5ec 2013Homily for Mass – Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year C)

(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm;  Sunday 7.30am & 9am)

28 April 2013

(Readings: Acts 14:21-27;  Psalm 144;  Apoc 21:1-5;  Jn 13:31-35)

If I were to ask you, “what are Christians meant to do?” I’m sure you’d answer with some variation of “love one another” or “love others.”  From the earliest times, love is what set Christians apart.  “See how those Christians love one another” is the exclamation in one part of the New Testament.  Early Christian writers testify that outsiders were amazed at the love seen in the Christian community.  Jesus had said it would be so, “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

 In the gospel we hear Jesus’ words:  I give you a new commandment: love one another;  just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.  As we look at this text, let’s take a couple of its elements to try to really understand it.  Interestingly, the word for “commandment” that St John uses is not the same word the scriptures use for the “commandments” that God gave to Moses.

 The word that St John uses here to describe this “new commandment” that Jesus gives has the meaning of a precept, advise, instruction or prescription.  It is like the prescription you get from the doctor to take to the pharmacy to get the correct medicine you need to cure an illness (1)  This commandment of Jesus is not just a law or rule to be followed, but something that guides us, shapes us, and takes us on His path (1).

 It’s always important to remember the type of love that Jesus is talking about.  It is a love “in spite of” and not a “love if” or a “love because”.  It is a love that is not motivated by the lovableness of the other, or something they might have done or might do.  It is a love even for the unlovable, including one’s enemies (2).  It is a love for those who don’t deserve it.  We are reminded that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners.  It is a love that always includes the cross.  Jesus’ love was manifested to the full when he embraced his passion and death out of love for us.  A good test if our love of someone or something is truly Christ-like is to ask where the cross is.  If there is no cross, chances are we might be in something that isn’t yet sharing in the love of Christ.

 Jesus tells us that we are to love others as he has loved us.  How are we to understand this?  We shouldn’t just see this as imitation, because that would simply make “Jesus somebody from the past from whom we inherit some orders to fulfil” (1).  We could perhaps better translate what Jesus says as, “With the love that I’ve loved you, love one another.”  If we were just imitating Jesus, then we would be bound for failure.  Our limitations would soon kick in, and it would seem like an exercise in futility.  We could keep trying and trying, but at the end of the day we couldn’t do it.  And so Jesus tells us, “with the love that I’ve loved you, love one another.”  We love not with our own flawed loving attempts, but we love with the love of Jesus himself within us.  Or, we could say, he loves others in us.  He loves that unlovable person, in and through me.  If we realize this, than we can do what isn’t humanly possible.  We can act beyond our own limitations.  We can love with the love that Christ loves.

 In their missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas encouraged the disciples and “put fresh heart” into them.  They reminded them, “we all have to experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God.”  We know the truth of those words, but sometimes we forget them.  Sometimes we accept a counterfeit gospel that makes us believe that if we have faith we will be free from problems.  Such a false gospel in fact leads people away from belief.  As Christians, we must show our love for one another by supporting each other in all the hardships of life;  by bearing one another’s burdens;  by sharing the weight of the Cross for one another.

 At the end of their journey, Paul and Barnabas marveled at how God “had opened the door of faith to the pagans.”  In a similar way, it is through our love for one another that God opens a door of faith for others today.  More than anything else, it is love that touches people’s hearts and helps them believe in the God we profess.  And the opposite is true as well: when we act without love, it makes it harder for people to believe: we close the door to faith.

 The love that we share here on earth should point to heaven.  It should remind us of our destiny to live in the fullness of love in eternity.  The Book of Revelation speaks of that time when God “will wipe away all tears from their eyes;  there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness.  The world of the past has gone.”

 As we offer Mass tonight let’s pray that we may always be conscious of Jesus’ prescription – the way for us to truly be his disciples: may we always be open to love others with his own love.  May we actively allow him to love other through our words, our actions.  May our lives always point towards the fullness of that love which we are called to enjoy in heaven.

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(1) Monsignor Francesco Follo, http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/a-command-from-the-cross.

(2) 365 Days with the Lord: Liturgical Biblical Diary 2013, St Pauls, Makati City, Philippines, 2012.