What Does it Mean to Love One Another?

5th Sunday of Easter
The Gospel of John 13:31-33, 34-35

What does it mean to love one another? How are we supposed to love one another? And, who is one another? This commandment to love which we all have been called is as simple as it is illusive. To profess love for one another is, at times, an ideal that is much easier to profess than too live.

An ideal is defined “as a person or thing regarded as perfect.” Today’s Gospel clearly establishes an ideal. The Ideal of love.

Jesus gave us, his disciples, this clear and specific commandment. He gave us this commandment on the evening of his passion, in the final discourse before his arrest, trial, persecution, and crucifixion. His words are clear, plain, and direct… “As I have loved you, so shall you love one another.” Words which sacrificial meaning became more so evident after the events of the cross.

This ideal to which all, who follow Christ, strive to emulate is given without variance or exception. Jesus does not provide caveats, allowances, or conditions for love. In fact, he identifies love as the proof of discipleship. A love that is perfect, holy, and divine is the defining characteristic of the woman or man claiming to be a follower of Christ.

Today, our challenge is to examine our response to Jesus’s call to love.

Jesus’s call to love is not an end in and of itself. It is not a prize to be won or an outcome to be achieved. Nor is it a plateau, or a mountain top, or an emotional state to obtain and sustain. Instead, Jesus’s call to love is a practice. It is the day-to-day practice by which we live with and serve one another.

The process of living in love is manifested in charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God by all things for this own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves…” (1822). Our charity is the embodiment of the ideal, the perfect love to which we all have been called.

Living in love is not static, rather it is dynamic. It grows, evolves, and accommodates. It is not lifeless, unchanging, and rigid. The commandment to love requires disruption of routine and violation of established norms. When seeking love as a goal, as something to possess, the practices of love become the measure, and, ultimately, the goal. For example, the number of rosaries said, the hours spent in front of the blessed sacrament, and the meals distributed to the hungry become a justification of righteousness. Love, which is measured in joy, peace, and mercy, is replaced with personal accomplishments and rationalizations of devotion and spiritual discipline.

A very current example of this is being played out in our world today. In the country of Venezuela thousands of people are suffering in hunger, lack clean water, and live in fear and darkness. Yet, there are those who use these deplorable conditions to promote a political objective rather than acknowledge the human suffering. To respond as if starvation, thirst, illness, and death are the justifiable consequences of a failed political system is to deny the sacred Catholic teaching of Human Dignity. Condemning human life for the sake of being right in not living in love. Living in love seeks right relationship not validation.

We must resist the temptation to respond to the chaos, randomness, and imperfection of this world with isolation and indifference. Rather, we must respond to injustice, persecution, and deprivation as opportunities to live out the commandment of Jesus, “so shall you love one another.” When jobs are lost, or illness threatens life. When relationships are broken, and false promises given. When despair, doubt, and depression diminish hope, we must not turn away from love. We must not respond in fear. We must not abandon the commandment of Jesus. As followers of Christ there is no greater challenge that we will face. The challenge of responding in all circumstance, to all people, in all manner of hardship in love, is by far the most difficult thing we will do as disciples of Christ.

To isolate, to withdraw, to remove oneself from the body of Christ, is not living in love. To condemn sin rather than to correct sin is not living in love. To create barriers to friendship, to deny kindness, or to intentionally hold back goodwill is not living in love. To place conditions on charity, or to feign ignorance, or worse, indifference is not living in love.

Living in love requires community. Living in love requires forgiveness and patience. Living in love requires intimacy, and understanding, and meaning. Living in love requires that we give whatever we can, that we serve whoever we can, and that we go wherever we can in order that we shall be known by our love.

Jesus, in his last instructions to his disciples, called them… called us… to be men and women who love. To respond to each other and to the chaos of this world in love. He promised us that he would not abandon us. He promised us that he would someday call us to him, and he promised us that we would be known for our love.

Much Like a Lemon Meringue Pie

5th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of St. John 8:1-11

Today’s Gospel in John is layered, intricate, and laced with strategically placed subtleties of truth, mercy, and calls to obedience. When the ingredients of this Gospel are mixed with the current realities of our lives, both personal and communal, it is any wonder that the resulting confectionary, much like a lemon meringue pie, is a startling combination of sour and sweet.

The sour of individuals who, in the name of righteousness, were willing to destroy human life. The sour of the sin of a woman condemned to bear the consequence of her transgression, as well as the transgression of the one who was not there. The sour of the law that required death and was manipulated in order to obscure mercy. And finally, the sour in the condemnation and self-righteous vindication on full display in the words, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So, what do you say?”

The sweetness of this Gospel is recognized in the patience of Jesus as he knelt and deliberately drew his finger through the dirt. The sweetness of God’s justice when Jesus calls all to examine themselves before casting judgement on another. And finally, the sweetness of mercy. The mercy that was present in the most intimate of moment between the Redeemer and the redeemed when Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

Is there a reason why the Pharisees brought before him this particular woman? Why did they drag this woman before Jesus as the instrument of their test?

According to John the Evangelist the words of the lawyers were very specific when they challenged Jesus. They stated, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.” The law did indeed call for death of those caught in the act of adultery. As it states in Book of Leviticus, “If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” Yet where is the man? Why was he not brought before Jesus to stand in judgement? We do not know the answer nor is it safe to assume, except that the Pharisees were not interested in justice only in the entrapment of Jesus.

Regardless, I call your attention to the specific language of the Pharisees. The law to which the Pharisees referenced was not just a sentence to death but it was specific to the means of death; death by stoning. This Law of Moses was applied to a betrothed virgin. Only a betrothed virgins caught in the act of committing adultery were to be stoned.

Is it by accident that the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman accused of the same transgression of which his mother, the Holy Virgin Mary herself stood once accused?

The Pharisees were hoping to discredit Jesus. To demonstrate that his words, his miracles, and his message of salvation were nothing more than the concoction of a deranged itinerant preacher. Instead, Jesus turned the tables and used their own self-righteousness and their perversion of the law and caused them to declare themselves unworthy of condemning another.

When we take the truths presented in this Gospel and attempt to find application for them in our modern-day lives, we experience no shortage of examples. We are able to call out the names of priests and bishops whose secret sins have been so publicly and rightly exposed. We can point fingers at governments, institutions, and corporate entities who have been called to justice for the atrocities and evils inflicted upon humanity in the name of an agenda, cause, or profit. We can even describe the faces of individuals, whom we know and call friends, whose sin has wounded, caused scandal, and created division and strife in our lives and even in our church. There are no shortage of examples of personal or corporate sin in this world… in our nation… in our community… in our church… and, in our own homes.

We have no choice but to respond to the sin around us, whether it be in our community, in our church, or in our own home. However, we must not respond to that sin in the manner of the Pharisees. We cannot cast our fellow brothers and sisters into judgement and ignore the mercy which we ourselves have so readily received. Yes, we must always be calling sinners to repentance and we too must always be seeking repentance.

We judge, we condemn, and we get angry with those who openly and visibly engage in sin. But Jesus did not. He called the woman to repentance and offered his mercy and admonished her to sin no more. Are you? Are you offering mercy instead of judgement? Are you condemning and dismissing or are you forgiving and inviting the sinner into your home and into your church?

As we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter let us take this moment to examine ourselves in the light of today’s Gospel. In the sour and sweet reality of living for Christ in a world that does not recognize him. May we respond to one another and to the sin of this world with kindness and mercy and me we endeavor to obey the words of Jesus, “Go and from now on do not sin anymore.”

Supreme Authority of All Things Driving

Gospel Lk 6:39-45Gospel of Luke 6:39-45

I have recently discovered that at some point in my past, a moment in time I am unable to recall, I must have been anointed, or appointed, or bequeathed, or elected as the supreme authority of all things driving. I believe this to be true, because, since I have been commuting approximately 90 miles every day to and from work for the last 2 months, I cannot help myself from commenting, criticizing, critiquing, or complaining about other people’s driving.

I make a concerted effort everyday I commute to work to do so in a spirit of prayer and reflection. I say prayers, listen to the daily readings (when I can get them to download on my phone), and refuse to listen to the radio all in an attempt to utilize my 45-minute commute as an opportunity to quietly and thoughtfully reflect on my relationship with Jesus.

I am somewhat successful, I would like to believe, until… Until a driver with a Utah plate, Montana plate, Arizona plate, Texas plate, or heaven save us all, a California plate fly by me in a construction zone, or a 65-mph zone, or any zone for that matter. Or, drivers claiming to be professional drivers drive like anything but a professional. Or, drivers talking or texting on their cell phones apparently oblivious to the fact that there are people using the same roadway.

Now, some might say, “Deacon, you should not be so judgmental of others.” Or, remind me of the words of Pope Francis, “Who are you to judge.” And I would absolutely agree with them. I should not be so judgmental of others and I am in no position to judge others. However, I am not judging.

When I am driving the speed limit and someone passes me at a much higher rate of speed, can I not observe that they are indeed speeding? When someone is driving in the left-hand passing lane at a much slower speed, can I not observe that they are indeed in violation of traffic law? When someone is texting or talking on their cellphone without a “hands free device” are they not, as studies have proven, just as dangerous as a drunk driver?

Absolutely, I can. In fact, we all can. We all have the ability to observe the behavior of others and determine if that behavior is right or wrong. That is not called being judgmental. That is called being in community.

Today’s scripture in Luke is not about judgement. It is about how to live with one another. Jesus is not instructing his followers to ignore each other’s behavior, nor is he telling them to stop from helping remove the “splinter” from their brothers’ eye, rather he is asking them to remove the beam of ignorance and self-righteousness first from their own eyes, then assist others.

The context of today’s Gospel is clearly stated in the beginning,

“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.”

Today’s Gospel is not about judgement. It is about relationship. It is about recognizing the fact that none of us…no not one…are considered righteous through our own efforts or works. It is about recognizing that we are all sinners, who also need help traveling this pilgrim’s journey. It is about recognizing that we all have a responsibility to our brothers and/or sisters when they are struggling and then respond in love, and with charity, and in the full understanding that we too have, are, and will continue to struggle living as disciples of Christ.

When I travel to work and observe wrong, illegal, and dangerous behavior I am committing no sin through the observation and recognition of that behavior. The sin I commit is when I call them names, insult their character, and dismiss their God given human dignity. Instead, I should lovingly, in charity, and with the full awareness that I too, at times, engaged in the very same behaviors, help them to do what is good, right, and safe.

Of course, I am limited by the nature of our relationship, am I not? I in my car, they in theirs. I have no opportunity to engage them in any meaningful ways. However, that is not the case here in church…is it?

My concern is… that as a community, a body of believers, we have quit caring about one another in fear of being called judgmental, biases, racist, or bigoted. Out of fear we have gone silent. Instead, of encouraging and helping one another, we sit quietly, close our eyes, and turn our heads. We intentionally ignore one another, build our silos and our echo chambers, and hope that somehow, and that someone else, will fix the damage done to our church by bishops, priests, deacons, and the laity who have abandoned the mission of Christ for the world. We exist in our own little worlds, and in our own little cliques, with these massive wooden beams in our eyes– wooden beams of denial, self-righteous ignorance, and cowardice. We hope that things will somehow get better, and yet refuse to take personal responsibility for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters.

Come to this altar today and ask God for forgiveness and receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ asking that our eyes may be open, and that our hands may be strong, and that our correction may be gentle and precise, and that we lift one another out of the pit, and that we may resume our pilgrim’s journey with our vision clear.