Sixth Sunday of Easter by Fr. Gerard Jonas

Homily of 6 May 2018

Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I have previously shared how my elder sister died on my seventh birthday. This passage reminds me of the circumstances of her death. One Saturday afternoon in early February of 1971, my sister and I went to our friends’ house and I noticed that their dog was running around the house. What I did not know was that it was being chased by another dog. As I tried to stop our friends’ dog, the other dog leaped to attack me. In a split second, my sister pulled me away and the dog landed on her. Its front paws scraped her face before it scampered off. A month later my sister died of rabies. She never became rabid, she simply quietly and serenely slipped into God’s loving embrace in eternity. With only scratches she was never given the anti-rabies shots unlike the other dozen or so kids who were actually bitten by the same mad-dog that terrorized our rather tranquil neighborhood in the military training base. In my young heart I knew that she shielded me from harm even if it meant harm to herself. In my young heart I learned to appreciate what the Lord meant in saying, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

This is part of the Lord’s farewell discourse during the Last Supper, after washing the disciples’ feet, as John writes, Jesus talks about what love is, why we love, how we should love and the fruits of love. Jesus invites us to enter into the power, the presence and the perfection of love.

Love is the fundamental relationship within the Triune God. Jesus enables and empowers us to enter and join in this divine dynamic. “As the Father loves me, so I love you. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…”.  Jesus sums up all the commandments into just two, “To love God and to love one another as he loves us.” How do we love? Truly God loves us and he also loves us through others. Having called us beyond the “master-servant” relationship into love as friends, Jesus tells us that there is “no greater love, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” What little girl would bravely face up a mad dog, if only to protect a kid brother? We are empowered by love to do things for the beloved. Indeed, love impels to action, even to the point of giving up everything for the beloved. Just as Jesus did.

We love by our presence. The Lord gives us a mandate to love. Love here is not just a feeling or emotion. It is a commitment to be there for the beloved. His love for us brought Jesus not only to the cross but well into the resurrection, so we too may love through all what it takes to be with and for the beloved. To love is to remain in the relationship. Love knows no boundaries. In the first reading we hear how Peter, the head of the Apostles, brought and recognized God’s presence into the pagan household of Cornelius and his community. Indeed, he said, “God shows no partiality.”

Love brings us to perfection. To remain in God’s love is to enter into God’s joy. Our external milieu may not change, but our internal joy reinterprets everything around us. There is resurrection in death, in what seems to only be dark and bleak. Joy comes to the recipient as it comes to the giver. It is love that perfects our humanity. This negates our common lame reasoning that we fail because we are only human. It is our lower instinct and prevailing cultures that make excuses for outbursts of anger and hatred. It is more human to love. In our deepest core it is love that we seek and want to express because God loved us first. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.”

“God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” The Lord reveals in word and action: “I have called you friends, … I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Furthermore, in his first letter, John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”

Let us know God and allow him to nurture our mind and heart. We have heard how it is said, “Sow a thought, reap a deed; sow a deed, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. And it all begins with what and how we feed our mind and heart.”

How my sister at a tender age of 8 and a half years managed to do what she did that saved me is a good question that may baffle some. But what I know is that she loved. She was full of love having just received her First Communion. The Lord had fed her mind and heart that brought out that power, presence and perfection of love in her. I know my sister knows God, for she loved with her whole life.

I am forever grateful to my big sister Maria Jean that I am still around and am now a monk here at Mepkin.

But what is that in comparison to what Jesus did and does to assure that I may be with Him and the Father for all eternity?