The Necessary Condition to Receive God’s Unconditional Love, 5th Monday of Easter, May 15, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Isidore the Farmer
May 15, 2017
Acts 14:5-18, Ps 115, Jn 14:21-26

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today Jesus says something to us very surprising. He almost seems to make God’s love for us conditioned on our loving him first. “Whoever loves me” by keeping my commandments, Jesus says, “will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” Later, he reiterates, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” Is God’s love for us conditional in this way? The answer to the question is an emphatic no. St. John tells us in his first letter, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans that God showed how much he loved us when we were absolutely not keeping his commandments. “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). The Father never stops loving the loving his prodigal children. If Jesus called us to love our enemies, he was modeling us precisely on God’s love, who “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45).
  • If God loves us unconditionally, if God loves us even before we keep his commandments and his word, then how do we understand today’s Gospel? Jesus is saying that we will experience the love of God far more when we open ourselves up to it precisely through receiving and reciprocating it, through overcoming our own self-centeredness and freely, willingly, and wholeheartedly sacrificing ourselves out of love for God, through trusting in him to keep his commandments and word that train us how to love like God loves and become more and more like God. Pope Francis likes to use the analogy of the human heart with its systolic and diastolic functions: if it’s not pumping out blood, it’s dead and incapable of receiving blood within. So if our heart is hardened toward the love of God and neighbor, which is the two-fold principle on the basis of which everything in the law and prophets depends (Mt 22:40), then we cannot receive the constant and unconditional love of God. Pope Benedict used to say, love is idem volle, idem nolle, wanting the same things and rejecting the same things. The more we want what God wants and reject what God rejects, the more we will open ourselves up to receive the full outpouring of his love.
  • What do we need to grow in this capacity to love God and receive the love he has for us from before the foundation of the world? Today we can focus on four things.
  • The first is the humility that makes us love God more than we love ourselves and seek God’s glory rather than our own. After the healing of the crippled man in Lystra, the people began to treat Paul and Barnabas as Hermes and Zeus respectively and wanted to sacrifice animals to them as if they were incarnate gods rather than emissaries of the Word-made-flesh. It would have been somewhat tempting for the two of them, after the sufferings of walking through the swamps of Perga and Pamphylia and ascending the dangerous cliff to Antioch in Pisidia, after they had been driven out of Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium, for them to have basked for a little while in people who were so grateful they were divinizing them. But Paul and Barnabas were coming not to get adulation but to help people love and adore the one true God. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory!,” we prayed in the Psalm, and that’s what they lived. They immediately sought to help bring the people to open themselves up to the greater love of God than they had experienced up until then through “heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them,” through the “rains from heaven and fruitful seasons,” through the “nourishment and gladness for your hearts.” But as we’ll see tomorrow, most of the people of Lystra didn’t really want to keep the Lord’s commandments, to live by his word, and enter into the way he wanted to love them. They wanted to adore gods of their own making. And when Paul and Barnabas, despite the miracle they had just worked, insistently called them through that miracle to worship the God who had accomplished it through them, they would rise up and kill Paul, stoning him to death, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s first reading, until the first Christians through their prayer raised him from the dead. The Lystrians didn’t have the humility to worship God as God wanted to be adored, they didn’t want to enter into the love of the Covenant on God’s terms. Paul and Barnabas were humble enough to do so, however, because they didn’t want to be gods but to glorify God through their own decrease so that He might increase.
  • The second thing we need is suffering, which prunes us to love God more. On Wednesday, we will hear Jesus’ giving us the Parable of the Vine and the Branches. Jesus says about his Father, “He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” We see how God was pruning Saints Paul and Barnabas today. St. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, “There was an attempt in Iconium by both the Gentiles and the Jews, together with their leaders, to attack and stone Paul and Barnabas.” We see earlier in Acts that they were likewise run out of Antioch in Pisidia. Tomorrow we’ll see that the very same people who were trying to sacrifice oxen for them will stone Paul to death before the nascent Church there surrounded up and prayed for his resuscitation. In all of these sufferings and contradictions, God was helping them better to live in his love. Jesus tomorrow will describe even his own sufferings, his own pruning, that would happen to him on Good Friday as a means to show the world  that “I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.” Our vicissitudes are an opportunity for us to live entirely on the love of God and for the love of God, by doing his will even when it’s hard and thereby giving a tremendous example of love for the world. We grow in love that way.
  • The third means we have to grow in receiving and reciprocating God’s love is through our work. Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Isidore the Farmer, the patron saint of those who till the soil and the efforts of the Church to proclaim the Gospel out in the countrysides. He died in 1130, famous for the way he sanctified his work, humbly seeking to glorify God through his labor, something for which he suffered a great deal from the hands of his fellow field laborers. St. Isidore began his day with prayer and Mass and then turned the fields into a sanctuary, praying while he worked. Many were inspired by him, but he, too, was opposed. Once when his fellow laborers got tired of his getting to work after Mass, even though he would work longer than they and be more productive, his boss came to investigate. He saw, somewhat miraculously, that Isidore’s guardian angel was plowing right beside him. Isidore knew he wasn’t working alone. He teaches us all something very important. Not only do we accomplish far more in our work when we seek to unite it to the Lord, but we also are able through our work to bring others to God, both through our explicit conversations, invitations and example, but also through the way we work differently from all the rest, treating our work as a divine encounter rather than simply a toilsome means to earn a paycheck. Isidore worked in the love of God and for the love of God. Insofar as we spend at least a third of each day working — sometimes much more — the more we can turn our work into a collaborative effort with God, the more we open ourselves up to the presence of God who loves us constantly, the more we will receive God’s love and have it impact our work and our fellow workers.
  • The fourth and last means is the most important. It’s by the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s love poured into our heart (Rom 5:5). Jesus tells us at the end of today’s Gospel, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” The Holy Spirit will teach us how to receive God’s love by helping us to remember what Jesus taught and put it into practice with passion, will help us to love God and our neighbor with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. He was the great teacher of Saints Paul and Barnabas, the instructor of the martyrs, the guide of virgins, and the source of courage, love and peace in every age. He opens us to receive the love of God and to reciprocate it as much loved sons and daughters. He helps us to remain in God’s love as Jesus will command us later in the week.
  • As we begin our day the way St. Isidore would begin his, at Mass, we ask through his intercession that we may be inspired to sanctify all the work that the Lord has given us to do today, especially that most important work of spreading the Gospel through our letting God’s unconditional love for us overflow into unconditional love for others, fulfilling the commands God gives us. It’s here at Mass that we hear God’s word and observe his commandment to “do this in memory of him,” not merely bringing into time Christ’s eternal sacrifice from the Upper Room and Calvary, but humbly sacrificing ourselves along with Christ. And as we do this, we open ourselves up to receive God’s response, as Father and Son — and with them the Holy Spirit — come to make their dwelling place within us, so that we, like St. Isidore, may live in Holy Communion with them and with each other.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ACTS 14:5-18

There was an attempt in Iconium
by both the Gentiles and the Jews,
together with their leaders,
to attack and stone Paul and Barnabas.
They realized it,
and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe
and to the surrounding countryside,
where they continued to proclaim the Good News.
At Lystra there was a crippled man, lame from birth,
who had never walked.
He listened to Paul speaking, who looked intently at him,
saw that he had the faith to be healed,
and called out in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet.”
He jumped up and began to walk about.
When the crowds saw what Paul had done,
they cried out in Lycaonian,
“The gods have come down to us in human form.”
They called Barnabas “Zeus” and Paul “Hermes,”
because he was the chief speaker.
And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city,
brought oxen and garlands to the gates,
for he together with the people intended to offer sacrifice.
The Apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their garments
when they heard this and rushed out into the crowd, shouting,
“Men, why are you doing this?
We are of the same nature as you, human beings.
We proclaim to you good news
that you should turn from these idols to the living God,
who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them.
In past generations he allowed all Gentiles to go their own ways;
yet, in bestowing his goodness,
he did not leave himself without witness,
for he gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons,
and filled you with nourishment and gladness for your hearts.”
Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds
from offering sacrifice to them.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 115:1-2, 3-4, 15-16

R. (1ab) Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give the glory.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Not to us, O LORD, not to us
but to your name give glory
because of your mercy, because of your truth.
Why should the pagans say,
“Where is their God?”
R. Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give the glory.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Our God is in heaven;
whatever he wills, he does.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the handiwork of men.
R. Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give the glory.
or:
R. Alleluia.
May you be blessed by the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
Heaven is the heaven of the LORD,
but the earth he has given to the children of men.
R. Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give the glory.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Gospel
JN 14:21-26

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him,
“Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us
and not to the world?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.“
I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit
whom the Father will send in my name
he will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.”