Saturday, May 1, 2010

Love anyway...


I want to begin tonight with a bit of a sing-a-long. I think it is a song you know, so I’ll sing and then invite everyone to repeat: “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

There is a story about the renowned artist Paul Gustave Dore who lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. Dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. “All right,” said the official, “we'll give you a test, and if you pass it we'll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His action confirmed his identity.

Jesus said in our Gospel passage today, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or, as our sing-a-long reminded us, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Our Scriptures today cause us to ask whether or not people can tell who we, as Christians, are. Think about that for a minute – how does someone know who you are? Often a uniform helps – we can pick out a police man or a fireman quickly. We can pick out a priest in his collar, or a member of a religious Order in their habit - like the distinctive Franciscan habit that we wear here at St. Leonard’s. I’m sure many of you wear a cross, or a saint’s medal, or carry a Rosary. But, a uniform doesn’t make the person, or in the words of Shakespeare in Measure for Measure, “The hood does not make a monk.”

Don’t get me wrong, uniforms, clerical garb or religious habits all have their place. We are, after all, symbolic beings who express ourselves in symbolic forms. And Jesus Himself wrestled with the question of how to distinguish His followers from non-believers around them. But His answer is very different than mere habits and uniforms, crosses and rosaries. For Jesus the essential mark of distinction between Christians and non-Christians is not in the way we dress but in the way we live - and most importantly in the way we love.
We heard today, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or to phrase it just a bit differently, Love is the Christian identity. Love is the Christian uniform. Love is the Christian habit.

Jesus wants the world to recognize us as Christians. We need to evangelize and witness and preach to the people around us; the people we encounter every day. But effective evangelization and witnessing usually has less to do with how eloquently we speak and more to do with how faithfully and lovingly we live. As St Francis of Assisi told his brothers, “Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.”

You’ve heard the statement before, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The way to be a convicted Christian is by living and loving in such a way that through us people begin to have a glimpse of the unconditional love that God has shown us in Christ. The best habit we can wear is to love everyone the way Christ loves – without restriction, without judgment, without condition. The love of Christ, leads us to passionately proclaim His message, to feed those who are hungry without thought, to give shelter to the homeless, to reach out to the lost and forsaken, to support life from natural conception to natural death and at every stage in between.

Put on the garment of love and show it to all whom you meet. I’ll end with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa which capture well the love of Christ. She wrote, “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway! If you are kind, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway! The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway! Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway! What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway! People really need help but may attack you if you try to help them. Help them anyway! Give the world your best and it will hurt you. Give your best anyway! In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” My brothers and sisters, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

May God give you peace.

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