Fr. Paul's Homily
You have heard me talk about small church communities many times. These are the faith groups in the parish that meet twice a month to discuss the Scripture readings, to support each other and to pray for each other’s intentions. These groups are not together for a limited period of time, but are meant to be ongoing and faithful.
Over years, the members of the SCC have supported each other in many ways: deaths will occur and they will help each other through the pain of loss; serious illness will confront members and they will be assured of the constant prayers of their fellow SCC members; unemployment, health issues of family members, financial crisis, marriage issues, faith struggles…all these will occur and the members of the SCC will be there. In a very real sense, this is what “church” is all about.
In the Gospel today, Jesus says, ”this is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I would like to speak with you about what it means to be “church” today.
Our Gospel today comes from the 13th chapter of St. John, part of the Last Supper narrative. Jesus has just finished washing the feet of the apostles, telling them that they must wash each other’s feet. Jesus does not simply encourage them to be servants to each other, but he shows them how to do this. He then states in our reading today that now is the time for the Son of God to be glorified? How will this happen? It will happen through Jesus’ clear gift of himself in death on the cross. His gift of love on the cross will be the greatest sign of God’s glorification. God’s glory is to be found in his love and there is no greater sign of God’s love than in the gift of his Son on the cross. So Jesus’ death is a sign of Glory!! Pretty amazing when you think about it! We usually don’t think of death as a way to give glory to God, but it is.
I think of the example of St. Maximilian Kobe during World War II. Most of you know his story. As a Catholic priest he was thrown into a concentration camp by the Nazi regime. When a random group of prisoners were chosen for execution because of the escape of other prisoners, Maximilian volunteered to take the place of one of the prisoners who pleaded for his life. St. Maximilan, along with the other prisoners, was put into a locked building and left to starve to death. He spent his final two weeks praying with the men, leading them in song, caring for them as they died. He was final executed through a lethal injection.
Of all that Maximilian Kobe did in his life, his greatest moment was in fact the moment of dying for another. He gave glory to God in his gift of self in death.
God the Father and Jesus, were glorified in his death.
Jesus then says, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus is speaking, not to the general public, but to his chosen disciples. In a sense he is offering his final words directing them. Just as a mother or father might gather his/her children and give final advice, so Jesus gives final advice. And he calls them to love each other as he has loved them. This is more than simply “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Here we are called to love one another as Christ loves…this puts the bar very high.
We have all experienced going to our grandparents. Our parents encourage us to come inside, greet our grandparents, give them hugs, maybe hand around for a few minutes, before we tear outside to be with our cousins and play games. This is showing respect and love to our grandparents. But there is also the times when we visit with grandma and listen to her stories and help her make a pie, even though a part of us would like to be outside playing with our cousins. We do this because we know that Grandma really likes to have us a round to help her.
When we love Grandma in this way, we are going to a higher level of love, something closer to Jesus’ command to us, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
So, how are we doing? Are we loving one another, right here, right now, in this church and in this parish? Would anyone on the eastside of Indianapolis be able to say, “Those folks at Holy Spirit really love one another?” We are known for our Festival, but are we known for loving one another?
St. Paul in our reading from Acts of the Apostles gives us more clues on how to love each other in the church. As Paul preached to the people of Asia Minor, he spent considerable time teaching them, in particular, he “Strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith.” These words are as valuable today as they were in Jesus day.
How often does it happen that the biggest temptation is to quit and give up? We often get started down a good path, but once it becomes routine, or we start to face major difficulties, we begin to say, “It is not worth it.” We want to quit.
There is probably not a person in this church who doesn’t need to have his/her spirit strengthened or needs to persevere in faith. The question is, do we experience the help we need through the church, through each other? So, who needs this help? Is there someone who needs strengthening in their spirit or who are struggling to hang in there with a particular struggle, especially when it has lasted way too long?
The church cannot solve everyone’s problems, but the people of the church need to CARE about everyone’s problems and be willing to risk doing something.
Some of you may be familiar with a singer/songwriter named Ken Medema. Ken is almost totally blind, but he is a man of great spiritual vision. Several years ago he wrote a song directed at the church that contains several pointed questions. We could ask these questions about Holy Spirit Parish. He writes,
“If this is not the place where tears are understood, where can I go to cry?
If this is not the place where my spirit can take wing, where do I go to fly?
If this is not the place where my questions can be asked, where do I go to seek?
If this is not the place where my feelings can be heard, where do I go to speak?
If this is not the place where you accept me just as I am, where do I go to be free?
If this is not the place where I can try and grow and love, where do I go to be just me?”
Being church is loving one another, so that we can love others in need. We are to provide the fuel that enables our members to love their families, especially the troublesome ones; to love the poor and forgotten, both here and around the world.