April 24, 2016: 5th Sunday of Easter C
Click to hear Audio Homily
A young man in his late 20’s, Eric Mahl, was living among the homeless in Cleveland. He slept at the homeless shelters, ate food in soup kitchens, and spent the day walking around talking with other homeless folks. He would slip in Catholic churches to attend mass, but people would stare him down with unwelcomed gaze. Few years prior, he was instantly recognized and welcomed in the same churches because he was a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns football team. One day as he was walking the streets of Cleveland, he saw a the face of a fellow teammate on billboard. The young man said to himself, ‘I’m so much happier now on the streets than when I was in the NFL or the sales career following football.’ Eric was convinced that trusting what Jesus told him to do while praying in an adoration chapel was the best thing he ever did. In prayer, Eric heard Jesus tell him, “Love one another as I love you.” He heard this call in his heart for a long time, but like most of us, he kept his faith and his daily life separate. He prayed the Rosary, went to mass, and spent time in the adoration chapel, but his faith did not influence his career ambition and desire to be successful in the world.
We have that struggle too -- the struggle to live out our faith in our daily life. Our tendency is to compartmentalize our life from our faith. When Eric heard Jesus say to him, “Love one another as I love you,” he said to himself, ‘I already know that. Jesus, can you give me something more profound?’ There is a saying, “Be careful what you ask for.” One evening in prayer at the adoration chapel, young and successful Eric was feeling particularly grateful to God for his upbringing in a good Catholic family, his football career, and a great job. He asked Jesus, “Lord, what can I give You in return?” He felt Jesus respond to him, “Give me everything.” The young man was startled by the response and he ignored the prompting for awhile. He kept telling Jesus, “Not yet, not yet.” Then he answered Jesus’ invitation by selling everything he owned. Through God’s guidance, he spent time at a Carmelite monastery, the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA, then he began his ministry in the streets of Cleveland as a missionary to the homeless. As he spent time with the homeless, he spread the message of Good New of Jesus Christ, particularly Divine Mercy. He was truly happy among the modern lepers on the streets. What Eric did not know before was that by truly loving someone, he would be fulfilling the new commandment of Christ. This was a new beginning for Eric; he was beginning to learn how to love as Jesus loved--how to put in practice through his heart, the faith knowledge he possessed.
Do you feel in your heart today the desire to live a new life? Have you been feeling a tug from Jesus to open your heart and to start anew? “See, I am making all things new,” Jesus said in the Book of Revelation, and the new beginning in our lives is possible through Jesus. Today’s readings are all about new things: the New Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth, and a new commandment. We experience daily the sadness and sorrow from things being out of order. May be our relationship with our loved one is not where it should be. Our lives may be out of control because of our sinfulness. St. Paul in the First Reading exhorts us to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Yet this promised new kingdom is already within our grasp; in fact it is already given to us as a gift.
What is then the necessary step to live the new life in this new Jerusalem? Today’s gospel passage gives us the secret of Christian renewal as the faithful practice of Jesus’ new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus adds a new element to the Old Testament command of love by telling us that the true test of discipleship is to love other people in the same way that he has loved us. How did Jesus love? He made an eternal gift of himself to the Father and to us on the cross. In the same way, we find the true purpose and fulfillment when we make a sincere gift of ourselves to others. The renewal of Christian life means a radical change of vision and a reordering of our priorities in life. Such a renewal brings us to embrace new attitudes, new values and new standards of relating to God and to other people. As we try to love as Jesus loved, we will begin to see in ourselves motivation, attitude, and behavior that are contrary to God’s way of loving--namely jealousy, anger, spitefulness, selfishness, greed, sensuality, and pride.
Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as he loves us is radical. To love one’s enemies is radical, and to be merciful as he is merciful is radical. This doesn’t mean we all have to sell everything we have and live with nowhere to lay our heads, but we all must go out of our comfort zones and seek the true good of our neighbor. This is a challenge we face head-on by first experiencing the mercy and love of God as our Father, which will then compel us to share it with others.