Sunday Sermon for April 28, 2013, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Readings: Acts 14: 21-27; Rev 21: 1-5a; Jn 13: 31-33a, 34-35
In the first reading today we hear about Paul and Barnabas exhorting the disciples they had made to persevere in the faith. They reminded these new Christians that it was necessary for them to undergo many hardships in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Most people today do not like to hear these words; instead we want cheap salvation where it does not cost us anything in order to gain everything. We recognize that this is unreasonable even in earthly terms, but to think that we can inherit Heaven without any effort on our part is complete absurdity.
In the Gospel reading our Lord speaks to His Apostles at the Last Supper, right before He is going to go to suffer His Passion. First He tells His disciples that God is going to be glorified in Him, then He says that God will glorify Jesus. Both of these refer to the suffering and death He was about to endure. However, suffering for the sake of suffering glorifies neither God nor the one who is suffering. The suffering is only of real value if there is a purpose and a willful intent associated with it.
This is why what our Lord tells His Apostles next is of such extreme importance. He gives them the commandment to love, then takes it a step further and says that the way people will recognize them as His disciples is by their love for one another. The context demonstrates to us that what Jesus was doing for God and for us was pure love. When He tells us that we have to love one another He is clearly not talking about having happy or gushy emotions for each other. Love is proven in suffering. What He is about to do will glorify God and Jesus will be glorified by God because there is true and perfect love between the Father and the Son.
Jesus had a purpose in what He was doing. He was being obedient to God and He was giving Himself as a sacrifice for us. By saying that He was being obedient we need to understand that this does not imply that He did something begrudgingly or that He was forced into doing something He did not want to do. It would not be true obedience, nor would it be love, if it was not freely willed and chosen. If we are going to be obedient and love, it also must be freely willed on our part and freely chosen. You cannot be forced to love anyone, even God.
Love, as we saw above, is going to require a willingness on our part to suffer, not for the sake of suffering, but for someone else. For love to be Christian we have to be willing to suffer for the Lord first and foremost. From there we have to be willing to offer that suffering joyfully for others, even for people we do not know or, what is even more difficult, for people we do not like or people who have caused us problems.
This requires something else that is extremely difficult for us: to be vulnerable. There is no love without the concomitant vulnerability. This means that in order for us to perform a true act of charity, there is also the possibility of being hurt or rejected. Without this possibility there can be no real love. Making ourselves vulnerable, therefore, is very scary for us. However, we need to be willing to do this in order to love; moreover, like everything else we have seen regarding love, it must be freely chosen. We have to let our guard down and allow our hearts to be exposed. All of us have been hurt doing this and most of us have responded by closing our hearts or allowing them to open only to a certain point.
It is taking the risk and opening our hearts that will make Heaven worthwhile for us. Too many people think Heaven is just about resting and basking in the glory of a really nice day. Wrong. Heaven is about love. In Heaven everyone will have their hearts open and everyone will be seeking only the good of the others. God will be glorified in them and they will be glorified in God.
In the second reading we are told that in Heaven there will be no more pain or wailing; every tear will be wiped away from our eyes. Obviously this implies that there was a fair amount of struggle in this vale of tears, but that hardship results in the ability to love and growth in love while on earth. Loving for God and neighbor demonstrates that we are true disciples of Jesus which, in turn, will make Heaven and the love therein worthwhile to us.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.