Frank and Bob were walking along the street on their way to work. Frank noted that he usually stopped by a particular newsstand to get the daily paper so they followed the routine. Frank greeted the vendor in his usual good-natured way. The vendor barely responded, proceeding to get the paper ready. Frank handed over the money while the paper was shoved into his hand. “Have a great day!” Frank said to the vendor.
As they walked away Bob asked “You come here every day?” “Yes,” said Frank. “Does he treat you like that every day?” Bob continued. “Every day,” replied Frank. “Are you always that kind to him?”; “I try to be.”
Bob then asked: “Tell me, why are you so kind to someone so rude?” Frank answered: “Because I do not want him to decide for me how I am going to act.”
The Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy comes from the Gospel according to John. The scene harkens back to the Last Supper just after Judas’ betrayal has been foretold (John 13:21-30). Jesus mentions his “glorification,” meaning his impending passion, death and resurrection.
He then teaches them the new commandment of love. Jesus says: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Jesus’ love for the disciples and for us is complete. He lays down his life for us (recall that as the Last Supper discourse proceeds Jesus will say to the apostles: “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.” John 15:13-14).
The call to love is the highest calling in life. Emptying oneself for the good of another is the act of love.
Jesus’ call, and command, to love lies at the heart of Christian discipleship. Configured to Christ in baptism we are invited to “follow him” as we grow and develop into the persons we are called to be. He gives us the grace through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit to be transformed by his love into people who love.
The desire for the good of others lies at the center of our decisions and actions. Decisions we make and actions we take need to flow from a heart set on loving others, after the heart of Jesus.
Jesus is the model. He shows us the way for he is “the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) During the Easter season, the first readings for the liturgies come from the Acts of the Apostles. We have been hearing how the apostles, motivated by the love of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, have been spreading the Gospel. The church grows in number and strength. The communities established share common meals, pray together, care for the poor in their midst, assist the widows and those in need.
In Sunday’s passage, we hear of Paul and Barnabas and some of the many cities and villages where they took the Gospel: Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga and Attalia. These are just a few when we consider all of Paul’s journeys. As the church grows, the command to love spreads.
We recognize that the call to discipleship and the call to love will entail hardships as Paul and Barnabas mention. We certainly see that in the hostile reaction some give them and the brutal treatment they receive in different locations. However, motivated by love they continue their journeys, the Gospel is spread and many come to life through faith in Christ Jesus.
The call to love lies at the heart of Christian discipleship. The Collect prayer for the liturgy reads: “Almighty every-living God, constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us, that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism may, under your protective care, bear much fruit and come to the joys of life eternal. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Our prayer begs divine assistance so that through our participation in the Paschal Mystery (the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord) we may “bear much fruit and come to the joys of life eternal.” One of these fruits is love. Cooperating with the grace of God already given to us allows our lives to be continually transformed by love to love.
I once recall having a conversation with a friend. Something was in the news regarding Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The friend said, “She is incredible, look at all she does for the poor who are dying alone. It is incredible – almost too incredible – I do not think I could ever do that.” Sometimes when we look at people of extraordinary love we might be overwhelmed and like my friend we might think “I could never do that.”
Perhaps Mother Teresa herself can help us out in this regard. She never thought of her charity as extra-ordinary. Rather she would often say that it is in the small everyday opportunities to love that incredible things happen.
For example, she said: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop;” or “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one;” or “Peace begins with a smile.” This is where the transformation, the conversion of heart, regularly takes place and draws us even more into the Paschal Mystery of divine love.
Opportunities for love abound. Take for example the simple story mentioned above. Frank’s kindness toward the rude newspaper vendor was an act of love. Even though his kindness was met with rejection and perhaps ridicule, he continues to love. His response to Bob, “I am not going to allow him to dictate how I should act,” is a good reminder to us that the decision to love comes from within.
Even though situations or hardships may be present, the decision on how to act is still our own. Frank makes the decision to be kind, the vendor’s rudeness, though it might bother him, does not deter him.
The simple encounters we have every day give us ample opportunity to grow in love. Impelled and inspired by Christ Jesus, these are also opportunities to grow in Christian discipleship and to enter more fully into the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
As Jesus told the apostles so he tells us: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.