Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Daniel the Prophet Parish, Scottsdale, Arizona
Sixth Sunday of Easter, C
May 1, 2016
Acts 15:1-2.22-29, Ps 67, Rev 21:10-14.22-23, Jn 14:23-29
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided today’s homily:
The Path Jesus Indicates
Throughout the Sundays of the Easter Season, the Church has us focus on how Jesus intends us to share in the newness of life that comes from our communion with Him risen from the dead. In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks to us about two things he died and rose from the dead to give us: love and peace. Our hearts were made for love and for peace, and will remain restless until we have them. But love and peace are not things that we can just wish into existence. No matter how many songs and poems we write about them, or talk and dream about them, they are realities that cannot be conjured or fabricated. We will not truly experience them until we follow the means Jesus describes in the Gospel. He who is the Prince of Peace and who is Love personified told us that the pathway to obtain either is to keep his commandments. Today we will examine why.
The Commandments and Love
About love, Jesus tells us today in the Gospel, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Love is not a feeling, Jesus says, but an action: to keep his word. He expanded upon this thought later in the same Last Supper discourse, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. … You are my friends if you do what I command you.… I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (cf Jn 15). This link between love and the commandments is something that many in the world — even in the Church — have forgotten, because so often we look at the commandments as burdens, as onerous duties, rather than as a tremendous divine gift to help us grow in love. Once when a lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus replied by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he added something that we should never forget: “On these two hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:35-40). In other words, each of the commandments is an explicitation of how to love God and love neighbor. Unless we keep the commandments, we won’t be loving God and neighbor. This is something we readily see when we look at the Decalogue. How could we really love God if he’s not first in our lives, if we’re worshipping gods of our own making like money, or power, or pleasure? If we’re using his holy name as a throwaway expression or a curse word? If we think there’s something more important to do on the Lord’s day than spend time with him here in Church, worshipping him and receiving him? How can we really love our parents if we’re dishonoring them? Or love others if we’re hating, hurting or killing them, or stealing from them, or lying to them, or being unfaithful to them, or taking advantage of them for sexual gratification, or coveting the beautiful relationships or material blessings they have? We’re not loving God or neighbor if we’re failing to keep the commandment in their regard, which is why the commandments are the guides God has given us to train us to love him and love others, and we should always be grateful for them.
The Commandments and Peace
There is a similar link between keeping the Lord’s commandments and genuine peace, in our hearts or in the world. On the heels of what Jesus said about love, he then says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” The peace Jesus came from heaven to earth to give us and leave with us is peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins. To experience that peace, we have to keep God’s commandments, because breaking the commandments — sinning — is what alienates us from that peace, something about which a well-trained conscience will always alert us. Peace in the world, moreover, will only come about if we have this type of peace in our hearts through keeping the commandments. This is a point that is less obvious than it should be, but just think what our world — from our families, to our schools, to our communities, to our nation, to the international community — would be like if we all just minimally kept the Ten Commandments. Everyone would center his or her life on God. People would come together to worship God. There would be no swearing. Parents and children would honor each other. There would be no hatred or murder. No broken families. No cheating. No robbery. No lying. No personal or class envy. We know that that would be a world far more peaceful than this. John Lennon was exactly wrong about the path to peace when he crooned, “Imagine there’s no heaven… No hell below us … there’s no countries … no religion too, Imagine all the people living life in peace… You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.” Peace, he argued, will come when there’s no God, when there’s no heaven or hell, when there’s no right or wrong, when there’s no ultimate justice or injustice, when there’s no religion, when there is no morality. Yes, indeed, we can all say that he’s a dreamer and his dream would unintentionally provoke a nightmare, as we saw in the communist countries of last century that sought to ban God, religion, heaven and hell, obliterate national boundaries and more. In contrast to “Imagine,” Christians have often sung, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” If we want peace on earth, Jesus tells us it begins not with John Lennon’s imaginary utopia, but concretely with your and my keeping the commandments.
Our Spiritual Upgrade
This is a counter-cultural message today, in which many people, including so many Catholics, profess to be “spiritual” but not “religious.” Those who are spiritual at their best seek to be good people who believe in God, who try to pray, why try to do no harm to their neighbors and avoid evil. But, basically, what defines those who are “spiritual” is that basically they structure their relationship with the Lord they way they think is best, the way they want to. The difference with those who are religious is that religious people, at their best, seek to worship the Lord not according to their own preferences, but according to what they believe God has revealed as his preferences. If God said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” that’s what they seek to do, to love according to Jesus’ high standard. If God said, referring to the Mass, “Do this in memory of me,” they come. If God set up the Sacrament of Penance as the means by which to forgive our sins, that’s the means they employ. Jesus came into our world to help us upgrade from being spiritual to being authentically religious, to help us to “worship in spirit and in truth,” to show us the sure way to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as he has loved them. And he didn’t die for us and teach us so much just to leave us with some “suggestions” about how we might improve. Out of love for us, he described what he wanted and expected of us as commandments and told us that if we are his friends, we will remain in his word and keep them. St. John wrote in his first letter to the early Christians, “Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: Whoever says, ‘I abide in him,’ ought to walk just as he walked.” In calling us to follow him by obeying the commandments just as Jesus obeyed the Father, Jesus is trying to help us walk just as he walked.
Why, then, do so many in the world and even in the Church fail to see this clear connection between love, peace, friendship with Jesus and keeping God’s commandments? I think it’s because we have a false notion of freedom, one that makes us look at the commandments as something that enslaves us rather than liberates us. Many of us think that to be free means to do whatever we want, to be able to call the shots, to be in control, to be totally unrestrained by anything outside of us, even the truth, even God. We view the commandments as limits to our freedom, because they impel us to do things that perhaps we might not want to do. But this type of freedom is an idolatry of the self. It’s based on pretending that we’re God, that we’re the ones in charge, that we’re the ones who know what is best for us, rather than God. The real notion of freedom is not to do whatever we want to do, but to do what we ought to do, to do what we’ve been made to do, namely to love God and love others without shackles. Jesus pointed to this when he linked freedom to the truth: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The only way to be free is to live in the truth of how God made us, which he indicates to us by the commandments. The Ten Commandments are like God’s instruction manual on the path to perfection as a human being, to achieve the purpose for which he created us. To find love, peace and happiness, we need to acknowledge and follow what God has “programmed” into our hearts, the code he has placed into the DNA of a rightly-formed conscience, and reiterated in the clearest way possible in giving us the commandments.
The Way God Imparts Mercy
In this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, it’s important for us to reflect more deeply on what Jesus did in the Gospel when he looked upon the vast crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd. St. Mark tells us, “His heart was moved with pity for them” and “he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34). He didn’t say to the crowd, “Do whatever you want to do!” He didn’t say, “You don’t need a shepherd to guide you, just have fun!” He taught them many things about God, about themselves, about the path to true happiness. In his mercy, Jesus teaches us, too. He teaches us the truth that makes us free, about the commandments that train us to love like him, and that leads us to peace. Jesus said to St. Faustina, “Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mercy.” And turning with trust means not only that we open ourselves up to his forgiveness, but also that we recognize that his teaching is the way by which he mercifully leads us away from sin and toward God and toward genuine love of our neighbor. We prayed in the Psalm today, “My God have pity on us and bless us; may he let his face shine upon us,” and then we pray, “So may your way be known upon earth; among all nations your salvation!” God has mercy on us in showing us his way, by teaching us his commandments, so that all of us may know his salvation!”
The Means God Sends to our Aid
But we need to confront one last matter. These truths are very beautiful and we know that, basically, everyone wants true love and deep lasting peace. Why then do our hearts, our homes and our world so often fail to do the straightforward things God has revealed to us? The answer is that to keep the commandments, as God calls us to do, is not always easy. Because of original sin and our personal sins, our ability to know what God wants us to do is somewhat darkened and our will to choose to do that right thing is weakened. Because Jesus knows this and loves us, however, he did not leave us without help. He describes that help in today’s Gospel: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit — God himself — will help us, first, to know what we need to do and, secondly, will help us to do it. Listen to what Jesus says: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Later, Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13). The Holy Spirit will help us to know the truth by which God wants us to live — by reminding us of what Jesus told us, by teaching us everything and by guiding us into all truth — and in grace, he will give us the help to act on it.
We see these truths at work in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. There was dissension in the early Church between the Jewish and Gentile converts to the faith. The Jewish Christians said that the Gentiles first needed to be good Jews before they could be good Christians. The men, therefore, needed to be circumcised and keep everyone needed to keep the Jewish dietary laws, washing rituals, etc. So Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to converse with all the apostles and priests about this delicate matter of theology and anatomy. Jesus hadn’t given them explicit instructions on the subject; as he himself had said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” That’s why he promised the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth by reminding them of what he had said and applying it to various circumstances that would come up. The Holy Spirit guided them in their discernment in that first Church Council. They sent their answer to the Antiochene Christians: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us and of us not to burden you 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.” They gave them three things that would prevent the short-circuiting of their growth toward Christian love and peace: first pride, shown in playing the Lord of life and death in eating animals with the life-blood still in them; second scandal, the worst sin against neighbor, shown in eating the meat sacrificed to pagan gods that Jews would deem as having communion with false worship; and third, lust, porneia, which is the exact opposite of love, which rather than sacrificing oneself for a beloved leads one to sacrifice another for one’s pleasure. The Holy Spirit had guided them to the right answer in the right context — and gave the Christians in Antioch the grace to follow what He decided.
The Holy Spirit continues to act in the Church in this way, reminding us of what Jesus said, leading us into all truth, and giving us the grace to keep what God wants us to do. There are so many things that Jesus didn’t say to us during his earthly life, because the first apostles couldn’t handle them at the time. But the Holy Spirit has led Christ’s Body the Church to those particulars in our time. Jesus didn’t talk to the first disciples about why manufacturing human beings in a test tube (in vitro fertilization) is wrong — they wouldn’t have had an idea of what he was talking about — but the Holy Spirit has clearly led the Church he founded to this conclusion, which we must follow if we want to please God and find his love and his peace. Christ didn’t tell the apostles that it was wrong to drop bomb on innocent civilians — they didn’t even have guns at the time — but the Holy Spirit has led the Church to this teaching of the faith. Jesus didn’t say we shouldn’t pollute or drop toxic waste in our water supplies, but the Church has been clear about the need for us to care for our common home. There are so many other truths that the Jesus didn’t explicitly mention to which the Holy Spirit over the centuries has guided the Church — torture, terrorism, genocide, cloning, abortion, surrogate motherhood, contraception,— and, to live in Christ’s love and peace, to live in a true friendship with him, we need to respond to the grace of the Holy Spirit to live according to what the Spirit continues to teach us through the Church.
God’s Abiding Presence
The Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to send to us will soon come down upon the gifts of bread and wine, to change them into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. In the Eucharist, we receive our spiritual nourishment for the battles of life. We take within the Prince of Peace. We consume the summit of God’s love, Christ’s body and blood shed for us. We enter into the deepest possible intimacy any two friends can have. God the Father and God the Son come to make their dwelling place with us. We become one with Mercy Incarnate. As we faithfully follow the Lord Jesus’ command to do this in memory of him, we ask him to send the Holy Spirit upon us anew, that we may be strengthened — and others may be strengthened through us — to keep all of his commandments in genuine freedom and thereby experience in this world and the next the peace and the love He died to give us.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 ACTS 15:1-2, 22-29
“Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,
you cannot be saved.”
Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders
about this question.The apostles and elders, in agreement with the whole church,
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 elders, 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.’”
Responsorial Psalm PS 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
Reading 2 REV 21:10-14, 22-23
The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God.
It gleamed with the splendor of God.
Its radiance was like that of a precious stone,
like jasper, clear as crystal.
It had a massive, high wall,
with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed
and on which names were inscribed,
the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites.
There were three gates facing east,
three north, three south, and three west.
The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation,
on which were inscribed the twelve names
of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
I saw no temple in the city
for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.
The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gave it light,
and its lamp was the Lamb.
Alleluia JN 14:23
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord,
and my Father will love him and we will come to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 14:23-29
“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,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me tell you,
‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’
If you loved me,
you would rejoice that I am going to the Father;
for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.”