1 Corinthians 12:3b-7,12-13
Jn 14:15-16, 23b-26
June 9, 2019 Pentecost
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
To tell you the truth, I hear this Gospel verse very differently now than I used to. For a long time, I heard it as if Jesus was saying, "if you love me you will do what I tell you." And I heard this in my head in a stern parental voice. Of course this is exactly how our culture understands religion, especially Catholicism: it is all about following a restrictive set of rules so that everything is calm and under control. Which is absolutely the complete opposite of what Catholicism, true Catholicism, and Jesus are about.
It is a human reality that at some points in our lives we do need to follow an objective set of rules that have been given to us until we can understand what is behind those rules. But at some point, we should come to that understanding. Jesus among other things, came to reveal to the human race that we had come to the point where we were "old enough" to start acting out of love instead of just blindly following the commandments.
So how do I hear that statement now?On a completely literal level, I hear Jesus saying, if you love me you will love one another as I love you. That is the one commandment Jesus has given us. On a different level that comes from the wisdom gained from being a parent, grandparent, and now a greatgrandparent, I hear Jesus saying that the natural outcome of loving him is that I will keep his commandments. In other words, I have reversed the order of importance here from what I use to hear: Jesus will only love me if I keep the commandments, to because Jesus has shown beyond a doubt that he loves me, my loving him back will change the way I live. I other words, if I love Jesus, I will naturally be
And there is another subtle difference I discovered in preparing for today's homily. The Greek word we hear translated as "keep" has overtones of guard, or protect, and even enhance. In other words, it echoes what Jesus told the disciples and us when he said just 2 verses back: Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.
And so that brings me to why this is such an appropriate passage to hear today, on Pentecost.
Pentecost is often referred to as the birthday of the Church. And of course, what this refers to is that story from Acts of the Apostles describing how the disciples were all gathered in the upper room when the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a rushing wind and tongues of flame, and the disciples were so filled with the Spirit that they all rushed out into the streets and began proclaiming the good news that God had become human and by suffering, dying and rising, had brought salvation to the world. All the people heard the gospel in their native tongues despite the fact that those who were proclaiming it were simple fishermen from Galilee. Some thought the disciples were drunk even though it was nine o'clock in the morning. But many others were moved to ask for baptism and some 3,000 were baptized that day.
So why is this event the birthday of the Church? Why not the Last Supper, or when Jesus tells Simon that he is Peter (rock) and upon that rock Jesus will found his Church, or that first Easter as we heard in our Gospel reading back on Divine Mercy Sunday, that Jesus gave the disciples the power to forgive sins?
After these past 5 years of being immersed in talk about the new evangelization from Pope Francis, and the Disciples in Mission pastoral planning from Cardinal Sean, it is clear to me why this event is the birthday. None of those other events resulted in the disciples doing something. Church and love are verbs, not nouns. It is only when Jesus sends His Spirit on those gathered in the upper room that the disciples became missionary disciples, that they become Church. The Church is the body of Christ who was sent into the world to gather all into one. The Pentecost event is the birth of that body; it is the new birth of the disciples into missionary disciples. A disciple is one who is learning from a master. As Catholics we have a responsibility to learn more and more about God, and Jesus the one God sent into the world. But just being a disciple is not our only responsibility. We must be missionionary disciples; we must be apostles which means one who is sent to bring Christ to those who yearn for Him.
All you parents here, think about your families. You all work so hard and put so much love and effort and time into helping your children learn. Besides taking every care that they go to good schools and study hard and do well, you add on to that all the lessons you teach in the home, all the sports and music or dancing and scouting and other extracurricular activities that you support them in. Why do you do this? Is it so they can become brilliant scholars who know many things but end up sitting around the house for the rest of their lives? Never going off to live their own lives?
Of course not! We want our children eventually to leave home, take all that formation and use it to build a better world, and a new life of their own. The same is true of the Church. The Church wants to draw people into Christ's love so they may be filled with His spirit and go out to build the kingdom of God.
The Spirit that filled the disciples on that first Pentecost is still as alive and as active today, here in this very place. Our job as staff and volunteers at St. Isidore and St. Elizabeth of Hungary is to give all of us the tools we need to open our hearts and minds to that Spirit. Just as the lives of those fishermen and tax collectors from Galilee were changed dramatically by the Spirit, so must ours change if we are to carry out the commission we were given in baptism.
The feast of Pentecost says being Catholic is not just about being good, or just praying or just going to church once in a while, or even every day. Pentecost is about being filled with the Spirit so that the Good News of our encounter with Jesus the Christ spills out of our hearts and lives in a way that people will notice. Some may make fun of us, or worse but others will be drawn to Christ. That is the only measure of the effectiveness of our being Church: that we are bringing people to Christ. It is God's power but our job to make sure that every day is a day when the Church is being born.