Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 6, 2018
Fr. Phillip Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish
We all want to be chosen. It hurts to be left out, passed over, not included or ignored. It might even be worse to be “tolerated” or “put up with” or included out of obligation or pity. In that sense, you didn’t want to be included because it would just lead to a greater humiliation – to be the one who was blamed when things didn’t go well or to be the one who would be the easy target of fun of the others. I don’t know whether it was considered “character building” at the time, but when I was in grade-school, in gym class, the gym teacher would pick two “captains”, the rest of us would stand in a group facing the captains, and then the two captains would take turns “picking teams.” It was always the same two or three kids who were the last ones to be picked – usually the slowest, most uncoordinated, and least popular kids. It was about winning, and you were picked sooner, if you were more likely to contribute to a successful outcome for the team. The process guaranteed a fairly equal distribution of talent – evenly matched teams, but it was rough for those on the low-end of the athletic spectrum. My guess is that this method probably was done away with around the same time they got rid of dodge ball in gym class. I was a decent athlete, so I was hardly ever the last one picked, but I do remember wanting to be like the “cool” kids. I sought them out. I wanted to hang out with them, be part of the in-crowd. But dressing like them, talking like them, getting the same stuff they had, even hanging out with them, and inviting them to my birthday party, didn’t make me their friend. And that is what I really wanted. I chose to hang out with these kids, but my choosing who I wanted to be friends with didn’t make it happen.
What makes Christianity along with Judaism different than other religions and all the human attempts at self-actualization – becoming a better person, is that it is not about man’s search for God, my finding the best path to fulfillment, but about the God who has sought us out and has chosen us. We are not “picked” because of what we can contribute – because of how good we are – but because God wants to share his life with us. Jesus tells the disciples in the Gospel today, the part of the Last Supper discourse that concludes the parable of the vine and the branches, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” We don’t have to seek his love or approval. We don’t have to “earn” his love. He has loved us first. We just have to “remain” in his love. I.e., live out of this awareness that we have been chosen, wanted, and loved by God. St. John reminds us of this in the second reading today, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” And Jesus promises us great joy when we 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.” We often bristle when we hear the words “commandment” and think that God is imposing a rule for us to follow – something that I have to do. But at its root, “command” means “to entrust with.” We don’t entrust things to slaves or hired hands, we entrust things to our friends. Jesus says, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” What is it that Jesus has “heard” from the Father? The “word” that the Father speaks is the Son. Jesus receives everything from the Father, and in turn speaks this Word to us. Jesus shares his life totally with us. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus is making reference to himself and his sacrifice on the cross.
How is it that we remain in his love? It is not through deep theological understanding or the accumulation of good works. Rather, it is by coming into His presence, and freely receiving Him who loves us. The Eucharist is the sacrament of Jesus’ great love, the sacrament of his laying down his life for us. In Holy Communion, Jesus gives us his life, and in receiving him, we are strengthened in the new life that we were given in our baptism – when we were first chosen by God. Through the reception of the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, we are made more and more like him. We become what we receive. We are entrusted with his love so we can love one another as he has loved us. Through Holy Communion, we are united to God’s plan. Jesus says to us, “you belong to me.” “You are mine.” We share in his mission. We have been chosen. We have been given a task. What unites us is not our feeling or understanding, or the adherence to a set of rules or doctrines (which we often fail at), but this fact that we’ve been chosen, despite our littleness, to be instruments in God’s plan. And through Holy Communion, Jesus gives us the grace to fulfill our mission. We are never alone. “I am with you always,” He says. And the sign of his choosing, the sign of his presence, is the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. We see this is the first reading from Acts. What we see is a 2nd Pentecost. Peter recognizes the “election” of the Gentiles because the same thing happened to them that had happened to him. Peter then, in humility, setting aside his own ideas, follows the movement of the Spirit, and orders the Gentiles to be baptized. Peter knew himself as not worthy, as a weak man, but what rehabilitates Peter is that sense of belonging to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Thursday afternoon, I had a Communion Call. I brought Holy Communion to an elderly woman who was pretty much confined to her home. Her name is Margaret. Margaret is over 100 years old. (She’ll be 101 in November). She has been a parishioner of St. Stanislaus for 91 years. I was telling her that we would be celebrating First Holy Communion on Saturday. And I asked her, “Margaret, do you remember your First Holy Communion?” “O yes, Father, like it was yesterday.” (This was about 92 years ago). Then I asked, “Margaret, what advice do you have for the children who are going to receive First Communion.” “I would tell them to live what they receive. Respond to the gift that Jesus gives you. And pray. And if you don’t get what you want, or you are confused or uncertain, ask for the Holy Spirit to come. If you don’t get what you want, it means that God has something better for you than you can imagine. You just have to wait and to pray.” Life becomes exciting when we look at things in this way. And I have to tell you, Margaret is proof that God changes us and gives us his life in the sacrament when we remain in him. I saw the resurrection in her. At 100, the last of 8 brothers and sisters, about to move into a nursing home, and unable to walk without a walker, she is still happy and thankful. She is waiting for the Lord with joy.
We might not always remember the right answers from the catechism. We might be distracted or not able to express clearly what is in our hearts or we might not have the same feeling of excitement and happiness that we think we should have when we come to Mass, but we can always come to Mass thinking of Him and asking for Him, and talking to Jesus about what is going on in our life. Just coming to Him, coming freely into his presence, expresses our need and our confidence in our belonging to him and in his plan for our lives. May we live what we celebrate today. And may the Lord who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion.