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.

I Have Been Called Many Things

Third Sunday of Easter

Gospel of John 21:1-19

I have been called many things; son, brother, husband, and father are the obvious ones. These titles are mostly universal and, to be honest, do not require a whole lot of effort to obtain. They are assigned more than they are earned. For example, I was born a son and I absolutely had no say in that. I only became a brother when my parents decided they wanted another. As I have learned, becoming a husband is way easier than staying one, and, at its most base, a father is simply a matter of biology.

Though these titles in and of themselves represent goodness and are honorable they are not the titles that I necessarily prefer. For example, I much more prefer when my wife calls me lover instead of husband. Dad carries much more meaning to me than father, and though Daddy typically results in me reaching for my wallet, it is a title that softens my heart and brings me joy.

I would argue that a title earned is more valuable than a title given. Unfortunately, not all earned titles are necessarily good titles.

As much as I enjoy the titles of husband, father, and son I have also earned the titles of liar, people-pleaser, and manipulator. These titles represent the worst of me and though I work very hard to ensure that these titles are no longer applicable, the reality is that for some people I will never be known as nothing but.

At the Sea of Tiberius, in today’s Gospel, Simon Peter, son of John, was also known by many titles. He was first a fisherman, then a disciple, then a coward, when he denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest, and finally, through the restorative mercy of Jesus, a shepherd. Not unlike you or I, Peter, had many titles both given and earned.

However, today’s Gospel is less about title and more about relationship. From the beginning, as Peter and his 6 companions insulated themselves from the events of the crucifixion in the comfort of a familiar environment engaged in a familiar task, Jesus sought them out. At day break Jesus stood on the shore of the sea, calling to them, waiting for them to come ashore. There he stood in the early dawn, before the world was fully awake, and waited… waited for his friends.

He waited for them because he loved them.

This Gospel account reminds us that Jesus did not come to earth to condemn it. He came out of love in order to express that love in the only way in which we, in turn, could love him, and love one another. Jesus called the seven men in the boat “children”. A term that implies not only intimacy but also authority. Jesus intentionally sought them out, much like the good shepherd searching for the lost sheep, not merely as a responsibility but because they belonged to him, and he did not want to lose a single one.

To view today’s Gospel as just a commentary on the inability of the disciples to fully grasp the purpose, mission, and meaning of the resurrection, or merely as the restoration of a fallen and disgraced Peter, is to ignore how desperately Jesus desires a personal, intimate, and real relationship with those who follow him.

How easy is it for us, today as modern-day followers of Christ, to forget that reality… the reality that Jesus loves us and wants to be our closest friend! Too often we get caught up in our titles. Our titles of husband, wife, mother, father, employee, boss, or friend. The responsibilities associated with those titles often cloud our understanding of God’s love for us, and, in turn, we readily abandon our relationship with him for the comfort of what is familiar.

Or, which, I believe is even more harmful, we convince ourselves that we are indeed unlovable. We adopt titles of shame and wear them like armor, falsely believing that God’s love is incapable of penetrating the cold hard sin and guilt which burdens us, bends our backs, darkens our vision, and weighs down our steps. Our false understandings and misguided intentions reinforce the deception that Jesus does not want to love us, or worse that he is incapable of loving us.

My brothers and sisters, it would be easy for us to get lost in the subtleties of today’s Gospel. To allow ourselves to be consumed with the symbolic details of the number of fish caught, the significance of the charcoal fire, the call to feed and tend sheep verses lambs, or the different meanings of the Greek words for love would be an opportunity to miss the beauty of the Risen Christ’s call to be his friend. The beauty of today’s Gospel is not in the language, but in the purpose. Jesus arrived on the shore of the Tiberius Sea that fateful morning not to chastise or to discipline. Rather, he arrived there that morning to call his disciples to be his friend. To fellowship with him, to share in a meal with him, and most importantly to follow him.

That reality is as true today as it was 2000 some odd years ago. He is calling to you, to me, to each and every one of us, regardless of title, or sin, or guilt, or shame. He is calling us to fellowship with him, to share in a meal with him, and most importantly to follow him. He is calling us to be his friend.

I Chose the Mustang

Gospel of Luke 4:21-30

My first car was a 1981 Ford Mustang. It was blue, it had tinted windows and leather looking plastic bucket seats. I had worked and saved money and right before the start of my Junior year in high school my parents and I drove to Casper, Wyoming, wandered the lots of every used car dealer, searching for the “perfect” car. The perfect car that I could afford, that is.

My father had helped me narrow the list to 2 cars. The 1981 Ford Mustang, the car I wanted, and a blue 1984 Ford Escort, the car my father wanted for me. The Escort was newer, had less miles, got better gas mileage, and overall was in much better condition than the Mustang. I chose the Mustang.

I remember driving that car home listening to Van Halen on cassette thinking I was the coolest kid in the world. I had worked hard, saved money, and now I was driving a car of my very own.

A car, for me meant freedom. I could now go where I wanted, when I wanted, and I would no longer ask permission to borrow my mother’s Buick. The Mustang was cool (though to be honest the 80’s were the worst period of design for the Ford Mustang) and I could play my music on the stereo as loud as I wanted. I didn’t so much buy a car that day, as much as an idea. An idea that fulfilled an expectation.

Expectations are funny. We all have them. We all believe in things, events, places, and most especially, people. The word expectation is defined as: “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” A simple enough definition indeed, but what isn’t contained in this definition is the power, influence, and control our expectations have over our behavior.

Our expectations oftentimes drive our relationships. They influence our interactions with one other. They dictate how we work, if we work, and how we save or spend our money. Expectations dictate where we go, why we go there, and what we want when we get there. They determine how we behave in different social settings and how we expect others to behave. Our expectations have an impact on who we are, what we do, and what we want from others.

In today’s Gospel Jesus confronts expectations.

Today’s Gospel picks up right where last week’s Gospel leaves off. Jesus, after traveling the region of Capernaum, had arrived in his home town. His friends, relatives, and acquaintances were eagerly looking forward to his arrival and the miracles and signs that he would do there.

Instead, Jesus challenges their expectations and chastises their lack of understanding. Instead of performing wonderous signs and miracles he reminds them of the Old Testament stories about the widow and Naaman, both Gentiles. He reminds them that these Gentiles received blessings from God and how the rest of Israel, God’s chosen people, continued in their suffering.

He confronted their expectations in regards to birth-right and who is deserving of God’s blessings and, in essence, told them that their expectations were wrong. Their response to being told that their expectations were wrong is very similar to ours today. They were disappointed, which then turned into resentment, and then into anger, and in their anger, they rejected Jesus.

We do that.

We too have expectations of Jesus. We expect that Jesus will fix all our problems, eliminate our struggles, and make others think and behave the way we want them too. And when he doesn’t. When he doesn’t make money magically appear, or miraculously fix our broken water heaters, or cause those who are in opposition to us to align with our thinking, we become disappointed, resentful, and angry.

Jesus came to save us and to be our friend. A friendship founded in and fostered in love. He loves us and he expects us to love him and one another. When we altar that expectation we then run the risk of responding to Jesus the way his friends, relatives, and acquaintances did. We run the risk of rejecting him and denying him the opportunity to treat us as a friend.

Though I thought that all my expectations were met by that 1981 Ford Mustang, in time I learned that I had made the wrong choice. The inherent problems of a well-used car began to become evident shortly after I had purchased it. Now, knowing hindsight is 20/20, it is okay to say, because it taught me a lesson. A lesson that I frequently have to re-learn, but nonetheless, a lesson that is essential to my Christian walk.

That lesson is this: to put needs ahead of wants and live in love with God and with my neighbor.

My father witnessed that love to me when 1) he recommended a car that would have met my needs, and 2) allowed me to make the wrong choice. Today, as you come before this altar, I challenge you to examine your expectations and to ask God to help you align them in love…his perfect and all-encompassing love.

All Souls Day

Historically, the custom of setting apart a special day for the intercession of the departed faithful on November 2, was first established by St. Odilo of Cluny in the late 10th century. From this monastery in France, the custom spread throughout Europe and was ultimately accepted by Rome in the fourteenth century.  Eventually, this tradition came to be known in the liturgy of the Roman Rite as “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed”, and is the reason why we have gathered here this evening; to pray for, and to come together as one, as the Body of Christ, with each other and those who have gone before.

The significance, relevance, and beauty of the reason why we are gathered here this day, for me, personally, became tangible on the day of my grandfather’s funeral.

On that day, sitting alone in the funeral home, with my grandfather’s body lying in the casket before me, I experienced the grace and beauty of the perpetual communion we share as believers in Christ.  A communion described by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as, “All… who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.”

Today, this most unique and significant day, we are reminded of the promises of Christ; “that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life,” and, as, “(we) remain in (him), … (he) remain(s) in (us),” and, as the Church so beautifully reminds us in her doctrine, that “Christ mystically constitutes as his body those (persons) of his who are called together from every nation.”  In these promises we find the assurance and the hope that, “Believers who respond to God’s word and become members of Christ’s Body, become intimately united with him…and with one another.” CCC 790

This unity, with Christ, and with one another, and with those who have passed on before, form the Mystical Body of Christ, which we as Catholics, celebrate in our Sacrament and most specifically in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.  This unity, which bind us together in one body with Christ as its head, allows us to find comfort, peace, and most importantly, hope.  Hope that one day we shall ALL be gathered together in perfect harmony and joy.  This unity, which allows us to triumph over all human division, produces and stimulates a perfect charity allowing us all to “suffer when one member suffers” and rejoice when “one member is honored.”  This unity, which we publicly recognize today, in “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed”, enables our tears and sorrows associated with loss to be tempered by the joy and hope of our promised resurrection.

Today, we share our lists.  Our own personal list of names.  The names of our grandfathers, our grandmothers, our parents, and, sometimes, most regrettably, our children.  These names, the names of our family members, our friends, neighbors, and, sometimes, of people who we did not even know, are for us, precious mementos of those whom we cherished, and loved, and whose passing caused a inexpressible emptiness and void.

These names that make up our lists represent the best and worst parts of us.  They have become for us who yet live, our own personal ritual as we speak them in prayer and recall their faces in our thoughts and in our dreams.  These names, of those who have preceded us in our journey, and the hope in the promises of Jesus Christ which they represent, are for us both the cause of our anguish and the inspiration for our hope.

So, today, share your list.  Share you list with one another knowing and trusting that we are united, together in both sorrow and hope, as one in the Body of Christ.  Share your list in prayer, and together we will work, one with another, in lifting your sorrowful burden to the healer of all our wounds, Jesus Christ.  Share your list here in front of this altar as we celebrate the unity provided to us through the Body and Blood our Lord.  Share your list knowing in the confidence of the resurrection, that one day we shall ALL be gathered to him, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

What does it meant to be sheep without a shepherd?

16th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of Mark 6:30-34

What does it meant to be “sheep without a shepherd?” Does it mean to be lost? Does it mean to be at risk, or in danger? At the mercy of the environment, in want, or in need? Does it mean to be without purpose or direction?

I presume that we all have had moments in our life when we have felt void of purpose or lacked direction. Times or periods when we go through the motions, act out of habit or routine. We, and again I presume, have all had time in our lives when we felt threatened; the wolves of life were circling, snapping their jaws and filling our ears with their growly threats. Moments in our life when fear gripped us, controlled us, and caused us to do and say things that we later regretted and wished we could have taken back.

Maybe you will disagree with me, however, I would suggest that might just be what it feels like to be a sheep without a shepherd; to be lost, fearful, discouraged, and in persistent doubt. To be a sheep without a shepherd is to live a life at risk, constantly on alert, always on the lookout for the next threat.

Jesus, after his disciples returned from their missionary journeys, instructed them to get into a boat so that they may get some rest. They headed to a desolate place, something that Jesus did himself, in order that they may refresh, restore, and prepare themselves. Yet, that isn’t what happened.

Imagine if you will the scene. Jesus and his disciples traveling in a boat and thousands of people walking along the hillside and shoreline tracking their progress. People who, maybe only hours before, were at their homes, doing their chores, engaged in their work, going about their day just as they did the previous days before, and were now traveling to a desolate place so that they may have an opportunity to see and hear Jesus. What caused them to leave their daily routine and go out into the wilderness? They did so, because they were people in need.

Some in need of physical healing, yes. There were those suffering from illness, disease, and deformities hoping for relief and a cure. But not all were suffering from illness or disease. What about those who were physically fit, lacking a deformity, or physical limitation? Why were they leaving their routine and seeking Jesus?

They came because they needed what we all need from Jesus: complete healing. Men and women who needed their sins to be forgiven and to be restored. Men and women who had been living their lives, going about the motions, yet, lacking in security, care, direction, and purpose. They were sheep without a shepherd.

This event in the Gospel of Mark signals a change in Jesus’s ministry. He never again enters into a synagogue to teach. His ministry goes public, so to speak. People surrounded him in the marketplaces and searched him out. His popularity grew, as did the crowds, but so did the resentment and scorn of the Pharisees and other religious rulers of his time.

Something happened to Jesus that day on a boat, as he saw the large crowd of people awaiting his arrival. As he looked upon these people, these sheep without a shepherd, his heart was moved with pity. He saw a group of people with their needs, their wounds, their despair, and lack of direction and he loved them.

In the verse, the Greek word translated as “heart” is not meant in the sense of an actual biological beating heart. His biological heart wasn’t moved. Rather, this word could more accurately lead to mean in English as “gut”; or the seat of our emotions. When we use the phrase, “I feel it in my gut” we typically are describing a feeling that is found in our very most inner self. That place down deep inside each and every one of us in which resides the very core of our humanity; the very essence of who we are. When Jesus’s heart was moved with pity, it was his very most inner self, the very core of all that he was, and is even to this day, which caused him to respond and to desire to shepherd his sheep.

Jesus’s love for you today is in no way diminished or lessened. Just as he looked upon those tired, misguided, and desperately lost people, and was so moved to responded to their needs, so too does he look and respond to you, here this day, in front of this altar.

We too, at times, act like sheep without a shepherd. We too have gotten lost in our sin and misguided intentions. We too have been surrounded by wolves, subsequently threatened to scatter, and have felt abandoned and forgotten. Yet, do not let us forget that Jesus loves us and his love for us is at the very center of who he is, for it is that love which calls us…calls us to him, who is our shepherd.