Today’s reflection is for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.
We have today gathered, disciples of Jesus Christ. Do our coworkers, friends, complete strangers know we are Christian? Do the guards know you are Christian? I wonder, what makes us Christian? I mean, what is the defining characteristic of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ—honestly. I know we love our rosaries, prayer cards, crucifixes, and holy oil, statues, and medallions (a.k.a. Catholic Bling), but not a single one of those things make us Christian. Jesus tells us today that the world will know we are his disciples if we have love for one another. That’s it. It is by our love that people will know we are Christian.
That alone is how they will know that we are born again, resurrected, Easter people; that we are His and He is ours. The world will know that we bear the Holy Name: Christian. By our love. So simple. So difficult.
St. Paul has to help out the Church in Corinth, when he tells them that “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1COR13:4-8) For a simple exercise, replace your name with the word love in the verses above. Steve is patient, Steve is kind. He is not jealous, he is not pompous, he is not inflated, he is not rude…I’ve got some serious work to do. The truth is that too often I’m neither patient, nor kind. I often seek my own interests, and it is often at the expense of those closest to me. I could work on these for the rest of my life and still have work to do.
Saint John Paul II, used the words of St. Thomas Aquinas when he said, “Love wills the good of another.” That’s very beautiful. The loving person desires what is good for others. That’s true love and it is often exemplified in the sacrificial love of parents for their children. Because I love you, I set boundaries, establish rules and disciplinary consequences for violating them. Discipline is not contrary to love, but is at its service. As Hebrews teaches, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” (HEB 12:11) Because I will the good of my children, I do not withhold corrective discipline—nor should you, or our schools, or the state. It must never be done out of anger, revenge, but out of love.
To pray for others is also a beautiful act of love. We pray even for, and especially for our enemies. We can all pray for one another—there is nothing to impede it. What greater thing can I do for one who resists me that to pray for their peace, their understanding, their generosity, mercy, and love. Jesus tells his disciples in The Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” (MT 5:43-45) The single greatest moments in my difficult relationships have come with prayer for the other. It’s free, and changes everything.
All that I have been talking about from First Corinthians and from St. John Paul II, and finally for praying for those who harm us, have everything to do with love, and sacrifice, and death. Yes, death. For us to love like Christ, we must also be willing to die with Him. During this Easter season we are mindful that the greatest act of love is to lay down one’s life for another. (JN 15:14) If we are to follow his commandment to love, we must die to ourselves, die to our ego, our hatred, our pain, and our suffering. If are going to call ourselves Christians we must be a humble people, a servant people, and even an enslaved people. We are set free by love so that we can freely choose to surrender to love. St. Paul says, “Thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.” (ROM 6:17) And so we are. With our freedom we serve unto death the one who set us free, and Jesus Christ, our liberator asks only one thing of his disciples—that they love. That’s it. That’s how they’ll know that we are his; not by our prayer cards, rosaries, and crucifixes, but by our willingness to love someone to death.
So, of what use, or for what purpose are rosaries, prayer cards, crosses, the Commandments, Catholic Social teachings, crucifixes, holy water, holy oil, medallions, theology, paintings, stained glass windows, statues, or even Scripture? They teach us to love. They remind us to love. In every generation they help us to love. They have no value in and of themselves—but they help us to encounter love, be healed by love, be transformed by love, so that we can love.
Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. 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.” (JN 13:34) Let us love, in word and deed, and the world will know, and we will rise with him. Amen.