Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17.)

Growing up, my siblings and I used to watch “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS as did many from my generation. Actually, his show probably spanned several generations as it ran from 1968 to 2000.

Recently there have been several movies about Fred Rogers and his television program. In 1997, Rogers won a life-time achievement Emmy for his work. In his acceptance speech he said:

“So many people have helped me to come to this night. Some of you are here. Some are far away. Some are even in heaven. All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. 10 seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time. (He paused.) Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made.”

If we try his exercise, we may find ourselves filled with joy and thanksgiving; it is very uplifting. Rogers used the term “loved us into being.” It is a powerful expression and one that hits to the core of our lives.

Love is what brings us into life. The need to love and be loved is built into the fabric of our being, and so when we can recognize true and authentic love we will naturally be uplifted.

Without love, we would be destitute and alone. We know this to be true from our own experience. Hence, we are moved deeply in our hearts when we recognized that we have been and are loved by other people in our lives. The same is true on a supernatural level, when we consider God’s relationship with us.

We have been hearing from the Gospel According to John recently in the liturgies. In that Gospel account, Jesus speaks over and over again on love: the importance of love, the meaning of love, the call to love, the embrace of love and the gift of love.

In today’s passage, the message continues. Jesus says: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Jesus speaks of a loving relationship with his disciples. He recognizes our need to love in concrete and substantial terms. Love is an action, an activity, a way of life. Our love for the Lord is expressed in keeping his commandments – the greatest of which is to love as he has loved us, for “no greater love is there than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Walking behind the Lord, following in his footsteps, is a journey of love. We do not walk this road alone. He is with us in love and so is the Father. This love is life-giving and life-sustaining. It nourishes us, strengthens us, encourages us, consoles us, sustains us and leads us forward.

In the beginning of the Gospel passage, Jesus says: “I will not leave you orphans.” The use of the term “orphan” comes in the context of love. Jesus is speaking about God’s love for us and the way he is with us in love.

He promises the Advocate/Paraclete, the Spirit, whom he will send to dwell within us. He speaks of his love and the Father’s love, as already mentioned.

Telling us we will not be orphaned is important. When we think about it, an orphan is one who is in need of love. The need is tremendous because the persons who are there to love, his or her parents, are not. The orphan is left to the mercy of others.

For the fortunate, some find love and care through the extended family or friends. For others, societies have historically handled the situation in different ways. Some permitted letting the child die through exposure if they did not want them. Some would put the children in orphanages. Some would put them in foster homes.

Regardless of the situation, being an orphan is being in need of love. When Jesus says: “I will not leave you orphaned,” he is giving us a powerful message of love. He is saying that even if he is not physically present, He is with us in a real and substantial way. We are not alone. We are loved.

The sacraments establish and sustain this relationship of love in concrete experiences. Through the sacraments of initiation, which we celebrate in a special way during Easter, we are united with God the Son and through him with the Father and Spirit, but also with each other as brothers and sisters.

We are baptized in “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We now have an intimate share in divine love. The relationship of love is fortified throughout life through word and sacrament and so fortifies us to love and be loved.

At the end of life, when a priest visits the dying to offer prayers in communion of love both in heaven and on earth, the last words he says are an exhortation to the dying person: “Go forth Christian soul, from this world in the name of God the almighty Father, who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, who suffered for you, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon you; go forth, faithful Christian. May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion, with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with Joseph, and all the angels and saints.”

The prayers of baptism and of the dying represent the bookends of life wherein the person is loved. Created in love. Redeemed in love. Sustained in love.

In the midst of these trying days we can get scared, frustrated, sad. We might be experiencing sorrow at the loss of a loved one. We might be frightened for our parents or children. We might be anxious or impatient waiting for some resolution. It’s easy in a situation like this to get distracted and to sometimes feel isolated or alone.

Today we are invited to consider that we are not alone. God breaks the isolation through his all-abiding Presence. He is with us. He has not left us orphaned. He loves us and invites us to love.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.