The new pastor reported to his new parish to preach, but on his first day only three people turned up to hear him preach. He asked the Deacon, “Did you let the parish know I would be preaching today?” “No” replied the Deacon, “but word seems to have got round anyway.” Well, I am very happy to see more than three people here today!
We just heard these beautiful and even poetic words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “You must think of yourselves as living for God in Christ.” But, beautiful though they are, what does it mean to say that we are living for God in Christ? Jesus today goes even farther in the Gospel today to talk about what it means to be a worthy follower of Him.
I actually had the great opportunity to meet him briefly a number of years ago. Martin is very close with the Franciscans in California, and one day I was at a Franciscan retreat house in Malibu for a meeting when Martin suddenly popped out of a friar’s office into the hallway where I was chatting with some others. The West Wing was still on the air at the time, and so I had the great fun of shaking his hand and greeting him as “Mr. President.”
In the interview I was listening to last week, Martin discussed his faith and what it means for him to live for God in Christ. Martin was raised Catholic, but he had a crisis of faith around the time of Apocalypse Now which took him on a search for God that eventually lead him right back to the Catholicism of his childhood. Speaking of his spiritual awakening, he said, “The love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that ‘I’m looking for God.’ But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we are least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. Then we become enviably joyful. And we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. But, you can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them. And most of the effort we make is just by living our lives, by being compassionate, and loving, and respectful, and being a vessel of service for others. That’s what feeds that love.”
My friends, we are incredibly and immensely loved by God. This is, perhaps, the most profound reality of our faith. That God loves us, or as we hear in the First Letter of John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that God loved us first.” Let that sink in – God loved us first and best – and the certainty of that love fuels our joy. You are loved by God; you are God’s beloved. Nothing can change that or take it away. Even our greatest sin cannot take away the love that God has for us.
And, if you’re thinking today, “I want to feel that love” then you are in luck. We find the greatest expression of that love right here at Mass in the gift of the Eucharist. The early followers of Jesus, in fact, called Mass an Agape Feast which means love feast. This is a love feast where the God who loved us first showers that love on us. This is the love that we are then called to share with the world.
Again, from the Martin Sheen interview, he said, “It’s so overwhelming, at times, this reality of loving because one is loved. You just sit and stare sometimes into a vacuum and say, where did this come from, and why is it so clear, and why is it so simple, and so powerful? And one of the great mysteries that I experience at mass is the reception at communion. How do we embrace that? How can we possibly, consciously understand what that is? And I don’t have a clue. I just stand in line and say, ‘I’m Ramón, called Martin, your friend. And I’m with them.’ Whoever the crowd is, I’m getting in line with, you just look at the people who are in that line, that community; that is the greatest and simplest expression of overtly trying to explain this mystery. It is probably the most profound mystery in all of the universe, this love. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed just watching people in line to embrace the sacrament. It is the most profound thing. I never ever can get over it. It’s just something you have to surrender to. And just saying, I’m with them. That’s the community of saints.”
My friends, what we gather for here today is no more complicated than this – God loved us first and best. God has already found us. That same God wants to shower His love on us today in this Eucharist. If you have been longing to feel that love, then surrender to it here today. Let God’s love wash over you and touch the very depths of your being. God wants the Eucharist today to bind us, connect us, inspire us, and send us out in the world to remind the whole world that the love of God is meant for all.
God is with us, and we live together for God in Christ. And, as Martin said, “I’m with them!”
May the Lord give you peace.