The devil is a great liar. He tells us that unless we’re successful in this or that, unless we achieve a certain status or accomplishment or unless we possess a number of things we will not be held as valued or loved. But when I lived on Smokey Mountain, the garbage dump of Manila, I realized that many of those who lived there, while they do not have many things, are still drawn by the desire to one day possess them. For example, at night many of the people on Smokey Mountain would gather around the one TV and watch “The Voice,” a sort of talent competition.
eople would talk about one day getting on “The Voice” and winning. And if they won they would have a place in the world and be judged as valuable and loveable. While understandable it’s still a belief about oneself derived from an origin other than God.
In the Trinity, God makes clear the extent to which we are valued and loved. It has nothing to do with how much we have or how much we don’t have, rather it is evident from his proclaimed truth: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.”
In this single sentence we are given all. In Jesus Christ God shows us who we are. It is for us to imagine in our hearts that we are so loved by the Father that he would send his only Son, and for no other reason than to show us the value and the love God has for each of us. The more we point to things or achievements as signs of who we are or the discouragement we feel for the lack of things we have or succeed in, the more felt is our own poverty.
Before our Masses here at Lourdes, the Altar Servers, Ministers and Priests pray together in the sacristy. Sometimes a person may pray and ask that we not make a mistake. I find this an expression of sadness because it seems to say that God’s gratitude and love is dependent on our success. But Church, let us really listen to the words of Christ, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” The Son was sent not because we did this or that correctly but because God desires that our relationship with him be marked more by love than by anything else. When we do something wrong we never have to be fearful of God’s rejection because, as St. Paul writes, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” The freedom that the children of God can know comes from this free and total gift of love in Christ. Our life-long task is not to accumulate the riches of this world nor to achieve a certain impressive status but it is to embrace in our hearts this total and free gift of God’s love. The life that we are invited to live is the life that is God himself, love that is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit can be ours as well. And so we can “boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” knowing that this hope will not disappoint us, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Let us live free by living in love.
The first movie I saw in the theatre was Star Wars in the late 1970s. I remember being totally in awe of seeing battles in outer space, adventures on unknown planets and strange looking creatures playing music in a smugglers’ bar. I was definitely “Wowed” by the movie experience.
Since then I’ve been a loyal fan of Star Wars, even of the movies that weren’t so good. To be “Wowed” is to be impressed, it often makes us a fan, supporter or customer. This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. When the Lord ascended to the Father, it seems to me to have been a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to “Wow” and thus to generate much excitement and total support.
If I were giving advice to the Lord on his ascension, I would have said that we need to make it a big show, to “Wow” the people of Jerusalem. Maybe ascending from the Temple. Maybe pick the busiest time of the day. And maybe ascend “with a shout . . . [and] the sound of a trumpet.” If this had been done, then I think all would have become followers of the Lord.
They would have been so “Wowed,” so impressed that their support would’ve been guaranteed. And yet, this is not what the Lord did. Instead, Christ went out of Jerusalem, somewhere near Bethany, brought with him some of his disciples, taught them, blessed them and then ascended. The key to understand the actions of the Lord is to be found in the second reading. Saint Paul wrote, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” The Lord is not interested in “Wowing” us, is not preoccupied with impressing, rather he wants us to know who he is and who we are.
With the “eyes of your heart” we can come to understand that which is beyond understanding. We can glimpse the love of the Father for each of his children, of each of us. We live our normal lives. We go to work, we visit our friends, we dream of things probably never to be realized, we worry about our families, we relish moments of success and retreat from failure. We think we are just normal, everyday people, not too significant to the world or to God. And yet with the Ascension of the Lord, what does the Lord do? He brings our humanity into the very life of God. He brings you into him. With the “eyes of your heart” we can understand a little bit more the love of God for each of us and we can understand who we are. We are not normal, everyday people, rather we are his beloved children. And this is the “glorious inheritance” he has given to each of you. God isn’t so interested in “Wowing.” He is interested in loving.
One recent Friday morning, I was driving back to Lourdes after having said Mass at a convent. I came to an intersection and was waiting to turn right. I was delayed in making the turn because there was a person crossing in front of me and the person was crossing slowly indeed. At some point, the car behind me honked. I was mad at the person crossing the street so slowly and now mad at the person in the car behind me. And so I made a rude “gesture” with my hand to show my displeasure. So much for just having said Mass!
Such episodes are relatively common in a big city like Toronto. But I must admit that my initial delight of paying back rudeness with rudeness began to disappear and to be replaced by disappointment in my self. And this feeling remained with me throughout the day.
I realized that there are many times, when the road gets even a little bumpy, that the thinness of my faith is brought to light. I don’t want to be a Christian only when it’s easy or convenient, rather I want to follow the Lord all the time. Our faith is not to be like the one I demonstrated, on the surface, but it is to be at the core of our being, it is to be written on our hearts.
In the Gospel from St. John, as Jesus is telling his disciples that “I am going to the Father,” he also reminds us that he will not leave us empty handed. He leaves us his peace and, through him, the Holy Spirit will be sent. It is hard to imagine that those who were hearing the Lord speak felt the joy he was saying they should feel with this news. I think the beginning of the passage holds the clue for us. Christ speaks that those who love him “will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Keeping the Lord’s word, his teaching, is not only a question of obedience. It isn’t merely a matter of having sufficient strength of will to follow his commands. It is much more!
God is offering his life to you. By cooperating with God’s grace, through the Holy Spirit, keeping his word is receiving his life in our hearts. Our redemption, salvation and transformation is through making his life our own life. But this gift is not easy to accept. It is made one’s own by an almost unconscious movement of following our hearts. As one’s relationship with the Lord deepens, so too does one’s trust; we creak open the doors of our hearts. Our hearts are more opened because we feel his peace within us and we want it even more. We want God to make his permanent home within us. We want to know his love not some of the time, but all of the time. In this way, our faith is not thin or superficial, instead it is everything. And it is everything because it is who we are coming to be.
Whenever I hear this Sunday’s Gospel (John 21:1-9), the Risen Lord’s appearance to some of the apostles by the Sea of Tiberias it reminds me of my first vows. This was the passage we six novices chose for the vows. At the time we probably chose it because of Peter’s three admissions of love. Over the years however, I’ve come to see the passage differently. It is not Peter’s admissions that are so interesting and moving but the Lord’s three questions. We can understand his repetition of questions in one of two ways.
The first is the Lord sort of asking “are you sure?” This means, in my understanding, the Lord saying to Peter “I know you denied me three times; I know you left my side when I was arrested; I know you did not keep the promises you made to me at the Last Supper, and so, are you sure?” This reading emphasizes our infidelity, our inconsistency, our sinfulness. A risen lord who is so critical of those he loves to such an extent that he gave his life, is not the Risen Lord that I have come to know and to love. For did not the Lord say that he was not sent to “the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved.”
The second way of understanding this Gospel, which is my preference, is to see something drastically different. We all believe that God knows us better than we know ourselves and so I believe that the Risen Lord knew the shame, the embarrassment and the dejection that Peter felt in his heart due to his actions. The Risen Lord’s three questions remind Peter that it is not shame, embarrassment and dejection that reside in Peter’s heart; rather it is his love for Jesus Christ. The corner stone of our Church was not moved by guilt, he was moved by love.
In a similar way we must never be moved by guilt in our Christian faith. Rather we must always seek to be moved by what is in our heart, that is, that we love the Lord in our own particular way. We may see what is lacking in that love, others may judge that we are lacking in love, but the Risen Lord makes himself weak and tenderly asks us “do you love me?” All our shame, all our embarrassment and all our dejection in the face of such honest tenderness slides to the side and we respond with corresponding honesty and tenderness, “you know that I love you.” So here at Lourdes we what type of community are we? Using the words of St. Francis Xavier, let us continue to grow into a “community of love.”