The artist Paul Gustave Doré once 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, Doré hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be someone else, but Doré insisted. So the official said, “We'll give you a test. If you pass it we'll allow you to go.” He handed him a pencil and paper and told him to sketch some people nearby. Doré did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His actions 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 the famous hymn says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Jesus challenges us to ask whether people can tell that we are His followers by the way we act. Think about that for a minute – how does someone know who you are? Sometimes a uniform can help – we can pick out a policeman 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 Franciscan habit that we wear. 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 – especially if you need that police officer. And Jesus Himself wrestled with the question of how to distinguish His followers from the non-believers around them. But His answer is very different than mere externals. It’s not enough to wear a cross or claim the name of Christian or Catholic. For Jesus, the essential mark of distinction between Christians and non-Christians is not in the way we dress; not in the way we describe ourselves; but in the way we live - and most importantly in the way we love. Just think of one of the dismissals we use at the end of Mass, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life!”
We heard today from Jesus, “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. Love is the Christian calling card.
You see, Jesus wants the world to recognize us as Christians. As it was said in the earliest days of the Church is should be said today of us, “See how those Christians love.” And yet, how often is the Gospel, the Good News used, as a weapon, as something to keep people away or excluded; made to feel outside of that love. How often do people know we’re Catholic because we “oppose this” or are “against that”. Being contrary has become the Catholic identity far too often in our world.
The challenge for each of us today is to witness to the people around us; the people we encounter every day. But effective 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.” And, I think we have such a powerful example of exactly what this looks like in Pope Francis.
The impact of his papacy has been tremendous in the three short years since his election. And the greatest effect, I think, has been through these continuous examples of way he loves. Pope Francis has set the Church and the world on its head with his simple form of humble and loving leadership. His greatest teaching has been his big and easy smile; the heart-felt embracing of so many – especially the most marginalized; his literal washing the feet of the poor, the refugees, Muslims, the elderly, and so many more.
“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” We shouldn’t look at Pope Francis with amazement and awe; grateful to have such an example. We should look at him and be inspired to do the same. As I look back on the papacies of the last 30 years, I am amazed at the intellect and charisma of St. Pope John Paul II, I am grateful and appreciative of the tremendous teaching of Pope Benedict; but I want to be like Pope Francis. And, that’s another way of saying, I want to show the same love that Jesus showed. As my little joke said, “You be Jesus!”
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 so 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 welcome the stranger, the marginalized. Let this be what identifies you as a follower of Jesus more than anything else.
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, You be Jesus!
May the Lord give you peace.