Homily from the Fifth Sunday of Easter
At the risk of sounding like Garrison Keillor, I share this with you:
There is a story of a Norwegian couple who lived on a farm in Minnesota. They had been married for many years and the wife was starved for affection. Her husband gave her no signs of love or affection and the wife’s need to be appreciated went unfulfilled. At her wit’s end, the wife blurted out, “Husband, why don’t you ever tell me that you love me?” The husband stoically responded, “Wife, when we were married I told you that I loved you … and if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.”
Several years ago, my wife and I attended a funeral Mass for the mother of a friend. The deceased had requested that the James Taylor song, “Shower the People” be played at the end of the Mass. The woman who had died was introduced to this song through her grandchildren and loved to sing it with them – especially the part of the chorus that says:
“Shower the people you love with love . Show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna be much better if you only will.”
After an earlier Mass today, a parishioner mentioned that my homily reminded him of another song, “What the World Needs Now,” a Hal David and Burt Bacharach tune popular in the 60s. I agreed with the parishioner, especially when you reflect on the words of that song:
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little love. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. No, not just for some, but for everyone.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that this “thing” we call love is more than a feeling, more than an expression or word, more than an action. And, in the case of the farmer, is expressed in more than on a need-to-know basis.
Jesus teaches us that love is an expectation. In fact, Jesus elevates this expectation to the level of a commandment:
“Love one another … This is how all will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35)
This isn’t the first time Jesus spoke of love as a commandment. Recall Jesus responding to the Pharisees who were testing him about which commandment in the law is the greatest. Jesus replied:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the next stage in their spiritual journey – a time when Jesus would no longer be with them. But he was doing more than preparing his disciples who were with him then. He was also preparing his disciples who are with him now (you and I) to live the life that we are called to in our Baptism: to be missionaries; to help bring Christ to a waiting world; to help bring love to a world starving for hope and truth.
One thing that can sometimes hold us back in our efforts to follow the Lord’s New Commandment is a false idea of what love should feel like. We tend to think that true love is always accompanied by nice feelings, and if the feelings go away, that means the love has gone away too. That’s what radio and TV tell us, but that’s not what the Gospel tells us. Love, true love, Christ-like love, goes deeper than feelings. It demands sacrifice, self-giving, and self-forgetting (placing others before self).
Christ-like love always involves a cross. That’s what makes it Christ-like; that’s what makes it true love.
If we can get this truth to sink down from our heads into our hearts, we will be freer to love more as Christ loves. We will lead happier lives. And we will make those around us happier.
Maybe the words of a real expert in Christ-like love will help convince us of this. Here is a profile of real Christian love from Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway. Why? Because in the final analysis, all of this is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Today when Jesus comes to renew his commitment to us in Holy Communion, let’s ask him to convince us once and for all that Christian love doesn’t mean nice feelings, but self-giving, self-forgetting. It means going out of our way to help our neighbors, just as Christ went out of the way to help us.
My prayer for all of us this week is that we may know and live the love of Christ.
Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.