There is nothing more important in life than who we love, yet it has been well said that we cannot explain why we love someone. If a husband were to say that he loved his wife because she was beautiful, she might indignantly answer “What happens if I lost my beauty?” “Would you still love me?” If she however told her husband that she loved him because he was a good provider he could well respond, “Would you still love me if I lost my job?” Why we love is a mystery because there is simply too much meaning to express in questions and answers. It is the stuff of poetry and drama not philosophy and science and the best even the most subline literature can accomplish is the hinting at the fullness.
During the Easter season we have celebrated that God sacrificed his only son. The why is simply love, there is no language to explain this. The writings of the New Testament are closer to love poetry than an academic discipline. We have not only the Gospels but Paul and the other New Testament writers providing insights into that love however fleeting and to aid us in participating in it however halting.
The church in her wisdom selects readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John for the Easter season. These may seem to be extremely different.
The events in the gospel of John take place in Palestine over a few years with a rather restricted cast of characters. John shares inklings of the very nature of God with us. We are told that God is love and today Jesus says that his aim is that we will be one just as he and the Father are one. The Acts of the Apostles spans the entire Mediterranean world reaching Rome itself over a generation with many saints and sinners vividly rendered. It was written by St Luke who shows us that the great saints in Acts repeat the actions of Jesus. St Stephen the first martyr uses basically the same words as Jesus when he is being executed: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. The Apostles perform the miracles of Jesus. Peter cures a paralytic as Jesus did to name just one. Also, to show continuity both Peter and Paul at different times are miraculously freed from jail. In every event in Acts the preaching of the apostles will be effective and we will hear that many will be added to the number of believers.
We should be grateful that God has given us such wonderful and varied insights into his love and mission. Yet are they all that different? There is a great unifier with them, the Holy Spirit.
In John’s Gospel Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room and breathed on them saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
This fulfilled his promise to the disciples to send the Spirit who would “guide you to all truth.”
The Acts of the Apostles is often called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. Next week is Pentecost and we will celebrate the descent of the spirit upon the disciples. The Spirit appears whenever the Apostles preach. It was dangerous and difficult to bear witness to Jesus. The authorities who killed Jesus would seek to kill them as well. Also, these were unlettered men who debated the leading scholars of the day. They needed the Spirit to help them, and the Spirit appears in every move in Acts.
The emphasis in John is on the interior life of the Christian. The growth of the Spirit within. But John never loses sight that the love of God is always overflowing, going beyond itself. We read today: “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world”. The first letter of John which we have also read this season, and which has been discussed in the parish online commentary constantly reminds us that the experience of the risen lord is an experience of love, and we can tell it is real if we in turn love each other especially the poor and needy. No one we are told today has ever seen God but when we love each other we show that we have experienced, understood and acted.
if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
Perfection here means completion; our experience of God’s love is incomplete if it does not connect with other people.
The writings of John and Acts complement each other. Each is a journey of the Spirit. Both realize that as Paul so beautifully says “God must be all in all”. He must be known throughout the entire world but also be in every part of us as both individual Christians and the Christian community. John will emphasize the Spirit working within us; Luke the Spirit reaching to the ends of the earth.
This is especially important as life resumes. Certainly, the recent statements of the CDC are very encouraging, but it should be a warning to us as well. We need to prepare. Not only work on the mechanics of reopening but more importantly prepare spiritually. After the pandemic in the last century people went wild, thus the roaring 20s, but also our parish church was essentially rebuilt in 1924. There will be a lot of energy released this year, will we be a home for it?
Our parish leadership is developing several initiatives to make us institutionally attractive and available. This is very important indeed essential. But it must be complimented by spiritual renewal. During the pandemic we have offered a variety of spiritual online exercises from Rosary and Vespers to novenas and book club. These would be a good place to begin I note that today we begin a new novena at 5PM to honor our Blessed Lady in May. You might also think about confession. We have new and comfortable chairs in the garden and I can always find a time to meet with you. The joy of being catholic however is that there are always means of conversion and renewal. We will need them. Our church and indeed our parish will be judged by how well we respond to this opportunity and the readings of the Easter season have shown that we can only go as far into the world as we allow the Holy Spirit to go into us.