Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church
April 29, 2016
Acts 15:22-31, Ps 57, Jn 15:12-17
To listen to an audio recording of this homily please click here:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Throughout this 15th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, recounting what Jesus said during the Last Supper, Jesus has been focusing on the type of communion he came into the world to bring about, communion with him and with others. He began with the image of the Vine and the Branches. Yesterday and today he has focused on how that ontological union with him (brought about by the sacraments) is meant to lead into a moral union, a union based on communion in his love.
- Yesterday he said the most important words ever uttered, that just as God the Father loves him, so he loves each of us individually. He calls us to remain in that love, to hunger for it, to choose it, and tells us the means by which we will is through keeping his commandments, the commandments that precisely train us to love God and love others. All the love and the prophets, all the commandments in other words, hang on the two-fold imperative to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And he tells us that remaining in his love in this way is the path to true and unending happiness, so that Jesus’ joy may be in us and our joy complete.
- Today he specifies more clearly what his commandment is in which we are supposed to abide. He gives us “his” commandment, which he also calls “new.” It’s the summary of the Christian moral life. “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus loves us, he told us yesterday, as much as the Father loves him, which is a total, self-sacrificial love to the extreme. Jesus didn’t call us to love him as he loved us, but to love others at the level of total self-sacrificial love. Jesus teaches us this same truth after the resurrection when he gives St. Peter three times to reconstitute his fidelity after his three fold denial. Jesus asks three times whether he loves him more than everything else and three times Peter replies that he does. Jesus, in response to each, doesn’t stop there in mutual love. He says, “Feed my sheep.” “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” Peter’s love for Jesus would be shown in how he cares for those Christ has entrusted to him, both old (sheep) as well as young or vulnerable (lambs). And Jesus told Peter, using a euphemism for crucifixion, that when he would grow old, he would love the Lord and others in imitation of Christ. It’s the same way with all of us. Our love for the Lord will be shown by our love for others and not just by any old feelings of sympathy, but by our willingness to give our lives for others, which begins with giving our time, using our talents, and willingly putting others’ lives above our own. Two years ago, when this Gospel came up at daily Mass, Pope Francis made this point: “Jesus says something remarkable to us: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ Love always takes this path: to give one’s life. To live life as a gift, a gift to be given — not a treasure to be stored away. And Jesus lived it in this manner, as a gift. … We must not burn out life with selfishness.”
- Jesus tells us today that he has chosen us, he has given us the vocation, precisely to love in this way. “I have chosen you and appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last.” The way we bear fruit is by attaching ourselves to Jesus the Vine, by uniting ourselves with him who is the Grain of Wheat as he falls to the ground in loving sacrifice (Jn 12:24). And once we’re united in this way, we’re able to ask God the Father for anything and he’ll do it, because we will not be praying things apart from God and his will, but asking precisely in a total communion with Jesus’ salvific aims for us and others.
- This communion in love is the proper way to understand today’s first reading as well. They weren’t going to concern the Gentile converts with all 613 precepts of the Old Covenant, but wanted them to be focused on the new commandment of the New Covenant. They gave them only three restrictions, each meant to help them remain in God’s love: to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols so that they wouldn’t scandalize others, which would be contrary to love of neighbor; from blood, which was a sign of life and take the place of God as Lord of life, which would again be a scandal and a lack of reverence for God; and from porneia, which is far more than unlawful marriage, but all sexual sin, which corrupts our capacity to love like God when we become takers rather than givers, consumers rather than servants, predators rather than protectors.
- The saint we celebrate today also focuses us on the love of neighbor. She was one who from a young age had a deep loving relationship with God. When she was six she had a remarkable mystical experience: looking up into the sky, she beheld the Lord seated in glory with St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John. Jesus looked upon her, smiled at her, extended his hand toward her and blessed her. From that point she was in a special way his and sought to live by prayer despite the various sufferings caused by her family for her not wanting to be like her many siblings or other children her age. She began to have interior dialogues with God, dwelled in a “cell” within her family home, and spent her formative years cut off in a sense from the world to be with God. She was mystically wed to him, with the Lord’s placing a ring on her finger invisible to everyone except her but one that would leave a mark finally visible to all upon her death.
- But all of that would communion with God as a branch on the Vine would fructify in love of neighbor. God told her one day, “I desire to become more closely united with you through charity toward your neighbor,” and so the Lord began to manifest himself to her in this way. She went out to care for all the sick in hospitals or on the streets due to normal illness and the epidemic of the plague. She visited prisons and ministered in a special way to those who were on death row. She went to towns that had lost their faith to try to bring about religious revivals. She began to become a spiritual director and mother to many. She went on missions to try to bring the Pope back from Avignon to Rome, which succeeded. After the Pope returned to Rome, she sought by her letters to bring everyone into union and continued to serve the poor in Rome. Her love for God was shown through her becoming “more closely united with [him] through charity toward [her] neighbor.” And so it will always be for us. The Lord commands us to love our neighbor because it is through the expansion of charity, through a union of wills with him for others, that we grow in love for him.
- St. Catherine was strengthened in the love of God and loving her neighbor as Christ lived her through her intensely Eucharist life. For the last many years of her life she lived literally only on the nourishment she received in the Eucharist, eating nothing else. She drew her life from her union with Jesus in the Eucharist and discovered that that was a source of endless dynamism, the dynamism that united herself to him in charity. Today as we prepare to receive the same Lord Jesus, he says to us, “I desire to become more closely united to you through charity toward your neighbor” and “do this in memory of me.”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
decided to choose representatives
and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.
The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas,
and Silas, leaders among the brothers.
This is the letter delivered by them:
“The Apostles and the presbyters, your brothers,
to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia
of Gentile origin: greetings.
Since we have heard that some of our number
who went out without any mandate from us
have upset you with their teachings
and disturbed your peace of mind,
we have with one accord decided to choose representatives
and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So we are sending Judas and Silas
who will also convey this same message by word of mouth:
‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us
not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities,
namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols,
from blood, from meats of strangled animals,
and from unlawful marriage.
If you keep free of these,
you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’”
Upon their arrival in Antioch
they called the assembly together and delivered the letter.
When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation.
PS 57:8-9, 10 AND 12
My heart is steadfast, O God; my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and chant praise.
Awake, O my soul; awake, lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn.
R. I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord.
I will give thanks to you among the peoples, O LORD,
I will chant your praise among the nations.
For your mercy towers to the heavens,
and your faithfulness to the skies.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
above all the earth be your glory!
R. I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord.
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”