Fifth Sunday of Easter – Year C
[Acts 14:21b-27; Psalm 145; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:1, 31-33a, 34-35]
By now we will all have heard the news of an impending papal visit to Canada, the first in twenty years. We are especially blessed that the Edmonton region is among the few venues approved by the Holy See for this apostolic journey.
There are many things to observe about this undertaking, but one aspect of it in particular strikes me as especially helpful to lead us this morning into the message of our biblical readings. What I am referring to are the narrow limits imposed upon the visit by the Pope’s health. You may have seen images of the Holy Father struggling to walk due to sciatica and knee pain. Of late there have been occasions when he could not finish mass because of difficulty standing, and recently we have seen him in a wheelchair. Nevertheless, he is determined to visit our country.
The point is this: to make this visit possible, the Holy Father is making a serious sacrifice of himself. Despite his health considerations, and regardless of the fact that he will have visited South Sudan and the Congo only a few weeks before touching down here, he has made a decision to be present on Canadian soil. The reason is love. In the recent meetings between Pope Francis and the Indigenous delegation in Rome, the Holy Father’s heart was on full display. He was self-evidently deeply moved by the encounter, and wants to accompany, to the degree he can, our journey of healing and reconciliation. What we see in the Pope, in other words, is a concrete example of self-giving love.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel text that it is precisely this – self-giving love – that is the distinctive mark of anyone called by Baptism to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. In the passage from St. John, Jesus gives to his Church the fundamental and inescapable commandment to love one another as he has loved us. The perfect manifestation of his love is, of course, his gift of self on the Cross, that event by which, in his words, he was “glorified.” Throughout Scripture, the glory of God is the visible manifestation of his awesome and wondrous presence among his people. To speak of Christ’s death as glorification means that, on the Cross, God is perfectly revealed, and manifested precisely as self-giving love. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus loves by giving his life for us; we, therefore, as his disciples, must love by making of ourselves a gift for others.
Pope Francis is showing us what this looks like in his ministry at this particular moment. What might it look like in our own lives? Certainly, in the course of preparing for and executing the papal visit there will be many opportunities to make a gift of ourselves by supporting this historical event. Yet, this will be something extraordinary, not of the everyday. What does self-giving love look like in the course of daily living?
My mind goes first to parents. Constantly they make sacrifices of themselves for the good of their children. That is self-giving love. Many other opportunities exist within families to care for one another sacrificially. In addition to family, there are also occasions to show we are disciples of Jesus by loving even others we do not know. Jesus himself spelled out what self-sacrificial love looks like by commanding the corporal works of mercy – feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger. There are also innumerable ways we can show love in the little things of daily living. If, for example, we are caught in a traffic jam caused by road construction, with everyone jockeying to get into the one available lane and the self-giving love of drivers being not immediately evident, we can be exceptions and let someone in ahead of us. Helping someone take their groceries to the car, paying it forward in a coffee lineup, or offering extra prayers for the Archbishop as he tries to figure out what to do with the Pope – all examples of self-giving love.
One opportunity for self-giving love that is offered to us all right now arises from the specific context of this papal visit. The Pope has made it clear that the primary reason he has chosen to come to Canada at this time is to be present with the Indigenous Peoples. Clearly, engaging with the First Nations, Metis and Inuit Peoples is a priority for the Holy Father. How might we, too, prioritize efforts to encounter and learn from them? What opportunities are before us to walk with them along the path of mutual healing and awareness? These are important forms of self-giving love we can exercise to show we are disciples of Jesus Christ.
Let us bring all this now to the Eucharist. By giving himself to us in the mass, Jesus makes it possible to love as he loves. The Christian’s life of self-giving love is not a matter of simply trying on our own to imitate what Jesus did. No one could do that. Rather, we can love as Jesus does only if we first accept his love and receive it in our hearts as the animating principle and motivating force of our own love for others. That is exactly what happens whenever we receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, his true body and blood offered out of love for us. As today we receive from the altar this wondrous gift of divine love, may we be inspired and strengthened to offer our lives for others, and so manifest that we are truly the disciples of Jesus Christ.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph’s Basilica
May 15th, 2022