Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C
May 27, 2001
Acts 7:55-60; Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20; Jn 17:20-26
1) In today’s Gospel, taken from St. John’s account of the last Supper, Jesus the Lord pours out his heart to His Father in heaven. He knew what was to happen that night and the following day and all of the physical and spiritual pains he’d have to undergo. Earlier in the night, Jesus had shown the disciples how to serve everyone by washing their feet; then he gave them all he had, given them his flesh and blood. As if this wasn’t enough, Jesus then turned and started to pray directly to the Father in front of his disciples. What we have in today’s Gospel is the culmination of that prayer. This is what Jesus, who was about to die for us, begged his Father for. Hence, if we say we love Jesus and are his disciples, we can’t just let this prayer go through one ear and out the other, without influencing in our minds, without taking over our hearts. Let’s focus on this prayer straight from his Sacred Heart.
2) “Father, I do not pray for my disciples alone. I pray too for all those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.” On that night, Jesus was pouring his heart out not just for those who were assembled with him in the Upper Room, but all those who would come to believe in Him through their word — he was, therefore, praying for us — that we would all be one, just as the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. That we would be as united as God himself. Now Jesus never would have prayed for what was IMPOSSIBLE. Moreover, the Father would never refuse the prayer of His Son. Therefore, if Jesus were praying that we be one, that we be united among ourselves as the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are united, than that must mean that is possible. The only thing that can stop it from coming about is our saying “no” to God, our refusing to desire this unity.
3) To understand more precisely what Jesus was praying for, we have to understand something about the Trinity and how we can model the triune God. We cannot be one like God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in His eternal substance, but we can be like the persons in the Holy Trinity in their relations of love toward each other. As St. John tells us, God IS LOVE, and this love unites them by will and not just by substance. Hence, Jesus’ prayer to his Father is that we be one IN LOVE, just as the Holy Trinity is one in love.
4) And there’s a very important purpose to this prayer of Jesus: he implored the Father that we might be one in love so that, as we read today, “the world may believe that you sent me … and that you loved them as you loved me.” As Jesus said elsewhere, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The greatest proof of God’s existence, the greatest missionary appeal, the greatest homily, the greatest gift we can give to the world is to manifest this LOVE of God.
5) How right Jesus is and how important it was for him to pray for this! We recognize this in our own experience. We have seen in our lifetime the love of Mother Teresa for all of God’s children, especially those who are most abandoned. Her eyes were on fire with love. I still remember her at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston in 1994. She went through the sick children’s ward, picked up an “unwanted” handicapped child, brought that child straight toward the camera and said with great love, “Jesus the Lord said whoever receives a little child in my name, receives me,” and reverently kissed that gift of God. We have seen that love in her care for maggot-infested homeless people bathing in their own urine in the gutters of Calcutta, in those with AIDS across the globe, in her care for lepers, pregnant mothers, the elderly and sick and anyone in need. She showed us Jesus by her truly being a missionary of Charity, a missionary of love.
6) On the other hand, we have also seen what happens when Christians don’t love, when they refuse to love. It drives people away from God. The greatest cause for atheism in the world is the terrible example of Christians, who are supposed to love everyone, from their neighbors to their enemies, and so seldom do. We, Christians, can be just as rude, as hypocritical, as judgmental as vengeful, hateful and spiteful as the general population, and sometimes even worse. This drives people away from the Church. One angry and mean priest can drive away thousands. But it’s not just priests. I had a kid up at Bishop Connolly High School who has not been baptized come to me to chat. He enrolled at the high school and joined a Catholic parish here in the city because he thought God was calling him to be baptized into his Church. His problem, as he told me, was that he didn’t want to become a Catholic, now, because he found Catholics so cold, so hypocritical (saying one thing and doing another), so unwelcoming. He told me I was really one of the few Catholics who had even been kind to him. How sad! What a testimony against us! If there were stranger here in this Church today, would you go out of your way to welcome that person, to make the person feel comfortable, or would you just say nothing, or worse, say to yourself, “that person’s in my pew!”?
7) Jesus prayed on the night he was betrayed that we — us, here, at Espirito Santo Parish, in 2001 — might love each other as God the Father loves God the Son and as God the Son loves God the Father. In other words, love TOTALLY. They love each other, and love us, WITH ALL THEY’VE GOT, WITH ALL THEY ARE. Love does not mean just not hating another. Love doesn’t mean just being courteous or “nice” to another. Love doesn’t mean having even great feelings of emotional affection for another, as we often think it has to, because we confuse love with attraction. We can love someone we don’t even like. This type of total love isn’t a sissy or wimpy thing either, as if only pacifists or frail old nuns would be capable of it. This love, we’re talking about, is what Jesus showed us. Love means GIVING OF OURSELVES for others, sacrificing our time, our efforts, our strengths, our concerns, even our lives, FOR OTHERS. Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Love is giving of ourselves for another. As St. John wrote in his first letter, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” This is the total love for which Jesus prayed. This is the total love of which we’re capable, provided that we say YES to God and stop making excuses for not loving.
8 ) We live in an age in which we’re often way too easy on ourselves, in which we can constantly compare ourselves to others who are living the Christian life much worse than we are, and therefore make excuses for not becoming the saints Jesus calls us to be here on earth. Jesus will make us saints — with all our frailties — he’ll make us capable of loving totally, provided that we just constantly say yes to him, say “thy will be done!,” especially and most importantly after we fall. Jesus calls us to love everyone, from our neighbors, to our enemies, from the person in front of you in the pew this afternoon, to the people who will make your life difficult this week, everyone. He said to us in the Sermon of the Mount, knowing us so well, “If you only love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Only if we love everyone, including our enemies, will we be true children of God, who himself loves everyone, including his enemies, including those who killed him, including those who choose against him in so many ways every day.
9) This love IS possible for us, provided that we say yes to Christ and allow his love to abide in us. We see this in the first reading. While he was being stoned to death — imagine what this must have felt like, while huge rocks are being thrown at you to kill you, and any word might be your last, when you’d be tempted to brace yourself for the pain — he fell to his knees and cried out to heaven in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He loved all the way, just like Christ, who when hanging hammered to the wood of the Cross, begged his Father to forgive his persecutors, “for they know not what they are doing.” Stephen loved his enemies just as the Lord did, all the way until one of them tossed the stone that killed him. We might be tempted to feel bad for St. Stephen, to feel that his love is praiseworthy, but ineffective. Hatred won that day, we’d be tempted to say. NO IT DIDN’T!! The stone-throwers were laying their cloaks at the feet of a man named Saul, who was supervising them, witnessing Stephen’s actions and his prayers. And a short time later, Stephen’s prayer was answered. The Lord did not hold this terrible sin against them, against Saul. And while Saul was on his way to Damascus, he was struck by the Lord, who asked “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Stephen’s prayers, his real love, for Saul and the others, led to the converstion of Saul into Paul, the greatest preacher and proclaimer of the Gospel the Church has ever had. So if any of us is EVER tempted to say, “What good is my being loving to these hateful people, to these ingrates, to these people we encounter?” no matter what the situation, think back that our real love, our prayers for our enemies, our forgiving of our enemies, can and always does lead to unbelievable and truly amazing things. One action of real love, no matter how insignificant, can change all of human history, just like Mary’s yes out of love to God in the Annunciation, just like Christ’s on the Cross, just like St. Stephen’s.
10) “Come, Lord Jesus!” These words from today’s second reading are the last words spoken of in Sacred Scripture. “Come, Lord Jesus!” It’s a prayer for him not just to come at the end of time, but for him to come right now and fill us with himself, to give us his heart so that we might love Him and others with it. This ability to love to which we’re called is above our natural abilities, but he can make us capable of it, as he says in the Gospel today to the Father, that “your love for me may live in them, and I may live in them.” If we ever have the privilege of his admitting us into his eternal kingdom of heaven,” we will then love fully and totally in that everlasting kingdom of love. But he calls us to live that heaven here on earth. And if we’re not willing to beg him to come into us so that we can indeed love with that total self-giving love with which he loved us and called us to love in return, we’re probably not fit for heaven, because this is what defines heaven.
11) At this holy Mass, Jesus does the same thing with us as he did with the disciples in the upper room. After he feeds us with his body and blood, he, through the priest, turns to the Father and prays, “Father…, strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth… [and] … in mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be.” And at the end of the Mass, when he blesses us just as he blessed his disciples before ascending into heaven, he will send us all out as missionaries of love, “Go in my peace, to LOVE and to serve the Lord.” May we through this unbelievable encounter with the Lord in this Mass, be lit on fire with love as say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” into every aspect of our lives and bring that Lord Jesus and his love to everyone we encounter, so that they, in seeing us and our love, may see the God who of love within.