In good times and in bad times

by f. Luis Casasús, General Superior of the Idente missionaries.

New York, May 19, 2019. Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts of the Apostles 13,14.43-52; Book of Revelation 7,9.14b-17; Saint John 10,27-30.

All successful people have failed at one time or another, sometimes over and over again. But they get up and start over and move on to something else. They learn from their mistakes. They take responsibility for their actions, but they leave it behind and move forward. This is the logic of determined, perseverant and successful people in this world. And it is inspiring, worthy of imitating and honorable… with one exception: a disciple of Christ should NOT fail to love on one single occasion. Every human being loves in his own way, but we are invited to love like Him, that is, always and to everyone. That sounds good bur but in practice it is just not possible. 

Nevertheless, this is the clear mandate of Jesus in today’s Gospel.  How can love be a continuous and permanent attitude? How can love be a commandment? Can you love on command? It is not an invitation or an option, it is a command or an order and being a command, it calls for total obedience on our part. In other words, it is an obligation to love one another. Obviously an extra power is needed and we call this extra power, grace. Jesus gave love as a commandment so that we may stay closer to God as our source of strength. He already stated that the things which are impossible with men are possible with God (Lk 18: 27).

What is practically relevant is that Jesus himself practiced this impossible love: One disciple who had shared the same meal, and been trusted with His intimate conversation, deceived and betrayed Him; another was ashamed of Him; three fell asleep while He was preparing for death; all forsook Him and fled. This is why He presents himself as a model of this continuous and permanent love.

Christ’s love can be characterized as being unitive and merciful. He did not condemn Mary Magdalene. He called St. Matthew to be His apostle even though Matthew was a tax collector and a sinner. He was not afraid to touch and heal the sick and stretched out his hands to the lepers who were considered as untouchables during that time because nobody wanted be near to them.

Christian love does not just mean “to withstand difficult people without complain”, but to actively find the way we can walk together. If I say that this is impossible in some cases, then I am only using the logic of this world. Our father Founder put it poetically: You don’t always have the chance to practice your virtues with your neighbor; but you can love him at every instant (Transfigurations).

There was a little girl who was born without an ear. She became shy and introverted person. There were times when she would go home crying because her classmates made fun of her. When she became a teenager, her mother brought her to a surgeon who performed an ear transplant on her. The operation was successful and she became a normal and happy person.

Not long after she had a boyfriend. After several years, she decided to get married. On the eve of her wedding day, she went inside her mother’s room to thank her. But as she embraced her, she noticed something strange…She realized that beneath the long hair of her mother was a missing ear.

She cried and said: It was you! All these years you didn’t tell me it was you. The mother replied: My child, I didn’t tell you because I don’t want you to be sad for me. I did it because I want you to be happy, to see you happy with your life. You don’t lose something when you give it to someone you love.

It has been said that there are at least five kinds of love. They are utilitarian love, romantic love, democratic love (based upon equality under the law), humanitarian love and the fifth kind is Christian love summed up in the commandment of Jesus. It is not difficult love people who support us, to love people who fascinate us, to be sympathetic to the poor people distant and different to us. It is easy to love Christ and our neighbors in good times. True love is always seen in the trials of life. This is particularly true in community life, marriage and teamwork. When things go well, it does not take much sacrifice to love. It is only when things are trying, then love requires us to die to ourselves and to suffer for the love of other.

Human beings have struggled to understand and define love since the dawn of consciousness. And yet, though we do not completely understand love, we do cannot deny its power. We experience or witness love every day, in a hundred different forms; indeed, grief is but the price of love.

The experience of the first Christians and our own experience shows that witnessing other’s love has a calming and positive effect on people. Perhaps this is why there are so many happy-ending movies, trying to leave an optimistic message, because we tend to identify ourselves with the protagonists, who finally find a true and stable love.

Parents’ expressions of affection influence their children’s conceptions of love, because children’s primary role models are their parents. How children eventually conceptualize and express love and affection is traceable back to their observations of their parents. And parents want to help their children become well-balanced, content, and fully functioning adults. Children’s positive or negative views of loving relationships are normally a reflection of the quality of love and affection expressed by the parents to each other and their children. Children who never witness love at home may find it impossible to feel or demonstrate love as adults.

Love is mainly transmitted by the consistent example of a community. If everybody uses the trash bins, we do not need a sign saying that it is forbidden to throw papers on the floor. In today’s world, in a society of individualism, crumbling marriages and lack of trusting in others, young people need to witness love and a solid commitment in the relationships of a community or a family. They need to hear kind, gentle words to everybody and about everybody. They need to see a compassionate spirit in us, one that has the patience and time to help and reach out to the hurting. In treating each other with compassion and sensitivity we are forming their concept of God the Father and shaping their spiritual life.

For this reason, we must give special attention to the weak and hurting members of our communities, parishes, universities or schools, reaching out to them, to hear their stories without being judgmental or defensive. With an open mind and humble heart, we must seek to engage them in the mission. They need our love and understanding and, most of all, a listening ear and an empathetic heart to feel with them in their struggles and to empower them by giving them light in understanding their problems, compassion in their weaknesses and empowerment in the talents that they have.  In this way, we heal the wounds of such members and they will become more loving and forgiving and less divisive and negative.

On the other hand, the greatest threat to the mission of the Church is not from external factors such as secularism, relativism or materialism. The greatest enemy of the Church’s mission is from within, particularly our pride. More often than not, we are not conscious that when we do something, apparently a service to the community, it is entangled with our own need for appreciation, recognition and acceptance. As a consequence, we are divided among ourselves and fighting with each other. This is why Jesus was warning us when He said: If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand (Mk 3: 24-25). Therefore, many religious people, youngsters and Church members leave the Church because of the loss of faith, disillusionment, anger and resentment.

Most people do not think of true love as a something we have to learn. Nevertheless, we do need to learn how to love. We need to witness love in action, loving different people, and loving people even when you are angry or disagree with them. And this is even more true for the most perfect love, Christ’s love.

Let us learn to love ourselves so that we may learn to love each other. The old commandment says: Love your neighbor as yourself. How do we learn to cherish others and care for them if we have never learned to do the same for ourselves? Most of times we love ourselves very poorly, either with contempt or with exaggerated self-esteem.

How are we to love ourselves when we are told over and over again that we are unlovable? How do we reclaim our basic worth? We can become whole and holy only when we learn to love ourselves properly, acknowledging the presence of God in our souls, making our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the lessons we can draw from the Psalm 34: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

The Apostle Saint Thomas was not with the community and hence when Christ appeared to the disciples, he missed encountering Him. It was only when he joined the community the next time that he could see the Risen Lord. This is what Jesus meant when He remarked, Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. Unlike Thomas, we have not seen the Risen Lord but we believe because we have seen Him in His body the Church, in the lives of saints and people who lay down their lives for their friends (Jn 15: 13). This is true as well in the early Church. Many were converted because they saw the Christians loving and caring for each other: By this all men will know that you are my disciples.

The commandment of love has not mitigating or extenuating circumstances. Even when we commit serious errors, we can ask for forgiveness; and this is also true when our fellowmen are resentful about a misunderstanding we are not guilty of. This is because the slightest shadow of pride and egoism will overshadow the presence of God in my life. Remember the words of Jesus during the Passion: If I said anything wrong, tell me what it is, but if I told the truth why do you hit me? (Jn 18: 23).

To commit sin against charity is not only to make a bad action or to miss an opportunity of doing good. It is always a lack of love for others. This is not always clear to us; we do believe that the only sins against love are offending someone and not helping a person in need. This is because we have a very limited perspective and vision of our relationship with our fellowmen. When we are focused on our instincts, needs or limitations we just cannot approach our neighbor on behalf of Christ. In fact, we are limiting the work of the Holy Spirit:  Christ Himself could not perform certain miracles because of the people’s lack of faith (Mt 13: 58).

In John’s Gospel we read that Jesus declared his glorification at the moment of betrayal and Passion. The cross is the channel for His glory and reputation and it is also the way we should honor, revere and express our gratitude to God. In the cross, Jesus showed God’s love to the world through self-giving. When Jesus gave himself on the cross, the Father revealed himself as a completely selfless God. His focus was upon us. The Father loved us through the Son’s death. In this way, John could declare that the Father’s glory was in the Son and the Son’s glory was in the Father.

When Christ was no longer with his followers, how could God’s glory continue to shine? Through the love of his followers. Love united the community in one mind and heart; it united the community to God. The way we treat others speaks volumes about our faith and invites others to join us. Love, even in the smallest of measures, is the best way to spread the glory of God. We shed the spirit of joy and peace emerging from the love we have for one another in the community.

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