“Love that cannot suffer is not worthy of that name.”

Version 2

While in Assis I came across a quote from Santa Chiara (St. Clare) that I had never heard before. Immediately I was struck by the quote as it had a way of succinctly summing up something so very true and important in just a few simple words. It was inscribed somewhere in the Basilica of St. Clare and it was given to me by a friend just a few days before my trip to Assisi. On my way home I began to look for it again on the Internet in order to reflect on it further.

Love that cannot suffer is not worthy of that name.

This quote has continued to return to me several times over this last week. Maybe the first thing that comes to me ask reflect upon it is how much it is both based upon the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ and how much it continues to point back to that same love. It is enriched by Christ’s great and sacrificial love and it illuminates the depths of His great love for God the Father and for us, His brothers and sisters. No one, not even Jesus, loves suffering or death that comes as a result of such great suffering. So why then would God desire to suffer in such a way as He did in Jesus the Son? Why would He endure such horrible suffering in the passion and the cross? For Love. For the sake of His beloved. For the Father, whom He abides with always in loving communion and for us His beloved ones. He would go through such great suffering for our sake and for the sake of the whole world to see us live, to see us free!

I am reminded of a similar and helpful saying attributed to St. Francis that I read years ago and continue to reflect upon over and over again.

The cross is pure joy.

When I first read this many years ago, I didn’t understand a thing about it, yet, even then, there was something that rang true in my heart when those words first entered therein. Years of reflecting upon those words have brought slow insight into the wisdom they express… Similar to St. Clare’s quote, the wisdom is likewise rooted in the person and love of Christ – especially as it is revealed through His cross. How can there be any joy in suffering? In the cross of all things? It is not the instrument or source of torture that animates ones joy it is the love for whom one gladly suffers that does so! Love of God and live of neighbor to the end! This is the charity of Christ! Is is the definition of love – of God who is love! Love that is total, free and faithful! It is this love that is fruitful and fills us and others with joy! It is this love that gives life even to the dead!

So called love, love that is unwilling to suffer, is exposed as selfishness instead. This easily becomes clear when one considers a so-called love that is unwilling to help, sacrifice, suffer for or even with another person – with the so called beloved. It is evident in this distortion of love, that the person who is unwilling to suffer, is only there for themselves – sadly I think tha this also expresses their unwillingness to suffer even for themselves – to live with discipline where it is good for them to do so.

Going back to the original quote, and to St. Clare and St. Francis: I think that they lived this love in such a profound way. First and foremost towards God as both of them willingly and even joyfully suffered and sacrificed much for the sake of Christ and His gospel. It was also their profound love for God that purified and transformed their love so that they, like and with God, were able to love others too. They did not love only a single person totally but all people and even all of creation! They endured and sacrified much for the love of others too. Think of St. Francis binding up and wounds of the lepers and begging on their behalf in for them to be able to eat or of St. Clare washing daily the feet of her sisters (they went barefoot by the way) as an expression of her love for them. These are profound expressions not only of true love but I would dare say truly happy people, full of not only the love of God but the joy of the Lord as well.

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“Constant Thanks”

The saint is first and foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having been loved and who never forgets the misery of once not having loved or let God love.

Erasmo Leiva


I am using this quote to guide my homily today since as it helps me to articulate what is more subtly expressed in todays gospel. It is thanksgiving weekend after all and the theme of thanksgiving might not be readily drawn out from the readings or from the Lord’s teaching on what is needed in order to enter, as He says, “the kingdom of God.”

The teaching in question comes from an encounter that Jesus has with a rich man who is said to have had “many possessions.” He seeks, and it seems sincerely so, to get an answer from Jesus regarding what he must do to inherit eternal life – to receive eternal life as an inheritance from God. He seems implicitly, or at least by his language, to understand that to receive such from God, he must live as a son. Maybe this point will become more poignant as we look a little more closely at the response given by the only begotten Son of God; by Jesus. He, as the Son, knows what is necessary and He always gives complete thanksgiving to God.

The man asks a sincere question of Jesus and we must assume that he does so to get a good answer. Jesus seems to know him – as he knows everyone – and so he says to him, “you know the commandments…” The man affirms that he does know them by saying that he has “kept all these since [his] youth”. It is then that the striking and telling moment of encounter happens. Jesus, we are told, “looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” What a striking demand the Lord makes on this man. What to me is maybe most important is that the man does not recognize in this invitation from Jesus, that he is being offered a gift. It is almost as if the man, at that point (in his shock), says ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ This is also why he goes away grieving. It is as if he knows he is being offered and invited to something greater and profound but, because of his possessions, he cannot do it.

What does he fail to accept? God’s particular and deepest love for him. How do we know this – he is unwilling to give of himself, he will not trust God with any more or admit his indebtedness through gratitude there. He is, as a result, unable to give thanks to God with his whole life – some of it, he feels, he must keep for himself for his own glory – no thanks to God. He is unable to be truly poor in spirit, which is or course a challenge for all of us! Look then at the example of the disciples who have ‘left everything and followed” Jesus thereby making a complete gift of themselves to God! Is this not the deepest expression of thanksgiving?

When we are truly thankful for someone’s gift to us we make careful and considerate use of that gift in reference to the giver and to their intention. We cannot divide the gift from giver – especially the larger or more profound the gift. Do we not in a certain way acknowledge this connection when we are upset at someone when we have given them a gift and they have misused it? A few simple examples might suffice to demonstrate this. For instance, a simple one that immediately comes to mind for me is when I was ordained, one of my best friends growing up gave me a 30 year old bottle of port. It was a wonderful gift! Guess who I drank it with? I purposefully arranged a dinner with him and his wife so that I could share the gift with them. I understand now, looking back, that that was an important expression on my part of the thanksgiving and gratitude I had not only for the gift but for the giver of the gift as well. Another important place where this can been understood is in marriage. One’s fidelity or faithfulness to their spouse is deeply related to a recognition of the profound gift that they have personally received from their spouse (body and soul!). One’s faithfulness in body and soul towards their spouse is a way of expressing their gratitude towards their spouse and their recognition of the gravity of the gift that their spouse has given in giving their life. On top of all this, if a husband or wife is ungrateful for their spouse, the giver of such a gift and the gift of self that they have made, then he or she will also not be willing to give of themselves either, to offer their own body and soul as a gift to their spouse. How beautiful when gratitude exists in every relationship! What happens is we make a gift of ourselves, sharing our heart with another and, if they receive us in gratitude, what we share with them, they will respect the gift plus the one from whom it came – the giver. By their gratitude they will also sincerely and gently give back to me myself and be moved to give of themselves in return – to reciprocate. Notice what Jesus expresses of those who have given up everything for the sake of Christ – if, in gratitude you have given up everything to follow Jesus, guess what? you will receive a hundredfold! from God in return.

Jesus is the fullest and most complete embodiment of this reality. It is He, the only begotten Son, who has made a complete gift of self to the Father in thanksgiving. Jesus, by doing so, expresses the greatest of gratitude towards God the Father – fully acknowledging God’s goodness and the profound generosity of the giver. Jesus also, in living faithfully and generously towards the Father, not only abides in the Father’s great love but He also respects the gift(s) that the Father has bestowed upon Him and is considerate of the Father who gives them!

To me, this is one of the striking differences in the gospel today – Jesus attempts to lead the rich man to a greater recognition and appreciation of God’s love for him but he is unwilling or unable to express gratitude for what he has received as gift and from whom he has received. What is the result? Grieving. Sadness. The rich man is unable to be open to the generous love of God for him and to fully be gracious and thankful for that love. He will receive no more than what he has because he is closed to anything more – closed to the invitation of Jesus, to a greater treasure.

It is no accident I think that as our society has become wealthier we have moved further from God’s love and the gratitude and thankfulness that would follow from an honest recognition of the profound generosity of God. It is almost as if people know implicitly that if I acknowledge God’s goodness and generosity, for all that I have and all that I am in my life, that I will realize there is a subsequent invitation to acknowledge through how I use these gifts and respect the intention and love of the giver. It might be easier to avoid this and be ungrateful – but it is also a source of misery for us. Gratitude is a source of great joy for us and yet it demands that we acknowledge, through our living, that we owe everything to God. The crazy thing is that we would rather stop the exchange, take what we have been given and run from the one who has given it – never to have to acknowledge their generosity but also never to receive fully from them again. How isolating and sad a reality is that? Especially when Jesus, like with the rich man, invites us to be open to receiving even more through God’s abounding love and generosity.

I return to the opening quote again. “The Saint is first stand foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having been loved and who never forgets the misery of once not having been loved or let God love.” This is the beautiful life: The one lived in trusting and generous relationship with the Father of all good gifts! This is the life of joy and intimacy whereby we can never to outdo God in His generosity!

“Better for you”

I was struck this week by the numerous comparisons of Jesus especially because He returns several times to telling His disciples what is “better for you”. It might surprise us to realize what Jesus actually teaches is better for them! 
He says for instance that it would be better to be maimed than to have two hands or two feet or two eyes one of which is causes us to stumble and fall in our faith; to be scandalized (literally a stumbling block)! Maybe even more incredible than this is the statement he makes about causing another believer, Jesus’ little ones who believe in Him, to stumble or to create an obstacle between them and God! He says, in this case, that it “would be better if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” In plainer words: It would be better if you were dead! Remember the words of Jesus from last week: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me!” How we treat one another, especially believers, is how we treat God.
The implication to what Jesus is saying is testifying not only to the fact that love and service of God is tied intrinsically and totally tied to love of neighbor but also that there are eternal and serious implications if we put an obstacle between another person and Jesus! 
What kind of effort and care for our relationships with others and with God does Jesus teaching imply? What is the greatest priority then in each persons life? What should we be striving for? Jesus is indicating that we should, above all things, strive for right relationships with God and with others. Do not His words seem to suggest that friendship with Jesus and faith in Him is to be prized and sought above anything else – even above life and bodily health? I think so. Doesn’t this teaching radically change our picture and understanding of what it means to be healthy? Is the healthy person the one with the fit body? Is the healthy person the one with all the riches in the world? No, not according to the Lord. The measure of health comes from a persons relationship with God and others! Interestingly enough, when we speak of salvation and the importance of being saved the root hat word is the word ‘safe’ which actually means health! Salvation is the true health! Right and faithful relationship with God and God’s little ones is the measure of health! 
In light of this new understanding of health, of what is truly better for us, maybe we might also better understand the other readings we heard. Moses spoke, “Would that all the Lord’s people were Prophets! And that the Lord would put His spirit on them!” Why? Because they would all be close to God and work in accord with His spirit to lead others to Him! Would that all God’s people were so very close to God and strived to bring God’s word to the hearts of others! So to, in St. James condemnation of the rich and their selfishness, it is principally because they have caused others – especially the poor and the little – to stumble and suffer. Their riches do not lead them to deeper communion with others, rather the opposite, their wealth is a scandal for others and a cause for rejecting the ‘little children’ of faith that Christ equates with Himself! Their riches destroy their health and become an obstacle for their own salvation and for others!

All of this underscores for me what the most important work is – every other work needs to be seen and understood as subordinated to it. That work is to grow in relationship with Jesus through faith and to spread that same faith in Jesus to others. To go to God and live faithfully in communion with Hm and to bring others, welcoming them in His name, to the same beautiful reality. This is the picture health! His communion might also be said to be the source of our full and lasting health since, close to God, we will draw life and continual grace from Him. So, even if it costs us a limb or two, “It is better for [us]!”

“Last of all and servant of all”

Looking to Christ as “the way, the truth and the life,” is always good for us to remember to do as Christians. We not only look at Him in His actions and life but to His heart as well – in order to get to know Him. One serious problem for Christians in our day is that they barely ever look at Christ in the scriptures or in prayer or in study. Instead of learning from the divine teacher we are learning from other sources – we end up following the same pattern of behaviour as the disciples in today’s scriptures – then, as St. James says, we experience disputes and discord in our daily lives.

The beauty of Christ though is revealed in our Gospel today as we see, rightfully  in His person, the steadfast and merciful love of God for His children. Jesus Never seems to tire of teaching His brothers and sisters. The funny thing, and this seems to happen so often, is that while Jesus is explaining Himself to them, explaining the way of the Lord God, they are, almost at the same time, manifesting contrary attitudes and behaviour. 

Jesus is teaching them that the Son of Man must undergo suffering and die and be raised… MUST! In other words it is the will of God that this should happen. Such a conviction on the part of Jesus, manifesting the love of God for humanity, demonstrates and exemplifies the selfless love of God – it is God’s humble service to His children – His little ones. Notice how He becomes even smaller than they. THe last of all.

The disciples don’t get it – and truth be told, neither do we most of the time! They are afraid to ask – almost like I don’t even want to know! Their lack of understanding is further demonstrated by what they begin to do next – they “argued with one another who was the greatest.” I get a sense that the disciples know that they shouldn’t be doing this – I think just as we know implicitly that we should not do the same – but still we do it, in our own little ways we do it. This is why they are silent when Jesus asks them “What were you arguing about on the way?” We should I think, at this time, hear an echo of the second reading in which St. James points out that human envy and selfishness is the source of conflict and discord and disputes – “You want something  and you do not have it; so you commmit murder.” This is a striking line – I am particularly reminded of Judas, one of the twelve here being taught by the Lord. 

I think what I need to drive home here is the fact that human selfishness, human sin, envy, and all the subsequent discord, division and malice that comes from it is not fulfilling. This should be self evident to us – how many of us enjoy discord, strife, and division in our relationships? None of us! Yet we rarely know how to live any differently – I point for example to the rising divorce rates in marriages. Amongst my aunts and uncles only three of ten couples are not divorced! Maybe a better question to think about is why is it unfulfilling? and what is the answer? What is it that Jesus is trying to teach us?

Jesus shows us the way to communion, intimacy, glory and life – and it comes through His life and love. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” All of this is only possible in and through relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Can you imagine what happens when people try to live this kind of selfless life without love? I can will that kind of service and part of my willing should also help me to love but to a certain extent if it is just an act of the will and is not accompanied by a change of heart then I will gradually become bitter and jaded and tired because i am not sustained. Jesus gives the key for this kind of love and transformation in service at the end when He makes the connection between love of the little one – one such child – and he love of Him and the one who send HIm. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Selfless love of neighbor begins and ends with loving intimacy and communion with God. Pope Benedict succinctly accounts for this by saying:

“Love of neighbor is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like o even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ.  His friend is my friend….If i have not contact with God whatsoever in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God.”

Imagine if Jesus way was followed? Imagine if people were tripping over each other trying to serve and care for each other? Hard to imagine isn’t it? It is so contrary to what we know and experience! But, with the Lord it is not impossible! This means that the principal striving in my life is to, as the scriptures, as Jesus say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength….and your neighbor as yourself!”

“Fill the Hearts of your faithful”

Maybe, on this feast of Pentecost, we should pray in our hearts – with conviction – the prayer found in our Gospel Acclamation: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love”! What a profound and deeply impactful prayer!

I really love the image that this prayer creates for me. I see the human heart – that moral and spiritual center of each human being – being filled up. The Holy Spirit, the divine and life giving Spirit of God, being poured out from God through Jesus into our hearts in abundance; almost like a cup overflowing and spilling over the edges. In our hearts then is placed the fire of God’s love, the consuming and perfect love of God. Our hearts are capable of loving like Jesus because it is His love that resides in our hearts – it is His Spirit that loves in us! What’s more, the proclamation and sharing of that divine love and life is aided or transformed by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Christian tesimony is therefore transformed and given a profound life beyond our own power and ability. It is key though that we see and understand the programme of God. He gives, we receive, we give out of what we have received from God and through Him so that others too might receive. If we truly “live by the Spirit” as St. Paul says, we are capable of giving because God’s Spirit works in and through us.

Notice what Jesus says to His apostles at the discourse we heard today from the last supper: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify”. This is interesting, “he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify”. I, we, must first receive from God the divine and true testimony in the person of the Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit, fill my heart and fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love! This is our prayer. This again I believe is why Jesus will say, “only one thing is necessary” so “seek first the kingdom of God”. Let God testify to you! Let Him reveal to you Himself and His love. Receive and appropriate the dvine gift of God. Then, we will be ready to tetify! To share in and through the Spirit of God – with hearts full and abounding!

Too often we are “anxious and troubled about many things”. Now, as always, it is good for us to remember the words of the Lord – “one thing is needed”. Sit at the feet of God and listen to His testimony. If we return to the image of the glass being filled up representing our hearts, then we might understand by picturing that same glass being filled up with rocks and gravel. Our hearts are filled and weighed down by many things, many anxieties, and as such the Holy Spirit cannot fill our hearts – cannot fill us and kindle in us the fire of God’s love. Our capacity to receive is greatly limited. He will testify. We need to reorient out hearts to receive that testimony from God – a testimony given us in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

The early Church, on the day of Pentecost, received the Holy Spirit – the testimony of God in person – and they went out immediately and testified to God’s great deeds of power! What is very profound here is that their testimony was supported by God through the power of the Holy Spirit working in them and through them. God’s presence and testimony is confirmed by the powerful miracle that gave the disciples to speak in various languages. In other words: God speaks, God gives and they receive. They speak out of that gift, they speak what they have heard and God affirms their testimony with the miraculous – with great power. See the unity of both the message and the messengers? It is precicesly because the disciples are in communion with God through the Holy Spirit that they can receive from Him and testify on His behalf and with His grace! Seek first the kingdom of God! and everything else will be added unto you! They are filled with the Holy Spirit and their hearts are aflame with the fire of God’s love – this love propells them outwards to declare the great wonders of God and God’s love!

My friends, see today, in our celebration of Pentecost, the same dynamic. Here in the context of the Eucharist we pray – Come Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of your faithful! Fill us with Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity! Fill us with the Love of the Father! Inflame our heaerts with the fire of Your love! 

“A life worthy of the calling”

Here is an incredible plea from St. Paul to the church in Ephasis, a plea that is extended to us today: “I, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called”! I beg you he says! I There are all kinds of questions that arise from this plea: What kind of life are we to lead? Apparently I have been called to do so, but by whom?

Maybe there is a bit of a surprise when we hear that somebody is calling us. Me, called? Yes, you! The Lord has and is calling you – each of us – to a new and full life. The reason it must be a call is because God will never force any of us. God’s respect for human freedom and the human will is profound! All Christians are called continually to conversion of life. It is this that St. Paul is begging of the Ephesians and which through his letter we too are being begged to respond to.

There are many mistaken or incomplete notions of what this “life to which we have been called” looks like or what this calling actually pertains to. Perhaps one of the best ways to begin to understand this is to look at the first reading toady on this feast of the Ascension – that is the return of Jesus to God the Father. Jesus is telling the apostles, “you will be baptized (bathed) with the Holy Spirit not many days from now”, and that, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After Jesus gives them these words it ways that, “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight,” meaning that Jesus returned to God (to heaven). The simple thing that I want to draw your attention to is first the promise of the bestowal of the Holy Spirit in power upon the apostles and, subsequently, that they will be Jesus “witnesses” (literally martyrs) to the ends of the world! Here is a way is seen both the one who calls and the calling. We are called by God through Christ and we are called to be Christ’s witnesses! We are called to be Christ Body! This then is why St. Paul is begging us to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called! We are called to be Christ’s witnesses to the world! This is a high calling!

What does this calling and life look like? We see, through persons like St. Paul, the saints, and others in the early church, that the response to Christ’s calling and the life of grace is. They respond amazingly and are fruitful despite every situation and all the odds stacked against them! Unity and strength, faith and prayer all in communion with God in the Holy Spirit establishes and builds up the Body of Christ (which we are still a product of today!)

Our response and our work begins with God and in response to God. We must be close to Him first and listen to Him before we can hope to respond to God’s grace and live according to the Holy Spirit! Open to grace my freinds!

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

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Most of us can recall the first experience we had of falling in love. It is a pretty amazing and wonderful experience isn’t it? If you recall that experience you might also remember that at that time there was no place you would rather be than in the presence of the one you loved and who loved you. Me might put it this way: We desired and sought to abide or remain in love and in the presence of love. It is kind of a cute memory if you recall how one tried to do this; tried to remain in love. You made time at every moment you could spare to spend time with the one you loved. You called the person whenever you could, possible staying on the phone for hours at a time even if you didn’t have anything more to say. I am willing to bet that some of you wrote love letters and thought of the person as often as you were able. You might have even done all kinds of silly or cheesy things for the one who loved you and whom you loved without consideration of your usual inhibitions. All this is done in order to remain in love and to abide in love.

I believe that this simple and common human experience of being loved and loving is important in helping us to make sense of the instruction given us today by the Lord Jesus:

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

He instructs and appeals to us to abide in His love and to do so by keeping His commandments. I bet that when we hear this we think, ‘Ok, now He is just stifling love by saying listen to what I say and do what I command you’. But no, He in fact tells us that:

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

How can this be so? This may not seem like the most obvious way to remain in love – by obeying someones commandments – but I think it might be helpful to understand if we return to the common human experience of falling in love in order to understand why this is important.

I want to ask, in reference to the experience of being in love, what happened to that love? Where is it today? Are you still madly in love with that person and are they still madly in love with you? We will either answer yes or no to that question and it is important to understand why. More often then not I believe people have had the experience of love lost than love lasting… I have met and worked often with people who doubt the real possibility and existence of true and lasting love. Many of those same people move from one relationship to the next never stopping to think about what they’re doing or understand why this pattern keeps happening. Why?

I think that Jesus is highlighting something deeply important for us today. Something so important that it is tied to the possibility of us having joy, complete joy! What happens in our relationships that they rise quckly and peter out quickly? The key is in the words of Christ:

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.

What does He command? What is His commandment?

This is my commandment, love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s freinds.

This is they key to all love – the key to lasting and life giving love! This is the key to joy! Love like Jesus! It is also the key to understanding why so many of our human relationships do not become places of abiding and lasting love in which we seek to remain and go back continually. At some point we encounter the limits of either our love or the love of the one we love and so begins the slow and painful withdrawl from intimacy to alienation and distrust. 

What our society and we in it so often fail to understand and see is that all true and lasting love requires boundaries. Without real boundaries we do not have love but abiguities that quickly degenerate into abuse or neglect or both! Human love needs to be rooted in and informed by Divine love – total and selfless yet true and respectful of the beloved and of the one loving!

What then is the Lord saying when He invites us to abide in His love and to do so by keeping His commandment to love one another as I have loved you? First, He is telling us that relationship with Him, abiding in His love or remaining in love with Him, is the foundation and lifespring of all human love. It is the loving relationship that we have with Him that will allows us to love others and to keep loving them to the end – even laying down our lives for those we love (for our friends). Why do human relationships fail? One reason is that they have no greater depth than the depth of love within the respective hearts of the people invovled. No matter how deep, at some point the limits or depths of a persons heart will be plumbed and discovered and then the heart will be dry. I cannot continue to pour out love from my heart unless my heart is filled by some other source – by some other source. That source is Christ and the infinite depths of God’s eternal love. Second, Jesus is also revealing to us what love truly is and, implicitly, what it is not. Love is not only a feeling but in it’s fullest sense in rooted in action (charity) that corresponds authentically with ones heart. True love then aslo has within it the character of sacrifice – this is often the elusive factor in so many human relationships. When push comes to shove people often discover that what the other person really cares about is themselves! I think that the Italians say it right when they express love for another. One of their  expressions of love literally means: I want your good! I will lay down my life for you my friend – this is agape – the love of God for man and mans love for God. Without the love of God all human love will degenerate into selfishness and then mistrust. 

What Jesus offers us and invites us to is an alternative to what has too often become the norm for human love. Jesus offers us something rich and fulfilling. There is a twofold reality in His invitation: Abiding in the love of Jesus means that we will be in communion or intimacy with Him and through His love with our brothers and sisters. We will threfore experience the fruits of love – especially joy! 

Beloved, let us love one anther, because love is from God.

“You rejected the Holy and Righteous One”

  

The beginning of the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel is quite confrontational and profoundly striking. St. Peter, after the event of Pentecost (the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church), addresses the people with these words: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our anscestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected…” He ends by telling them to, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” What strikes me to ask, as someone entrusted with a similar mission that the apostles were entrusted with in the proclamation of the Gospel, is: How can this kind of preaching bear fruit and be fruitful in converting hearts to God?

I immediately thought of several experiences that I had in my life that maybe resemble this confrontational dynamic in St. Peter’s preaching. I remember two particularly moving experiences for me when I was growing up. Both of them involved me doing sominthing wrong, some sin, that deeply hurt on one instance my parents and on the other more particularly my mother. In both instances they could have done what we always want to do if someone hurts us – we protect ourselves, maybe put on a strong face, and often we return or reciprocate their hurt as an act of vengence and justice (so we think!).  But, in both of these instnaces my parents did not react this usual way. Instead, they let me see the hurt that I had caused them – I can still particularly see my mother crying on the one instance… That is hard for any son to see.  What did these instnaces do for me? How did they affect me? Well the first thing that it effected in me was deep sorrow and regret for my actions. I was contrite – truly sorry and you can bet that in my heart I resolved never to offend in such a way again. In a simple but very profound way, my heart was converted to them. Instead of enacting a human form of justice in these instances my parents were cooperating with the grace of God and they followed Christ and in a very tangible way witnessed to His love and mercy.

I had rejected them and they had, through their love, let me see this fact. I was confronted with my own ignoracnce and selfishness. I saw clearly the cost of my selfishness and they let me come to that realization without judgment and condemnation or retaliation. I saw that the one(s) I had rejected were deserving instead of my love. How much more then is this true of us when we come to this realization in front of God? To be honest, in that moment I did not think of how my sin had affected my relationship with God (at least not right away). But, truth be told, every instance of sin in our lives, no matter who we hurt or reject (others or even ourselves) is most fully an offense against God – God who is Love! Those words of St. Peter are aimed too at us: “You rejected the Holy and Righteous One!” How often do we do this through our selfishness and through our rejection of others or our self-harm?  It is only when we realize this deep truth that we begin to open our hearts to the Love of God and to the grace given us through God’s sacrifice for our conversion. 

What is revealed by St. Peter’s preaching today as an echoing of Christ’s own teaching in today’s gospel is that it was God’s plan for the “Messiah to suffer and rise on the third day”, so that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to proclaimed in his name to all nations”. What Jesus and St. Peter are saying is that the rejection and death of Jesus on the Cross is meant to move human hearts to repent and convert and that the resurrection from the dead is for our forgiveness and for our salvation! This is the heart of the Christian proclamation – the Good News! Jesus suffered at our hands and for our sake – for our sins – and He did so willingly to show us the abiding love of God the Father! The crucifixion shows us both God’s love but also the true and full consequence or effect of our sins. We reject not only others and our own selves but even God and God’s love!

If we refuse to look upon the Holy and righteous one whom we have pierced then we will not be converted to God through a contrite spirit of repentance. To see firsthand the horror of our sin – in the pierced and wounded Christ – gives way to seeing His love and His mercy. Instead of being led to despair we are led to faith and hope in His love – He is forgiving?! He is loving still! I can be truthful and honest before Him – He will not spurn or cast me off! I am loved still! I can let Him love me, I can love Him!

This is the heart of our proclamation of the Gospel my friends. All of us are entrusted with preaching and proclaiming this beautiful and mysterious truth. In order to do this though we must first be converted to God in this way – we must know it from the inside! Only then will be be able to preach Christ convincingly to others because we ourselves will be converted to Him through repentance and merciful love. By coming in this way to know Him – to know Him as merciful love! – we will also come to love Him as He is and to listen and obey Him. We will slowly, through God’s love and grace, come to love as He loves. This maybe is the principle point and the full measure of our preaching of the Gospel – when we come to love as He loves – to give our live completely for others, even those who do not love us! We know we are drawing close to this by how we respond not when we are loved but rather when we are rejected or put on trial. It is then most fully that Christian witness is to be seen and manifest! Full of the love of God, and abiding in His love, we can with Jesus and through His merciful love for us, offer and extend the same merciful and forgiving and enduring love to those persons that reject us and scorn us and put us on trial. We at the same time though need to be ok with letting them see our hurt and pain – do not be to proud to show them this – look and see how Christ was stripped of everything and was sorrowful and grieved in the passion. We have to see our sin and it’s deadly effects if we are to be converted from it but so to we need to see the merciful and enduring love of God for us if we are not to be driven to despair.

My beloved friends, we must come to God in this way and only then converted by His love can we be an instrument of true Christian witness to that same love of God manifest in Jesus Christ. Never forget that in every Eucharist this same mystery of God’s love is given or poured our for us anew – we come to stand at the foot of the crucified Christ in order to see our sin but we see also that the Lord is alive and risen from the grave and living gives Himself to us as food and purification so that we might be converted at last or anew to His living and eternal love! Prasie be to God for such love as we have never known! To Him be praise and Glory! Love is Risen!

The Foundation of the Law

I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other god’s before me.

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As we look today at the Decalogue, the ten biblical commandments given through Moses,  I want to highlight one extremely important thing that presents itself to us through them. This one extremely important thing is the primary importance of the first three commandments of the Decalogue. I will summarize the three and maybe we will see that there is something in common with each of them: “You shall have no other god’s before me; You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God; Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. What is the one thing common in each of these the first three of the commandments? They are about right relationship with God. Or, more simply, they are about God.

The remainder of the commandments – all those that relate more directly to our fellow human beings – flow from these first three and, as such, they are built upon them as a foundation. If we look a little closer we can see and understand how the undermining of these three foundational commandments undermines the whole of the divine law. Failure to respect and love God leads to failure to respect and love each other.

The cleansing of the temple by Jesus in today’s gospel brings this into view. Jesus concern is precisely the true reverence and love of God. To be sure all of the money changers and those selling animals for the temple sacrifices do present important and necessary services and commodities for the worship of God prescribed under the law – people came to worship God in the Temple from all over the Roman Empire. As such they would have needed the money changers in order to buy the animals they would offer in sacrifice to God. But, by allowing all of these things to take place within the outer court of the temple, the Court of the Gentiles, the true nature of the temple begins to be distorted.

First, the Court of the Gentiles is supposed to be a place where non-Jewish persons could come to worship the one true God – to learn to fulfill the commandment, “you shall have no other God’s before me.” What would they see when they come into the temple? A market… In this way the worship of the one true God seems to be more synonymous with the worship of money and wealth – mammon! Instead of being a place of encounter and worship of the Living God, the temple becomes a place of business. You can begin to see how this would distort even the relationships of the persons who are interacting in this outer court of the temple. As Jesus says, the house of God – a place meant for people to enter into God’s Divine rest – becomes, “a marketplace!” The whole thing also sully’s the Holy Name of God.

The key then to the whole of fulfilling the law and the commandments of God is related to knowing and reverencing the Lord our God, who gave us the Law for our good. Only in Him can we hope to obey and fulfill the ten commandments and the divine law.

It is not incidental to see how our own culture is moving further and further away from the values protected in the Ten Commandments. Take as a simple example the commandment, “thou shall not kill.” This commandment used to be one that almost the whole of Western civilization upheld and valued. Now, killing is though to be entirely legitimate and legal for both babies in the womb as well as those who  are suffering! Many of our contemporaries don’t even bat an eye over these realities and to a great extent it is because the whole of our law – human law – is completely detached from the divine law – especially the foundational first three laws.

As Christians, made members of Christ through baptism, we are the stones that build up the new and living temple of God – the temple that He said He would raise in three days! Just as Christ sought the protection of the Temple in Jerusalem through it’s purification so too we must seek to purify God’s living temple through our own purification. My stress today is on the need for true and due honour and reverence and worship to be given to God since apart from God he rest of the law and any attempts to live and fulfill the law of God is impossible and fruitless. Lord Jesus, we ask and invite you to come anew into each of us, the living temple of your Holy Spirit and we give permission for you to purify us – to turn over any tables and drive out from us anything that is not of you and your Holy Spirit! Make our hearts true temples, places of true encounter with you the living and eternal God! Firmly establish us anew upon the foundation that is Christ our Lord!

“Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?”

I admit that the second reading from this the second Sunday of Lent is very powerful and moving for me. We would do well to consider the words of St. Paul to the Romans and their implications – they are truly profound!

He says, “Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?”, and further, “If God is for us who can be against us? He who did not withhold his only Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” In other words God has chosen us knowing full well who we are and if He has given us His only Son what else could He possibly withhold from us?! This is pretty profound when we contemplate the deepest truth about ourselves in God! What’s more, God as even sacrificed for us and in so doing has proved or demonstrated to what extent He will go for you and me. See in Abraham an image of what St. Paul is saying: Abraham was tested by God to see His fidelity to God’s command – He was even willing to sacrifice his son Isaac who was the son God had given him in his old age and the son of the promises God had made to Abraham. He demonstrated himself through this test as faithful to God even to an extreme. God likewise, and even to the end, proves His fidelity to us His chosen ones by actually asking His only begotten Son to sacrifice His life for us. Only when we grasp the depths of this sacrifice do we, with St. Paul, start to understand how profound God’s grace and favour is for us – again, despite who we are! 

 Maybe by painting a bit of a picture i can help us to understand this a bit better. Let’s say that Fr. Michael has a wife….I know a little hard to imagine, but bear with me for examples sake. Let us say that one day while I’m working in the Church a bunch of you come to me and say, “Fr. Michael, we just heard something horrible…. Did you know that your wife used to be a thief?” Or did you know that she used to be an addict?” You can substitute whatever disgusting or revolting thing you might think of or any sin that you want to put into that statement. In a way you’d be saying, “Did you know what kind of life she used to live? Surely you didn’t know? why else would you have married her?”

And I say to you in response, ” Yes; yes, I know her past, I know what she has done…” You cut me off, “And you still married her?” “Yes,” I say, “I still married her.” You might respond, “But why?” I will simply say, “Because I love her and I have chosen her.”

We could take this even further in a way and we might make the discussion current… “Did you know Fr. Michael that your wife is a sinner!” Did you know that she is a drunk? Did you know that she is having an affair with someone else?” Again, I would say, “Yes, I know, I love her and I have chosen her.” “Well, why don’t you be rid of her Father?” My response might come, “Because I lover her, because I promised myself to her, because she is beautiful to me….” In other words, “You cannot shake my love for her – I will sacrifice all for her sake.”

In this analogy we begin to understand the implications of what St. Paul is saying about God’s love for us – it is demonstrated to such an extent in the sacrifice of His only Son Jesus! He has not withheld His only Son! 

There is something else here too that relates more to the transfiguration which was proclaimed to us in the gospel. For just an instant these three disciples were given a glimpse of the full identity of Jesus the Son. The veil was pulled back and they were permitted to see the Son’s true identity and glory. He is the Son! The beloved Son! But the profound truth of the matter is that in Him we are to live! Like Him we are to become, but we do this only by abiding in Him and in His love! By sacrificing for us so much – by testifying in such a profound way His fidelity for us – it is as if God is saying – “I see who you are – I see your potential – what you are meant to be! It is worth it! I will take all you sins! I will bare them if you will let me!”

Similarly, returning to my analogy (of my pet end wife), the reason I might put up with her, why I can stay faithful to her even though she is unfaithful to me, is because of the hope I have for her and how I see her. I might say to you, “You only see her sin and her shame! I see her beauty! I see her potential – who she could be, who she is becoming! It is worth the wait. It is worth the suffering if she becomes even a little of who she is meant to be or of what is within her.” In some way this is most poignient for me as a priest when I come to the truth that, in a way, I do have a spouse… “What? you say! You father?” “Yes, as a priest, who is called to act in and as Christ in the community – you (the Church) are my spouse!” I am called to serve you as Christ serves Hus bride. God is faithful to us in a profound way – what is most profound is how He is faithful to us despite us – this might be realized even in some of us despite the fact that we will never change! What God doesn’t have control over (or take control of) is whether we stay, but as long as we come back to Him He will love us and remain faithful to us! Like you, I cannot keep you here with me in the Church, you are free to leave me (to leave God really) but as long as you are here I will love you – even if you struggle to change!