Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” John 13:34
Jesus continued to explain that you are to love your enemy! This commandment has always been difficult to carry out. Unfortunately, sin is imbedded into our human nature. It sometimes seems we can get caught up in the details. Who really is our enemy? A criminal, a murderer, a tax collector? If these were the only enemies we had, it would make sense that it would be a struggle to follow this commandment but most of us do not encounter such people on a daily basis. In that respect, we could easily fall into a false sense of security thinking we limit our interaction with our enemies. But what about the guy who cuts you off in traffic, the coworker who takes credit for work you did, or a friend who chooses to spread rumors against you. These people do not necessarily fall under the strict definition of enemy, but it may be more difficult to show kindness to them.
Jesus also says, “pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:43. In this world where selfishness, self preservation and egotism are common attitudes, we can lose sight of how a simple act of kindness is one of the most powerful weapons we have. In truth, we are all humans dealing with troubles. To that point, it is very probable that when someone wrongs you, that action has nothing to do with you and is taken to relieve some pain that person is enduring.
When put in that perspective, being kind to someone who wrongs you is the only way to take your enemy and make him or her your neighbor. There is no doubt that the initial act of kindness may be hard to perform, but the overall benefits are worth it. This act will not only grant you entrance into Heaven, but may help your enemy enter in as well.
As true sons and daughters of Christ, we are called to evangelize. I hated this idea while growing up. The idea of standing on street corners and proclaiming the gospel to total strangers held no appeal. I did not believe I had the authority to tell others what they should believe. I lacked confidence, knowledge, and courage to speak out in such a way. Deep down, I did not feel the strength of my own faith, and if I could not convince myself that it would lead to God, how could I convince others?
It was not until I was able to voice that I was a “child of God,” that I understood the confidence, knowledge, courage, and especially wisdom were not attainable without the gift of these qualities by the Holy Spirit. I did not have to aggressively pursue people to convert—the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s divine Providence would take care of the audience. The more I personally pursued Jesus and continued to invite Him into my life, the more I lived my life by faith. To my great surprise, people actually noticed and began to ask me about my life. There was no need to prepare a speech or recite scripture, which I thought would be necessary—instead, I emphasized my own experience and described my personal relationship with Christ.
“Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father. “ Matthew 5:16
There is a familiar children’s song with the lyrics
“I’ve got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart.” Joy is different from happiness because it comes directly from the Holy Spirit’s presence within us. Joy does not guarantee you will always be happy; the sense of joy simply allows you to place your trust in the Lord. Even if something goes wrong in our lives, we can still find peace because we are in the Lord’s hands. This assurance provides the light that other people will see when everything in our lives is directed by God.
While growing up, I somehow developed the notion that accepting charity was a sign of weakness. From the outside looking in, it might appear that society as a whole has also adopted this perspective. Charity is only for the poor and downtrodden, but who determines the appropriate ways to judge a person as such? In truth, everyone has experienced hardships at one point or another, and has been in need of help from their community, whether they are willing to admit this or not.
When personally denying charity in the past, I made myself believe this was a sign of strength. It was not till I found myself lacking everything, with no choice but to accept charity, that I realized true strength comes from the acceptance of help from others. In light of Pentecost, we should be reminded that we are all different with varying gifts, but still part of the one body. The simple act of allowing another to help you allows the Holy Spirit to unite the body and make it stronger. Jesus said, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Mark 12:17. It seems as though society has lost sight of what real charity means. Charity can be a one-way transaction as opposed to a mutual exchange. A mutual exchange of love is essentially an exchange of trust in the Lord, who is Love itself.
When I finally got over my egotistical attitude toward charity, I was able to discover new and stronger relationships with the people around me. Charity permits people to become vulnerable and this vulnerability opens opportunity to build up friendship because it is based on who the people involved are at their core–children of God.
“May the Father or our Lord Jesus Christ
enlighten the eyes of our hearts,
that we may know what is the hope
that belongs to his call.” Eph 1:17-18
With this revitalized witness to the coming of the Holy Spirit, may the Spirit once again bring forth life-giving acts of charity. After the deprivations caused by the worldwide pandemic, and especially during this time of rebuilding the world, charity has never been more needed.
The first reading for today opens by stating, “to keep the law is a great oblation, and he who observes the commandments sacrifices a peace offering.” Sir 35:1. This reading seems fitting in light of my diocese’s proclamation that after the feast of Pentecost, the holy obligation to attend Mass in person will be reinstated. This decree may require a sacrifice for some. Accepting this obligation once more means that we as a community of God must reunite again. As people throughout this nation and this world prepare to come together again, there is no doubt great joy, but there may also be great fear.
With more people entering their churches, there are more chances to subject ourselves to unknown dangers. With this fear of the unknown and the sacrifice in confronting it are many blessings. Jesus Himself said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age.” Mark 10:29. It seems appropriate that on Pentecost this decree of returning to Mass in person is reinstated. Over the past year, people came together agreeing to keep separate to protect each other, but now it is time to unite under a new belief, the belief and trust that Jesus truly is our Savior and He wants us to engage in the struggles of this world together, not apart.
The coming of the Holy Spirit promises protection and salvation. Sacrifice brings companionship with our Lord. God created us to be unified and not divided. There is a miraculous strength when the church is filled with people praising Him. As we all return to holy Mass, we are returning home. Under the protection of our Savior, there is nothing that cannot be overcome.
“Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.” John 17: 7-8
When first read, Jesus sounds as though He is talking in circles in this passage. However, He is actually creating connections and drawing His people to those connections with His Father through Himself. When God sent His Son into this world, He made a new and final covenant with His people. Thanks to the work of Jesus in our world, we no longer have to fear being separated from God. Everything God had in mind for us when we were first created was given to us through Jesus. If we hear the word of God and simply believe in it, we are guaranteed all the wonders of the kingdom of heaven.
Paul is a perfect example of taking the words of Jesus to heart and living by them. He handed over his entire life to God because he understood that life was never his. God gave him life, and he returned that life to God. “I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish the course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24
We are not all called to live life like Paul, but we are called to give our lives to God. God asks us to be saints, and what do saints do? They answer God’s call and willingly surrender to whatever the Father asks of them. This may sound like sacrifice, but if we completely trust God, we can be sure that true happiness does not come from living for ourselves, but from living for others, according to God’s divine plan.
There is an old proverb that states “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” In other words, you are more likely to get what you want by being polite rather than rude. Over the years, this proverb has proved itself to be true. However, we often forget about it. Customer service jobs are some of the most grueling because they require dealing with people under stress. People don’t often handle difficult problems well and along with the stress these problems create comes fear. In that fear, our age old enemy thrives. He is ready to feed us lies and make us regard others as opponents rather than allies.
Jesus promised His disciples before He left this world that He would send the Advocate, meaning the Holy Spirit, who comes to conquer because “the ruler of this world has been condemned.” John 16:11. We live in a fallen world governed by sin. The ongoing battle is to reject the ruler of the world and return to the teachings of Jesus, acting through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
The first reading today is the story of Paul and Silas remaining in their cell in jail even after an earthquake opens the gates of the jail, allowing them to escape. The timing of this earthquake would have been sufficient to make the point that the Lord is always in charge and will protect His followers. It would have been easy to say that He sent the earthquake to free His people who were imprisoned unjustly. Instead, the Lord makes the story more powerful and thus saves more people through the actions of Paul and Silas. By remaining in their cell, they show consideration for the jailer. They acted according to the Spirit and not in the way of the world. Because of this action, the jailer’s eyes were opened and he was baptized.
“They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.” Acts 16:33-34
In a world filled with fear and stress, it is easy to forget or lose sight of the relationship we are called to have with other people, especially when they confront us with hostility. This is why Jesus sent us the Advocate, so we can persevere against this aggression and evangelize through simple acts of kindness.
A priest once said that the Church is at its best when its views do not align with the majority of people in the world. Jesus Himself never said the path of sainthood would be easy, yet He calls us all to be saints. Saints are called to share their faith with the world and that faith is not easy to accept! The first disciples and martyrs that followed Jesus were stoned, ridiculed, and put to death for their faith and for daring to proclaim it.
“The ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.” John 14: 30-31
Jesus faced oppression throughout His entire ministry, and to a greater extent, His entire life, beginning with Herod’s attempt to have Him killed as a baby. When we embraced our faith, we accepted the responsibility to uphold the mission of Jesus. We do not choose a life of ease and simplicity, and at times it is possible to mourn the loss of that kind of life. No doubt Peter and Paul entertained similar feelings; Peter looked at other fishermen going out on their boats everyday, knowing exactly what their day would entail. Paul, who was wealthy, had “lorded over” many before his dramatic call from the Lord. These men willingly left their former lives to suffer for Jesus Christ.
Jesus was right about the ruler of this world. Satan has come into his own and will stop at nothing to lure us away from our faith and choose to believe in an earthly lifestyle. He has done a marvelous job of making this earthly life appear greater (and so much easier) than a life of faith.
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
Jesus asks us to follow a life path similar to His, which can be a hard request to accept, but when we do, our reward waits for us in Heaven. This reward is so great it is beyond anything we can possibly imagine on earth.
When I was in college, I had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Israel. During my visit, I saw that the land lived up to the way it was depicted in the Bible–there were a lot of shepherds caring for a lot of sheep. As we toured the country, the question arose as to how an individual shepherd knew which sheep were his. Several times we saw herds of sheep with multiple shepherds watching them. So how did these shepherds keep track of their own sheep? It turned out that a more accurate question was how did the sheep know which shepherd to follow? They actually do learn the voice of their shepherd and will indeed follow the sound of their master’s voice.
Jesus often compares us to sheep through numerous metaphors in the Bible. Considering the general behavior of sheep, this is not the most flattering comparison for us. Sheep are not known for their intelligence, which is why they often wander off or just follow the rest of the herd, regardless of where it is going. Clearly, we are much more intelligent than the averaged sheep; yet, we can fall into sheep-like habits.
We human beings can become distracted and stray from our shepherd and our flock, but if we know our Shepherd’s voice we should always be able to find our way back to Him. Our Shepherd, of course, is Jesus, but we may choose to follow other “shepherds.” Jesus said, “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.” John 10:25-26. In our modern world, many shepherds’ voices clamor for our attention: money, fame, power, etc. It is easy to follow those voices because they are familiar and can provide instant (though temporary) comfort. At this time, it is more important than ever to learn the voice of the true Shepherd. It may not be so easy to follow Him, but He can provide the ultimate comfort–everlasting life with Him in those “green pastures beside still waters.”
I was told by a Franciscan friar that many people believe that we have a choice: we can either be happy or holy, but the truth is that we can be both. Consider the story of Stephen, the first martyr of the early Church. He proclaimed the good news, yet the crowd who heard him rebuked him and then stoned him. “Stephen said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.” Acts 7:57 Even while Stephen was being tortured he still maintained a joyful appearance that surpassed all imagining.
Stephen was only the first of many early Christians who suffered and then were martyred for their faith. The stories of the trials and tribulations of most of the apostles ended in death. Nevertheless, these men went through all this pain while remaining devoted to the Lord. This devotion gave them holiness and because of their holiness, the Lord granted them happiness even in death by martyrdom.
Only God has the ability to instill the pure joy of knowing our Savior Jesus Christ within each of us. Stephen looked into the sky and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. That was enough. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst’.” John 6:35
There is no denying that life as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ can be difficult, sometimes unbearable, but if we hold fast to the word of God, we are guaranteed true happiness in life. In fact, we are guaranteed not only happiness, but we have the promise of so much more–the holiness that leads us to heaven.
Can you imagine standing in front of the apostles and handing over all your earthly belongings? You do this out of faith that these men will take and use what you give them for the benefit of many others. This actually happened in the earliest days of the Church; we find an account of it in the Acts of the Apostles.
“Those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.” Acts 4:34
We currently live in a world of abundance. The more people obtain, the more they desire; some believe they need more in order to survive. Jesus calls us to detach as He called the early Christians. A Franciscan friar once told me: “It is a lot easier not to care about money when you do not have any.” That may sound odd, but it is true–the best way to relieve financial worries is to give all your possessions away. Clearly, this may not be a realistic solution for the majority of us; however, it sets a good standard for which we can all strive.
“If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.” John 3:12
We go to church, we fast, we pray and we truly do believe that Christ came and died on the cross for us. We believe that He rose from the dead, yet somehow we struggle believing that He will take care of our day-to-day worries. Jesus calls us to have faith, only faith. What does it take to completely surrender yourself to Jesus, our Savior? We need to start listening to Him about these “earthly things” and then detach ourselves from them. Only then can we completely understand the “heavenly things” and believe.