Sunday, May 09, 2004

Acts 14 and John 13: Don’t Leave the Message on Paper!

Jesus meets His Mother on the road to Calvary in The Passion of the Christ.

(Fifth Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on May 9, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Acts 14: 21-27; Revelation 21: 1-5; John 13: 31-35.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Easter 2004]

Don’t leave the message on paper!

Every time we either read or listen to a passage of Sacred Scripture, that’s what God is implicitly saying to us:
“Don't leave the message on paper!”

Today’s first reading, for example, was taken from Acts 14. In that text, we heard about the early missionary activity of Paul and Barnabas, and about the message they gave to the Christians they visited during their travels. They said to them, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

These hardships include not only the ones that come from persecution (from being attacked for one’s faith); they also include what might be called the hardships of love. Let’s face it, loving another person often involves sacrifice and suffering—in a word, hardship! That’s something all good mothers know experientially, do they not? And so, on this Mother’s Day, we thank them for the many hardships of love they have endured—and in some cases are still enduring!—for us!

Caring mothers often sacrifice what they want to do for the sake of what they know their children need to do.

They endure hardships of fatigue, anxiety and sometimes even heartache in order to fulfill their vocation well. And they do so willingly!

Loving mothers, in other words, do not leave the message of Acts 14 on paper! They live it.

Do we?

Which brings us to the Gospel reading we just heard from John 13. In this passage, Jesus speaks to us about the true nature of love. He begins by saying, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” Now if that’s where our Lord had stopped, it would be easy. Each of us could define the word “love” in our own way, and then live our lives accordingly. We could love others as we felt like loving them. But that’s not where Jesus stopped! After he mentioned this new commandment, he immediately added the words, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

And how exactly did Jesus love us?

Unto death, that’s how!

He humbled himself, first of all, by stepping down from his heavenly throne and being born into this sinful world. And then he subjected himself to the most hideous death imaginable—all out of love for you and for me! He sacrificed his life, that our lives might be saved!

Obviously, there’s a connection between our first reading from Acts 14 and this Gospel. One concerns the hardships of love; the other expresses the true meaning of love. But there’s also a connection between this Gospel passage and today’s second reading—a contemporary connection which might not be so obvious to us.

In the final line of that text from Revelation 21, the Lord says, “Behold, I make all things new!”

Have you heard that line recently? I know some of you have.

In his movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson puts those words from Revelation 21 on Jesus’ lips as he falls on the road to Calvary. It’s that powerful moment in the film when Mary runs to him, kneels down, puts her face close to his and says, “I’m here.” (You talk about a motherly hardship of love! That’s one for the ages!) To which Jesus responds, “See, Mother, I make all things new!”

Jesus Christ renewed the human race—he made all things new and reconciled us to God the Father—by his loving sacrifice on the Cross.

“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

Real love is not the hedonistic, counterfeit love which permeates the culture we live in. That “love” leads to broken marriages and broken families—among other things! Real love is a participation in the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ! It’s the kind of love that Mary always had in her heart: the love which united her so deeply to Jesus that she must have wanted to die with him at Calvary, as Gibson portrays it in his movie.

Once again, the Lord says to us at this Mass, “Don’t leave this message on paper! Don’t leave this message about real love in the Bible or in church! Live this message; give it flesh—in you—as Mary gave it flesh in her earthly life.”

Is it difficult? Of course it is! But it’s definitely not impossible. And it’s definitely worth the effort.

Just ask Pamela Donahue of Needham, Massachusetts.

About a year and a half ago, Pamela went to see her obstetrician at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, for what she thought would be a routine prenatal exam. It was not. During the checkup, her doctor discovered a very serious problem, which turned out to be an aortic aneurysm in her abdomen. It was 4 times larger than what is commonly seen. Because of the obvious danger to her life, she needed immediate surgery. Unfortunately—but predictably—some of the health care professionals assigned to her case advised her to abort the baby. They were concerned about the developmental damage or birth defects the child might experience as a result of the operation.

But, to her great, credit Pamela said no; she would not take the easy way out.

Not long afterward, she had the surgery—which was successful—and several months later she delivered a perfectly healthy baby girl. The child was born three days before Mother’s Day last year. When she was interviewed for the local newspaper, Pamela said, “I am strongly religious, and I wasn’t willing to terminate [the pregnancy]. . . I had faith that [all this] was meant to be, so I said let’s have the surgery and try to keep the baby.”

This woman knew the possibilities. She knew the child might end up severely handicapped; she knew that caring for such a child would require an incredible amount of patience, effort, and sacrifice from both her and her husband—as well as from her two other children.

But she was willing to make the sacrifice. She was willing to endure the hardship if it had come her way; she was willing to love her baby as Jesus loved us.

Consequently, I have every reason to believe that Hayley Elizabeth Donahue is now a very happy child, who will be experiencing her very first birthday party within the next few days, if she hasn’t already. And it’s all because her mom and dad didn’t leave the message of Acts 14 and John 13 on paper! It’s all because they made the challenging but rewarding decision to live it!

By the power of the Eucharist we receive at this Mass, may we follow that example today—and whenever we hear or read a passage from the Sacred Scriptures.