Saturday, May 12, 2012

HOMILY - Sixth Sunday in Easter (Year B)

I just finish a six-week stint as a substitute teacher at Watterson, teaching 187 juniors moral theology while their teacher was on medical leave. I met many very smart, energetic, passionate, and faith-filled students, including several from our parish – and I have to say, I am very optimistic that they will be great leaders in our community AND that they will be great servants to Christ and his Church. This experience has also reinforced the great challenge that they face in knowing God’s great love for them – in the midst of so many false images of love in music and TV, peer pressure and competition, family life and friendships that are so fragile. In reality, this is true of each of us, just not juniors in high school, right? Today’s readings offer us a strong reminder of what love truly is. As the evangelist John reminds us in today’s second reading: it is God who first loved us. He is the initiator and creator. He made us in his image and likeness, he made us good, he made us out of love, to love. As the evangelist further reminds us: The Father loves us so much that he sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him; that the Son might suffer and die on a cross so that we might be restored in the love relationship with God, broken by our sin. In today’s Gospel, we are reminded that it is Jesus who is inviting us into this intimate, personal, love relationship with God. He has chosen us and calls us as friends to enter into this love relationship. Not as a slave, who is forced to do something, but rather as a close friend we are invited to freely enter into this relationship. And just like a true friend, it is Jesus shares his joy with us, so that we too might experience the great joy of God’s love. Because of the love our God has for us, the only true response is to love God in return and extend this love to others. And this is the command Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel: love one another. It is Jesus’ obedient and humble death on the cross that is the example for us of how to love others. Jesus says “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” The self-giving, self-donation to a spouse in a Catholic marriage exemplifies such love for another – putting aside ego and personal want out of love for your spouse. It is also in motherhood that we find a wonderful example of such self-giving love – putting your own wants and needs, aches and pains second to the love and care of your family. So, on this Mother’s Day weekend, thank you to all the mothers and wives who give so generously and selflessly and provide us with wonderful examples of how to love. Today’s first reading also gives us several reminders not only of God’s great love but also how we are to love. In today’s first reading, we hear portions of a larger story of the Apostle Peter’s interaction with a non-Jew, Roman solider - Cornelius. It was this episode in the early Church that opened the door for all – Jew and non-Jew alike – to be members of the Church. So, most importantly, this story reminds us that God’s love extends to all without limit! As Peter states: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” This story reminds us also that the love we must have for others must be free of our own personal prejudice and bias. The reader of the entire story of Cornelius and Peter knows that Cornelius was devout and God-fearing along with his whole household, who used to give alms generously to the Jewish people and pray to God constantly. However, for Peter, not knowing this and believing what he did, it was a big obstacle for him to extend love to a non-Jew, who was also a Roman solider. To love as God calls us to love, we much be able to see past the surface of what we know (or we think we know) about others and to see the good in each person. When Peter was able to do this, he was able to love his brother in Christ. Loving others also requires, at times, great humility. The story of Cornelius and Peter remind us of this. Cornelius, the strong and powerful solider, humbly, out of great respect, bows before Peter – while under any other circumstance of that time the roles would be reversed. It is also Peter who shows humility. As an Apostle, and really as the Apostle, he had rock-star status. But, instead of relishing or gloating over the Roman soldier, Peter acknowledges his human weakness and begs Cornelius to get up. Pride was the cause of Original Sin in Adam and Eve, choosing to disobey God, and it is pride that too often leads us to sin. Humility helps us to be selfless and to think of others first. It helps us to love as we are called to love. One final observation on the story of Peter and Cornelius. What finally conveniences Peter of the necessity to extend love to Jew and non-Jew alike is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the non-Jews, who were speaking in tongues and glorifying God. This reminds me that we can not hesitate to ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to love as we are commanded to love. Whatever it is that we need to love better, God will provide. This is the promise Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel: whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. So whatever you need to love more or better – courage, wisdom, patience, humility, whatever – pray to Jesus and you will receive it! May God bless you.