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The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2018

 


 
   Today’s gospel is one I find myself preaching on quite often, especially this time of the year, because many young couples choose it for their wedding.  And it’s a great choice – even though, as I often tell the bride and groom – it’s a very challenging one.  Jesus gives a commandment that borders on the impossible.  “Love one another as I love you.”  How on earth is anyone to do that?  Even a passing glance at the crucified Jesus – arms outstretched in the most vulnerable embrace of love imaginable - tells us that this is not possible. Yet that is his command: “Love one another as I love you.”

     A few years ago I got to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu preach over at St. Mark’s Cathedral and he preached on this text.  His homily was stirring – no surprise there - but his message was quite simple. We who follow Jesus Christ are called to love, he told us, but not in the abstract; no, our love is to be like the love of Jesus: all-embracing, none-excluding, and that means that there is no one in the human family whom we are not called to love. No one.

     Pope Francis is even more pointed and practical about this in his recent – and I would say riveting – Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. Here are his words: “If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out, or even a piece of refuse cluttering a public space. Or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the Father, an image of God, a brother or sister redeemed by Jesus Christ. That is what it is to be a Christian!”

     And Pope Francis goes on: “God takes us beyond what is familiar, to the fringes…to where humanity is most wounded…. If we dare to go to the fringes, we will find God there….in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded flesh, in their profound desolation. God is there.”

     My friends, Pope Francis frequently reminds us that the heart of our faith is not a catechism or a code of laws. It’s not a holy book, either, no matter how inspired or how sacred.  It’s not timeworn traditions or towering temples. It’s not hierarchy and it’s not sacred rituals. All of these have their place, of course, but only, only to the extent that they serve to bring us close to one another in love, only to the extent that they bring us close to the God who is love.

     So, forget the wizened old man in the clouds with the flowing white beard, forget the stern, demanding judge, the exacting bookkeeper. Those are caricatures of God. God is love: passionate love, personal love, overflowing love, love that manifests itself in mercy. God enfolds each of us in an embrace of love that is wider than the ocean, deeper than the sea. And it is this love that God has for us - this love that is God - that makes it possible for us to love. That’s the meaning of those words we heard in the reading from the First Letter of John, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that God first loved us.”

     God first loved us! It all starts there. The more I reflect on this, the more convinced I become that the reason Jesus loved so well, so perfectly, was that he knew that God loved him - knew it better than anyone ever has or ever will. Jesus never doubted or questioned God’s love, not even for a moment. He knew it with every breath he breathed. And because Jesus knew God’s love for him in such a clear and intense way, he was able to love in the way he did, love without limit.

     And, my friends, it’s only when we wake up to how much God loves us that we begin to love. Really love. But not before.

     I remember the first homily our retired Archbishop, Raymond Hunthausen, gave here in Seattle. It was at his Mass of Installation as Archbishop.  That’s well over forty years ago now, but I still recall what he said.  He told us that his life changed completely the day he woke up to the fact that God loved him unconditionally. After that, he said, God looked completely different to him. And so did people. He could never look at God the same way as before, and he couldn’t look at people the same way, either, because if God loved him unconditionally, God loved them in the same way.

     My friends, it’s all about love. Nothing is more important than love. Nothing! May the God who is love lead us [and these three newest members of our parish community] in the ways of love, and may Jesus who is the loving face of God and the very heart of God transform us by this Eucharist into disciples who love as he loves. Or who at least try!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303