Saturday, April 23, 2016

Love like Jesus loves!








HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 24, 2016:

A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

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.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Do you love me?










HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 10, 2016:

There is probably no greater question ever asked than “Do you love me?” It is a question that is full of anxiety, full of hope; it is tinged with vulnerability and speaks of our hopes and dreams. We hear this poignant question echo out from the Gospel today not once, but three times. “Do you love me?” Why does Jesus ask Simon Peter this question and why three times?

Certainly the three questions are a counter balance to the three times that Peter denies Jesus on the night of His Passion. But, there is much more going on in this passage. Simon is not merely overcoming a denial, but Jesus is both reconciling him and drawing him more deeply into the mystery of His love. If you didn’t pick up on all of that, part of the reason is some of the detail lost when translated from Greek to English.

In English, when Jesus asks “Do you love me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, I love you,” it all sounds the same, an even a bit redundant. But in Greek we find that Peter is not exactly responding to the question Jesus is asking him. In Greek there are many words that can be translated into “love” in English. There is eros, which refers to sexual or erotic love. There is philia, meaning pragmatic love, like the admiration and devotion we have for a worthy person or thing, such as love for a hero, love of parents, and love of art. Finally there is agape. This is the height of love. Agape is self-sacrificing, completely unconditional love, even for a person who may not deserve it and when there is nothing tangible to be gained. The clearest example of the self-sacrificing and unconditional love we call agape is found in the love that Jesus has for us, which made him give up his life for us on the Cross.

In our passage today, Jesus asks Peter, “Agapas me?” meaning “Do you love me in the complete and sacrificing way that I love you?” Peter knows that he has failed in this standard. He knows that he disowned Jesus in order to save his life. So, Peter does not answer in kind to Jesus. He answers, “Philo se” meaning, “Yes, Lord, you know how much I deeply admire you and how devoted I am to you.” This seemingly simple exchange is really a confession. Peter is saying to Jesus, “Yes, I love and admire you, but I have failed in loving You the way You love me.” So Jesus asks him a second time, “Agapas me?” and again Peter replies that he has philia love for him. Finally, Jesus asks, “Philas me? Do you have philial love for me?” And Peter answers “Yes, I have philia for you.” Jesus meets Peter where he is. He accepts what Peter can do understanding that this is a start.

We see in Peter we a wise, and humble man who doesn’t claim more than he can deliver. Peter's confession here can be likened to that of the father of the possessed boy who confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” What Peter is saying is “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love the way you love; help me have to completely giving love that you have.”

Today’s Gospel is so well-timed that it can’t be a coincidence. Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation on Friday called, “The Joy of Love.” It is long and fruitful exploration of love and family, but at the heart of it, I think the Holy Father is giving us a message similar to what we see in this Gospel exchange. That the ideal of love is powerful and godlike, but Jesus meets us where we are and encourages us forward. The Pope writes, for example, “Few human joys are as deep and thrilling as those experienced by two people who love one another and have achieved something as the result of a great, shared effort.” [#130]

We often profess our love for God; our love for Jesus. But, Peter challenges us today to realize that professing our love is only half of the story. The other half is the recognition that our love cannot reach its height and be a most powerful force in our lives, unless we invite and allow God to fill up in us what we lack. The Pope writes, “If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us.”

Today, we are invited to join St. Peter in his confession: “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love completely.”

Jesus tells Peter how to fill up that lack of love. “Feed my lambs...tend my sheep...feed my sheep.” Caring for others; expanding our own circle of love especially to those who need it most will help us love as Jesus loves. The more we do the things that Jesus does – without counting the cost - the more we will love like Jesus loves. We can learn to love more.

Jesus asks us today, “Do you love me?” What will our response be?

May the Lord give you peace.