May 9, 2015

6th Sunday of Easter - Love on a higher level

The late Indian spiritual master Anthony de Mello tells the story about an eagle that was hatched and reared with chickens. The young eagle did what chickens do – scratched the earth, clucked and cackled, he flew, only a little now and then a few feet in the air. One day, when the eagle was very old, he saw a magnificent bird gliding in the sky.  “Who’s that?” he asked.  “That’s an eagle, king of the birds, he belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth – we’re chickens.” So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was. 

Why is that story important? Because it offers us a good illustration, almost a parable, of what we are called to by Jesus - to not be content with simply the lowest but to reach and soar for the highest potential of moral virtue. In a sense we might humorously but pointedly remark that we are not called to be chickens but to ascend like the eagles. In that way we become not only lovers of him but in like manner we become a society of friends bound by this kind of love. Our goal, if we choose to achieve it, is ultimately to become saints which, granted, is not an easy task. But the moral teaching of Jesus about forgiveness, compassion, and mercy is indeed lofty.

Eighteen times in our Sunday readings the word “love” is mentioned.  On this Mother’s Day weekend, by chance, there is probably no more appropriate theme than that of love. When we think of the relationship between a child and their Mother and certainly their Father as well, it would be that marked by love.  We may not all feel that we had the best of Mother’s or the most perfect of Father’s but the self-sacrificing character of so many parents for their children is ultimately motivated by love.

Still, there is something deeper here that we hear in our Gospel by John.  Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” And our second reading, also from John, supports this further: “Let us love one another, because love is of God . . . not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” We might feel there is nearly a kind of love fest going on between the Father, the Son, the Spirit and us; and in fact there is.

What sort of love is this? It is a love marked by action.  The Father sent the Son and the Son sends us but we are not simply sent away, we are sent as members of a family. If we are to fly like the eagles, reach for the highest moral standard that Jesus sets for us then our love must be active not passive.  Love in deeds is far more effective than love in words only. It’s also far more risky. In other words, as Pope Francis recently remarked, love is “concrete.”  It goes beyond mere infatuation or physical attraction.  It has too otherwise Jesus isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know. So we think of compassion for the suffering.  How often did Jesus show that as he responded to the suffering of others? 

The man who was blind, the social and physical suffering of lepers, the woman shamed by her adulterous action, the single mother whose only son had died, the paralytic let down before him who could neither walk or talk, and so many other examples confirm that Jesus is speaking about a love of compassion - a love of action.

And with the Gospel this Sunday we see a continuation of last week’s image about the vine and the branches.  The life which flows into us as branches on the vine of Christ is the same life he shares with his Father: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” And the fruit we bear is a product of how we have been loved. 

So it’s far more than what we hear in song or see in movies or on TV.  That is most often about physical attraction and quite frankly, lust not love.  It’s all about me and you.  Jesus calls us away from that kind of self-centered satisfaction and to soar to the higher sky of moral virtue. 

In our Gospel he also reminds us that we have been changed because of the way he has loved us.  We are no longer “slaves” but now “friends.”  The highest form of friendship is that of agape. That the love of God creates a bond between us in which we see the essence of what Church is called to be – a group that creates a community between its members not as a kind of Christian clique or closed society with certain secrets that only members know.

But, as we see in our first reading from Acts a group that invites and includes. For Peter and for all the Apostles, thoroughly Jewish in their thoughts and perceptions, the inclusion of non-Jews, the Gentiles, was an astounding happening.  The Covenant born through Abraham and Moses now includes all and not just a select group.  Thus, the Church takes on a very “Catholic” characteristic. 

We might logically ask, finally, does that mean that I must love those who do evil?  Love those who have no good intentions towards others and knowingly and consciously seek to destroy? 

We always love the person but hate the sin of course.  But, in the end love must conquer evil.  And some evil is so dangerous it must be stopped.  Often it might be a certain evil I find in myself, sin that seeks to weigh me down and pull me away from God, or something far more of a threat to peace and stability.  Love in action names the evil I see and seeks to overcome it.  God’s grace is far stronger.

As we celebrate Eucharist we see love in action for the assembly gathered in prayer and worship is unique.  Here it is our reception of Communion which creates a community of believers born of love and called to “glorify God by our lives” lived in communion with others.

So, soar like the eagles by living out the higher level of goodness that Jesus calls each and every one of us to do.

May our prayers rise up to you, O Lord, 
together with the sacrificial offerings,
so that purified by your graciousness,
we may be conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love. 
through Christ our Lord. 

(Prayer over the Offerings)