Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s Readings

Today’s Gospel gives us some of the best news I think we can possibly get.  Jesus says he no longer calls us slaves, but instead he calls us his friends.  That’s important because, since he is God, he doesn’t really have to care about us, his creatures, that much.  He could just give us commandments and expect us to follow them or else.  He doesn’t really have to teach us anything so that we understand him; he could just expect us to follow his commandments out of fear.

But that’s not what Jesus is about.  We know that God made us so that he could love us and we could love him.  Even when we sinned and could not be his friends any more, he didn’t leave us to die in our sins.  Instead, he sent his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus, to become one of us and to pay the price that we deserved for our sins.  Jesus died on the cross, to pay that price, and he rose from the dead, so that we could be friends with God once again, and so that all those who believe in him and follow his ways can have the opportunity of eternal life with God in his heavenly kingdom.

That’s the Good News!  That’s the Gospel!  Jesus says he doesn’t call us slaves anymore.  That’s because we aren’t slaves to sin anymore, or at least we don’t have to be.  We can instead turn to Jesus and be his friends, if we do what he commands us.  And the commandment he gives us today seems like a very simple one: love one another.

Except that it’s not so simple all the time, is it?  Sometimes loving one another is hard to do.  Loving one another means we have to put others first.  Loving one another isn’t something we get to do only when we want to, but instead we have to do it all the time.  Loving one another means that we follow all the other commandments, because “love one another” is what sums them all up.  “Love one another” means that we remember that each person is created by God who loves them so then we have to love them too.

But we don’t have to worry about how hard it is to love one another.  We have a God who loves us first and loves us best.  Because he loved us and sent his Only-Begotten Son Jesus to show us his love, we have the grace we need to love one another.  We can love one another when it’s hard to do, when they really make us mad sometimes, because God loves us all the time, even when we are hard to love, even when we make others mad and make God sad because of what we do or what we fail to do.

We aren’t slaves anymore.  We have been set free.  But being free doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want, whenever we want – that’s the same thing as being a slave to sin.  Being free means that we can love others and put others first because God has done exactly that for us – over and over again!

So how will you love someone else today?  How will you love the person on the playground who’s having a really bad day?  How will you love your teachers who might be explaining something very important that maybe you think is boring?  How will you teachers love the students who don’t seem to be getting it?  How will we all love our families when we get home this afternoon?  How will we put all these people first?  During the quiet parts of today’s Mass, let’s think about that.  Let’s come up with a plan to love someone even when they are hard to love.  Let’s love one another because God loves us first and loves us best!

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today’s readings are a reminder that we disciples have to be discerning. It is important for us to discern what the truth is so that we can be led to the one who is Truth itself. The Gentiles, who worshiped idols, didn’t have the context of monotheism – that there is one God – to help them. Paul and Barnabbas did their best to catechize them, but there was much work to be done to overcome something that had been for the Greeks so culturally ingrained. The Gentiles didn’t have a context of God working through human beings, so they naturally mistook Paul and Barnabas for gods.

And in today’s Gospel, Jesus spells out how one can discern who is a true disciple. The true disciple, claiming that he or she loves God, will be one who keeps God’s commandments. If the disciple truly loves God, keeping God’s commandments would be second nature for him or her. But if one were to see someone claiming to love God and be his disciple but not obeying God’s commandments, one could conclude that person is not a true disciple.

Discernment is important for us, because we want authenticity in our worship and in our belief and understanding. Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When we come to know the One who is Truth itself, then we will be filled with the Holy Spirit and come to know the truth.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [B]

Today’s readings

You are indeed Holy, O Lord,
and all you have created
rightly gives you praise,
for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
by the power and working of the Holy Spirit,
you give life to all things and make them holy,
and you never cease to gather a people to yourself,
so that from the rising of the sun to its setting
a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.

You’re going to hear those words again in a few minutes, because they are the beginning of the Third Eucharistic prayer, which I’ll be using today.  I think they speak well of what we hear in today’s Gospel.

I remember back in my second year of seminary, I took my first moral theology class.  One of the first tests we took had that line from the third Eucharistic Prayer on it: “You are indeed Holy, O Lord, and all you have created rightly gives you praise.”  This line came along with the question: “God created rocks.  So how does a rock give God praise?”  Only a Jesuit moral theologian would ask a question like that!  The answer, we had been taught, is “by being a rock.”  Certainly a rock could not sing a song of praise or pray a psalm, but just by being what it was intended to be—a rock—it gave God praise.

That’s what today’s Gospel is all about.  Not about being a rock, that would be silly, but by rightly giving God praise by being what we were created to be: the most fully human people we can be.  Now that might seem like a no-brainer.  Hey, we can all be human, right?  But that, I think, is based on a flawed notion of what it means to be human.  How many times have we all said something like, “sure, I am a sinner; I’m only human, right?”  But being a sinner is not the same as being fully human.  The most fully human person that ever walked the face of the earth was Jesus Christ.  Jesus, we believe, was like us in all things, except sin.  This is how we know that sin is not part of what it means to be fully human.  And sin obviously is not something that gives God praise.  Indeed, that last line of the Gospel seems to leave no room for sin, and sets a rather high standard of what it means to give God praise: that we must bear much fruit – not just some fruit, but much fruit – and become disciples of Jesus.

To become more fully human is a life-long task, and we know that it will never be fully realized this side of heaven.  But while we are on earth, that’s our primary responsibility: to give God praise by becoming more fully what we were created to be in the first place.  Today’s Gospel gives us a picture of how we’re supposed to do that.  It mentions two specific things we are to do.

The first thing we are to do is, quite frankly, painful.  And that is to get pruned.  I’ve pruned more than a few bushes at my parents’ house in my day.  When I was growing up, I made the mistake of doing it well, and so I got that job every spring!  I didn’t really mind doing it though, but I often thought about the fact that this process could not be all that painless for the shrub.  It involved cutting away branches that looked for all the world like they were healthy and life-giving, and even cutting some branches radically away.

Well, we have to give in to that kind of painful process in our own lives too, I think.  We have to be willing to get some of us pruned away if we are to grow as healthy and fully human people.  This process is painfully difficult, but we recognize that the things we prune away can be really destructive: relationships that entangle us in ways that are not healthy, pleasures that lead to sin, habits that are not virtuous.  However enjoyable these relationships or activities may seem to be, and however painful it may be to end them, end them we must in the name of pruning our lives to be healthier, to be more fully the people we were created to be.

The second thing we must do is to remain in Christ.  That’s what he says in the Gospel:

Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.

And I’d have to say that they key here is the word “remain” because Jesus uses it four times in that short quote!  “Remain in me,” Jesus says, as the branch remains in the vine.  “Remain in me,” Jesus says, so that you can bear much fruit.  “Remain in me,” Jesus says, so that you will not wither and dry up only to be tossed out and burned as rubbish.  “Remain in me,” Jesus says, so that whatever you truly need and want will be done, and so that you can bear much fruit and be my disciples.

I think we can all get on board with remaining in Jesus, because this reading makes it sound completely wonderful.  And it is wonderful.  If we want to be truly happy, if we want ultimate fulfillment in life, if we really want to be the wonderful creation God made us to be, we must remain in Jesus, because, as he says, “without me you can do nothing.”  And that’s true.  How many times have we tried to better ourselves and lost sight of the goal before we even started?  Don’t even ask me about my new year’s resolutions!  How many times have we tried to stamp out a pattern of sin in our lives, only to fall victim to it time and time again?  How many times have we tried to repair relationships only to have egos, hurts or resentments get in the way?  When we forget to start our work and continue our work with God’s help, we are destined to fail.  Apart from Jesus we can do nothing.  Well does he advise us to remain in him.

But what does “remain in me” look like?  Unfortunately, we don’t get a clear-cut blueprint for that in today’s Gospel.  And the truth is, remaining in Christ is going to be different for every person.  Just like my pruning of mom’s shrubs wasn’t a once-and-for-all activity, we are going to have to do some pruning every now and then so that we can remain in Christ.  And so we’ll have to continue to be on the lookout for parts of our lives that are not ultimately life-giving and prune them away.  But we’ll also have to look out for opportunities that will fertilize our growth.  We have to check our growth daily, we have to examine where we are remaining every day.  That might start with Sunday Mass attendance, and perhaps move on to daily Mass, praying devotions like the Rosary, reading Scripture every day, and taking time at the end of the day to see whether we’ve been part of the vine, or are in danger of breaking away from it.  We have to be willing to renew ourselves in Christ every single day of our lives.

All creation, as Eucharistic Prayer III tells us, rightly gives God praise.  But we aren’t rocks.  It’s not so easy for us to be most fully the wonderful human creation we were made to be.  But that, brothers and sisters in Christ, is our calling and our joy.  May we all support one another in our times of pruning and through our journey of remaining.

Saints Philip and James, Apostles

Today’s readings

Today is the feast of St. Philip and the man we call “St. James the Lesser” because he is probably not the St. James that we know as a relative of Jesus and the traditional author of the book of James.  Unfortunately, all that we know about this St. James is that Jesus chose him as an apostle, and that Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection, as we hear in today’s first reading.  St. Philip we know a bit more about.  We hear of him in the Gospel story of the feeding of the multitudes because he is the one who tells Jesus “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”  In today’s Gospel we see him again as an apostle who is slow to believe.  “Show us the Father,” he says, “and that will be enough for us.”

So this, I think, is the feast for all of us disciples who don’t put ourselves in the limelight.  Maybe we too have been slow to believe, or were never really sure how to accomplish the mighty deeds God requires of us.  Maybe we’re pretty unknown in discipleship circles.  And maybe that’s good enough for us.  Today’s feast says that’s okay.  It says that our efforts of faith, small though they may be, make us great believers in God’s time and in God’s eyes, led to the Father, as we always are, by our Savior.  It says that we might need a little convincing that we can do the work God asks us to do, but that filled with the Holy Spirit, all things can be accomplished.  It says that we don’t have to be on the front page of the book to live our faith with conviction.

Today is the feast of apostles who are called to make God’s love known despite their imperfections or apparent lack of ability.  It is a feast for all of us who know that we are called by God and led by the Spirit to do great things in Christ.  To Philip and James and all the rest of the Apostles, Jesus said then, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”  Jesus says that to us today, too, all of us disciples who are slow to believe and understand.  “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.”

Saint Joseph the Worker

Today’s readings

In his encyclical, Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II said, echoing the sentiments of the Second Vatican Council, “The word of God’s revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that humankind, created in the image of God, shares by their work in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of their own human capabilities, they in a sense continue to develop that activity, and perfect it as they advance further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation.” (25)

The Christian idea of work is that through the toil of work, the Christian joins her or himself to the cross of Christ, and through the effects of work, the Christian participates in the creative activity of our Creator God.  Today we celebrate the feast day for all Christian workers, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.  This feast recalls that Jesus himself was a worker, schooled in the drudgeries and the joys of the vocation of carpentry by his father, St. Joseph, who worked hard, as many do today, to support his family.

In today’s first reading, Saint Paul, newly Christian, works hard at the task of proclaiming the Gospel.  But we also know that, in order not to be a burden to those to whom he was preaching, and thus not to be an obstacle to their faith, he worked at the trade of tentmaking.  In other places, St. Paul elevates human labor to a virtue, demanding that those who do not work should not eat, and decrying the inactivity of those who are idle, and busybodies.  If work is a share in the activity of the creator and a share in the cross of Christ, woe to those who turn away from it!

Sometimes, it is true, work is far from blessed.  There is, of course, a responsibility of the employer to provide a workplace that upholds human dignity.  But often work seems less than redemptive.  To that, Pope John Paul said, “Sweat and toil, which work necessarily involves in the present condition of the human race, present the Christian and everyone who is called to follow Christ with the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do.  This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross.  By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, humankind in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity.  They show themselves true disciples of Christ by carrying the cross in their turn every day in the activity that they is called upon to perform.” (Laborem Exercens, 27)

And so we all forge ahead in our daily work, whether that be as a carpenter, a tentmaker, a homemaker, a mother or father, a laborer, a white collar worker, a consecrated religious or ordained person, or whatever it may be.  We forge ahead with the joy of bringing all the world to redemption through creation, through the cross and Resurrection of Christ, and through our daily work.  Let us pray.

Almighty God,
maker of heaven and earth,
we praise you for your glory
and the splendor of all your creation.

Bless us as we continue to do our work,
and bless all that we do for you.
Help us to carry out all our activities
for your honor and glory
and for the salvation of your people.

Through the intercession of Saint Joseph the Worker,
guide us in all we do,
and help us build your kingdom
and one day, come together to eternal life.
Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.