5th Sunday of Easter “C”
There is an old Irish prayer – maybe you’ve heard it before.
May those who love, love us;
and those who don't love us, may God turn their hearts;
and if He doesn't turn their hearts,
may He turn their ankles,
so we'll know them by their limping.
This is surely not exactly the type of love that Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel is it?
In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a new commandment.
All of God’s commandments can be summed up in that one commandment —the New Commandment of love. This one commandment contains all the law of the Church. This one commandment to love is in fact the one distinguishing characteristic of all Christians.
You see, anyone can bless themselves with the sign of the cross of Christ: anyone can answer 'Amen' ; anyone can sing Alleluia; anyone can be baptized, anyone can enter the church, anyone can build great basilicas. But the one thing that distinguishes the children of God from others is love.
Those who practise charity are born of God; those who do not practise charity are not born of God. Love is the most important sign, the most essential difference.
No matter what you have, if you do not have this one thing, everything else is useless;
If you have spent your whole life working for peace and feeding the poor, but you do not have love for others in your life then you have failed.
On the other hand if you lack everything in your life, and have nothing else but charity, then you have kept the law.
The words "even as I have loved you” give this new commandment a new content - a new meaning: It means that Christian love is measured not by one’s own heart but rather by the heart of Christ. (cf. Mt 5:43-48).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us His little children, telling us that shortly He will leave this world and become present to us in a new way after His Resurrection.
I give you a new commandment, replacing the old covenant, that you love one another as I have loved you.
That is the new covenant, loving one another just as Jesus loved and continues to love us by giving His life for us and being with us always in a new way.
“By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
You know, people will only accept our witnessing to Jesus' presence when they see us loving one another with Jesus' own love. Only then, are we credible witnesses.
We need not only be practicing Christians but also be seen to be Christian – for sure in our daily lives but most certainly in a way that people can see that we love one another. We must bear fruit where we are planted.
The story is told about a little fruit tree. Once upon a time a man planted a fruit tree in a forest. At first this little fruit tree felt lost in the midst of so many great trees.
The sight of all those mighty trees surrounding it made it feel insignificant. Those other trees were so tall, strong, and useful. While the little fruit tree was so small, so weak, and felt so useless.
So what did it do? It set about gaining a place and a standing for itself in the forest.
How hard it worked and how well it succeeded!
In time its head reared up into the sky so that it was able to hobnob with the tallest trees of the forest. Its branches spread outwards like a giant umbrella, claiming more and more space for the little fruit tree.
Its trunk grew stout and strong so that it was able to laugh at the storms which from time to time roared through the forest.
But then one day the man who planted it made an unexpected appearance in the forest. Looking at the tree, he said, 'my, how you've grown! You have the most wonderful branches I've ever seen. And your trunk - it’s like the outer walls of a castle.'
'But I still have many faults,' said the tree, pretending to be humble.
'Just look at all these hollows and knots. If only I could rid myself of them I'd look a whole lot better. But I'm working on them.'
'Those faults don’t bother me”, said the man. “In fact, I don't even see them as faults,' the man replied.
On hearing this the fruit tree began to glow with pride. But then the man added, 'However, there is one thing I'm not happy with.'
'Oh, so you're not happy with me,' the tree responded, suddenly becoming defensive. 'I don't understand. You can see for yourself how I've prospered.
I can hold my own with the oaks and the elms. I thought you might be proud of me. I've worked so hard to secure the standing I now enjoy amongst the other trees.'
'I don't doubt for one minute that you've worked hard,' said the man.
'Well then, what more do you want from me? Said the fruit tree.'
'The one thing I hoped to find in you is missing,' the man replied. 'You've neglected the most important thing of all — the one thing necessary.'
'What's that?' asked the tree.
'Fruit,' said the man. 'You are not a pine or an oak or an elm. You are something far more precious and rare. You are a fruit tree.”
“I was depending on you to provide wholesome fruit for the many famished little creatures who roam the forest. But you have failed to do so because you have forgotten what you are. You have become just another tree in the forest.'
The one thing Jesus has commanded us to do as Christians is to love one another. It is a new commandment only in the sense that it sets a new standard - 'as I have loved you'.
Often we Christians have gone after worldly success, and in many cases have achieved it. But in so doing we have forgotten the one thing Jesus expects from us - namely, love.
'By this all will know that you are my disciples.'
Love makes us instruments of God's providence in the lives of others. Our love becomes the channel through which they will experience the love of God.
An American journalist, watching Mother Teresa as she cared for a man with gangrene, remarked, 'I wouldn't do that for a million dollars.' Mother Teresa's reply: 'I wouldn't do it for a million dollars either. However, I do it out of love for God.'
A doctor, who has been privileged to share the most profound moments of people's lives, says that people facing death don't think about what degrees they have earned, or what positions they have held, or how much wealth they have accumulated.
That no longer matters. At the end, what really matters is who you loved and who loved you.
If we do not love one another than we are like the little fruit tree – a strong and proud tree that produced nothing. It might as well not have existed.
Those who choose love open themselves to the possibilities of a greater happiness than they have ever known. Love is well-being. It makes us fruitful. To refuse to love is to begin to die. To begin to love is to begin to live.
While faith makes all things possible, love makes all things easy. Love heals everyone — both those who receive it and those who give it.
”Love one another just as I have loved you.” No one said it was going to be easy.
Think about your family, think about your acquaintances. Think about that particular person perhaps even in this parish whom you would rather not see ever again.
Can you bring yourself to love that person – just as Christ has loved you?
Probably not on your own, but you can, with God’s grace, love that person just as Jesus has loved you.
Today’s gospel challenges us – are we like the little fruit tree in the forest – successful in everything but lacking in the one essential thing?
How do we live our lives? It’s easy to love those who love us in return and who are close to us.
But what about those among us who dislike us or whom we dislike? If we are to be His disciples then we are to love even those whom we dislike.
When people look at us – is it obvious to them that we are Disciples of Christ? Is our love for others obvious to them?
Do they know that we are Christians by our love?
A good example for us is St. Joseph. St. Joseph the Worker who is the patron saint of our Mission in Caroline and whose feast we are happy to celebrate today.
Saint Joseph was the foster father of Jesus and the husband of the Blessed Virgin, Mary.
St. Joseph loved his family. He loved them enough to give up his life for them.
St. Joseph didn’t have many possessions in life. He wasn’t rich by our standards – but he had the one thing that is often lacking in our lives.
He had Christian love. St. Joseph loved his wife and foster child just as God loved him.
Imagine having Jesus for a child and Mary for a wife.
St. Joseph accepted a life of celibacy so that he might feed, protect and venerate this living tabernacle, his wife Mary, the very Mother of God and also to care for and protect his foster child Jesus.
That was his role in life – that was the life that God had chosen for him and he accepted it willingly and lovingly. Foster Father of Jesus and husband of Mary.
St. Joseph gave his life just as many of our priests are asked to give their lives. God asks Priests to give their lives, lovingly and willingly, for the sake of the kingdom.
God asks them to give up their lives and be our spiritual Fathers.
If we all take St. Joseph as an example of Christ-like love then we can do no better in this life.
We know that St. Joseph was a Christian by his love.
That’s what God was asking of him and that is exactly what God asks of us – to love one another just as Christ loves us.
That is our challenge – that is what God is asking us to do. That is our role in this life.
How will we respond?
Deacon Bernie Ouellette