Sixth Sunday of Easter
A Homily - Cycle B - 2011-2012
By Fr. John De Celles
First Reading - Acts of the Apostles 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Responsorial Pslam - Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Second Reading - 1 John 4:7-10
Gospel - John 15:9-17
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to his disciples: "As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that well remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another."
"This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
In this text Jesus, at the Last Supper, says with words what He will say with His body in just a few hours, as He is nailed to the cross. There, His suffering and dying body speaks to us loud and clear, saying: "I love you, and give myself to you and for you, completely, totally and without reserve." But this is not the first time God speaks to us through the human body. Because right from the beginning He created the human body to communicate to us the truth about man and about God Himself.
Saint John tells us in the second reading today: "God is love." Now, this doesn't mean that God is a warm and fuzzy feeling. It means that God, in His very nature is all about self-giving. But in order to give, there needs to be an "other" person to give to. And there is: as Christ reveals to us, God is a Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God: their mutual love and self-gift is so intense, complete and perfect, that they truly share one life.
But as gift, love doesn't limit itself: love overflows, continually seeking to give to others. And so we see in Scripture that God created, or gave life to man, just so He could love us, and give us a share in the one life and love of the Trinity.
In order for us to do that we had to be like Him - we had to be able to love. And so He created us like Himself, in the image of God, the God who "is love." But creating us in His image He also created us with bodies. And our bodies aren't just some sort of outer shell we accidentally walk around. No, our bodies are us! They are the outward expression of who we are inside, - they are us communicating ourselves to others. And since we are created for love our bodies are also fundamentally created to communicate love.
But, again, to love there has to be an other to love - and so God created us as two, male and female. Both in His image, and so both equal in dignity, but also both radically different so they would truly be other to each other: so that through their differences they could love each other. And these differences, which go to their very nature, are expressed in their bodies.
Note, their bodily differences are not merely accidents but rather they physically express the differences that are in their inner nature, as male versus female. And these inner differences are also not random, but rather they complement, or complete, each other. So that as these complementary inner differences are expressed in their bodies, their bodies also complete each other - they literally "fit" together. And as their bodies "fit" together in the act of love, the two persons become as if one flesh, one body, doing together what they cannot do alone - cooperating as one with God to give life. No other bodily act requires the body of another - only the act that imitates the Creator giving life and love to mankind. So this act, and these complementary aspects of their bodies, specifically and radically express their love for and their self-gift to each other, as male and female.
My friends, the body speaks to us and tells us about over very nature We don't need the Bible to tell us this - the language of the body is a natural language that has been understood for all of history by every society. Every generation has understood what nature and the body say about the love and union of males and females in marriage, and that marriage is about giving love and life to each other and to children.
But today, a lot of folks deny the natural language of the body. Amazingly, in a time when so many demand that we pay greater attention to the natural order of the environment, many of those same people demand that we ignore the natural order of the human body. Our President has joined in this unnatural chorus, as he denied the true meaning of marriage by supporting the right to so-called same-sex marriage. Of course, he is not alone. He joins a number of politicians, some of whom even claim to be Catholic, who like him, have the nerve to blasphemously claim that Christ is on their side.
Nonsense, all of it. These people try to twist the language of the body just as they try to twist the language of Jesus Himself. The body communicates its meaning loud and clear when it comes to sex, marriage, and family. And so does Jesus Himself, telling us in Matthew chapter 19: "He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall . . . be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'"
Some say this is a matter of justice and discrimination. But justice is rendering what is due to a person, and discrimination is only wrong when you deny someone something they have a right to. Where in nature is a person due or have a right to same-sex marriage? The language of the body recognizes no such duty or right, in fact it recognizes the opposite: they are not complementary, the do not "fit."
Some say this position is "not loving," after all, Jesus told us to "love one another." Yes, but Jesus also said, "love one another as I have loved you." How many times did Jesus show his love by telling people the hard truth: like to the woman at the well: "the man you have now is not your husband;" or to the Pharisees: "from the beginning (he) made them male and female." It is never loving to lie to people, when the truth will set them free.
Some say: "it is not fair not to let them marry if they love each other." But there are lots of situations where you can't marry the person you love. In fact, our Lord talks about this, again from Matthew 19: "Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it."
Not every is capable of marriage, for one reason or another. Maybe they were born with some severe emotional disability, or maybe their upbringing makes them incapable of loving. Or maybe they were born with or raised so that they suffer from same-sex attraction. Whatever the case, our heart goes out to them, but as with all infirmities and limitations in life, we need either to try to overcome them - not ignore them - or to accept things as they are, and figure out what it is that God has planned for us to do going forward. "Whoever can accept this ought to accept it."
But the news is not all bad this week. In fact, today the news is fantastic. Because, today the whole country stops to listen, if ever so briefly, to the natural language of the body as we celebrate Mother's Day.
Short of Christ dying on the Cross, what better expression do we find of the saying, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." Where else does the language of the body speak so boldly and yet tenderly: "I love you."
Think of it: for 9 months, a mother sacrifices her whole body for her little baby, from morning sickness in the first months to contractions and all sorts of discomfort in the last. Often risking her very life and health, as her body sacrifices its own well-being to nourish the life of her hidden child. And, of course, what pain in comparable to the pangs of child birth?
And then, holding her tiny baby in her arms, for months she feeds him at her breast, her tender voice coaxing him to sleep, all the while her very body chemistry seems to shift into super human gear allowing her to forgo any normal human sleep pattern for herself.
Of course, it doesn't stop there. My mother practically took complete care of us 5 children for almost 30 years, keeping us fed, clothed, clean and educated. Staying up with us when we were sick, even when she was sicker than we were. Spanking our bottoms when we were extra naughty, and drying our tears when we were extra sad. Even going to work - outside the home - to help pay the bills. And on the worst of days, when the whole world seemed against us, she made everything all right, with her beautiful smile, or her warmest of hugs.
The language of the body cries out to us in no uncertain terms: Moms have a God-given and naturally tremendous capacity for giving love and life. Today we celebrate this, and we thank them, even those who have gone ahead of us to judgment.
Even so, some today wish to ignore motherhood or to redefine it. Some think they know better than Moms what their children should eat or drink or learn, or how their children should act or think. Like the school officials in North Carolina who wouldn't let a four-year-old little girl eat the lunch her mother had packed, a turkey sandwich, because they decided it wasn't healthy enough. And then there are those who encourage pregnant mothers to ignore their maternal instincts and "terminate" their pregnancies. Or who encourage women to take a pill to stop their bodies' natural and healthy openness to motherhood. Or the ladies in the checkout line who mock the mothers of large families. Or the politicians who say that stay-at-home-mom's never work a day in their lives.
The body speaks, but some will not listen.
Now, you may say, but father, what about women who don't or even can't have babies? The thing is, all women are by nature mothers, in the sense that they have this deep natural capacity to love and nurture life. And that capacity is a gift that shouldn't be wasted. But because it is a gift from God, every woman should consider how God wants them to use this gift. Some He calls to be celibate religious sisters - freely renouncing physical motherhood for the sake of the kingdom, in order to become spiritual mothers. Some are unable physically to conceive; perhaps God calls them to adoptive mothers. Some can't seem to find the right husband; perhaps God wants them to exercise their motherhood in some way by caring for those who are alone or otherwise in need of love.
Like the text I quoted earlier from Matthew, they should consider their situation and God's will for them, and "Whoever can accept this ought to accept it." Not with sadness and despair, but with joy and hope, confident that God would not give them this gift without some plan for them to use it in some wonderful way.
"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." As we look at the image of the Crucified Christ, and we remember in His awful physical suffering and death we hear His body telling us in the most clear and powerful way possible, "this is how much I love you." The body of the Son of God speaks and we joyfully listen. But the human body He created for all of us speaks to us every day, and through it He reminds us who we are, what is natural and unnatural to us, what is good and evil.
Let us listen to our nature, let us listen to Christ. And let us hear Him say: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete."