing a holy, joyful, and spiritual Easter Season. And remember, it is still OK to be wishing everyone a Happy Easter. People may look at you a bit strangely if you do and respond with something like, “What in the heck are you talking about, Easter was last month?” If that’s what you get it provides a wonderful opportunity to evangelize however, and remind them what the Bible says. The Risen Christ spent 40 days with his disciples before ascending into Heaven and the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost 50 days after His physical Resurrection thus, giving birth to the Christianity we still practice today. That’s what we call the Easter Season and the Bible is the reason why! Wow just think, a Bible lesson coming from a Catholic living in the Bible Belt, what a novel idea that is?
So, today we just heard three separate Bible readings that talk about the spiritual journey all of us are on. In the first reading from Acts Paul tells us it is not going to be an easy trip when he says, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” The second reading from Revelation tells us where we’re going on our journey when we hear, “I John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” And finally, in the Gospel reading, we hear Jesus tell us what is most important as we make the journey, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” Then the Lord takes it one step further and tells us all how to preach his Gospel message without even using words, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Oh my, oh my, love one another? Lord Jesus those are such easy word to say and so very hard to do, especially when people can be so ugly, violent, and nasty.
You know, Mahatma Gandhi was not only a great political leader, who arguably, successfully led the greatest non-violent revolution in history. Many also considered him a great philosopher and theologian. And admittedly, many of his most memorable quotes were directed at that powerful British Empire as unwelcomed occupiers in India but see if his words don’t still ring true today. I have to examine my own conscience and ask, “Lord, do Gandhi’s words apply to me?” He said, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians – you are not like him.” And good old Gandhi went on to say, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Ouch! Anybody else feel a twinge of guilt? There good news however, as wise as Mahatma Gandhi may have been, he was not quoting the Bible. If he’d been a Christian he would have known there was more to the Jesus story than hypocritical sinful followers.
One more time, let’s look at this journey we’re all on together as imperfect sinful human beings. As Paul said it is not going to be easy but if you read the whole message of Scripture, as the Catholic Church teaches to do, Jesus made it clear; if we are to understand anything at all about God then we must understand that God’s driving force is nothing else other than love. Love is what God is all about and there could be no greater sign of this than the fact that Christ gave his life on the Cross of Calvary for our salvation. Yes, Jesus did tell his disciples to love one another because He knew living lives of love was the best way to fulfillment, satisfaction, and greater knowledge of God but Jesus also taught repentance and forgiveness. There can be no greater lessons of repentance and forgiveness than those of Peter and Judas. Basically both were really guilty of the same sin in their separate denials of Jesus. One repented and was forgiven while the other died in despair never asking for forgiveness. The message for us all is pretty clear and it is full of hope and love. Come before God with a contrite heart, ask for forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, continue on our journey towards the heavenly Jerusalem, and then repeat as necessary.
OK so far, we’ve thrown the word love around quite a bit but really what does it mean? How do we put love into action? One of my favorite definitions of love but perhaps the most challenging to put into action comes from Saint Thomas Aquinas. “Love is willing the good of the other.” Wow, willing the good of the other. Lord, I’ve certainly tried to love like that with my wife and children through the years but you know well, I’ve even failed there sometimes. How am I ever supposed to do that with the guy who is cursing at me because I’m in his way in the isle at Lowes? My friends, the best way to express and deepen our love for God and our neighbor is prayer. And as hard as it may be at a moment like that, just move my cart out of the way, and whisper a prayer for the guy. Basically, prayer takes various forms and probably the best one for the impatient shopper would be one of petition. “Lord grant this man the grace of patience and fill his heart with your love. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.” There may be times when prayer isn’t the solution however; you may have to get your hands dirty, do some heavy lifting, dig into your pockets, or humbly demonstrate love to actually will the good of the other.
My sisters and brothers prayer still remains an open line of communication between us and God and we should use it always and often on our journeys. In fact every form of prayer is used in the Mass. At the Penitential Rite we say sorry, at the Readings we listen, at the Intercessions we request, at the Offertory we present gifts, in the Eucharistic Prayer we offer praise and thanks, and the Communion becomes a consummation of all that went before. We can think of the Mass as a microcosm of our entire relationship with God. It is the best place therefore to express our love for God and, of course, also the best place to deepen our relationship with God.
Let me close with one more quote from our old philosophical friend Gandhi because I think it goes a long way in helping us love God and neighbor, especially when that neighbor seems unlovable, “A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative only of the brave.”