Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Memorial of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich
May 8, 2015
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: 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 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.
- We learn how to love like Christ in the school of love that is the Mass, as Jesus gives himself totally to us on the altar and tells us, “Do this in memory of me!” This is where receive each day his total love and are made capable, from the inside out, of loving others as he has loved us, because we’re loving others as he loves them through us.
- Today we celebrate for the first time the feast day of someone who lived in Christ’s love, who loved others, and who bore fruit that has lasted for eternity, someone geographically very close to us, Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich. Despite her desire to enter religious life out of high school, not to mention her genius that led many to try to persuade her to go to college, she readily forsook both in order to first care full time for her mother, who by that point was an invalid. It was only after her mother’s death from influenza that she responded to the advice of her family members to continue her education. After her college success, she decided to take a teaching position that would allow her to care for her widowed father. Her home remained “ruled by love,” as she faithfully fulfilled the Fourth Commandment. To fulfill the Lord’s will to love others as he commanded and helps us to do was the whole point of her life. “The saints did but one thing,” she wrote, “the will of God. But they did it with all their might. We have only to do the same thing.” And she did love with all her might. She grasped that she couldn’t become a saint on the cheap, but needed to lay down her life. “The reason we have not yet become saints,” she wrote in the series of Conferences she wrote for the priest preaching to her fellow sisters, “is because we have not understood what it means to love. We think we do, but we do not. To love means to annihilate oneself for the beloved. The self-sacrifice of a mother for her child is only a shadow of the love wherewith we should love the Beloved of our soul. To love is to conform oneself to the Beloved in the most intimate manner of which we are capable.” Blessed Miriam Teresa wasn’t afraid to suffer or to die, because she knew that it was only through conforming herself to Christ’s passion and death, to his self-sacrificial love, that she would taste the fullness of his life. The way she learned how to love to the full was each day at Mass. She wrote, “In partaking of the Blessed Sacrament,” she said, “we have a most powerful aid to sanctification. God Himself comes to perfect us, if we but so will.” She did will it and is interceding for us to respond to Jesus’ “greater love” given to us daily on the altar and do the same.
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.”