5th Sunday of Easter
5th Sunday / Easter / year C
April 23-24, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
It was the 19th century Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky who once famously said: "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams." This was often quoted by the American Dorothy Day, who probably will be canonized a saint one day. I hope so, because I would like to walk into a church one day and see a statue of St. Dorothy Day, holding a cigarette in her hand. That would be awesome.
In today's Gospel, Jesus gives us the only commandment he gave us as his own. "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another."
This does not mean we have to have warm feelings for each other, or even like each other. To interpret what Jesus means, remember that these words are spoken at the Last Supper, the night before he gave his life for us on the cross. These words are part of the context of the Eucharist instituted that evening: my body given, my blood poured out, for you out of love. So the Eucharist reveals not just who the Lord is for us, but also who we must become for one another.
To love one another means those closest to us, which is much more difficult than loving someone half way around the world. Like the old saying goes, "I love humanity, it's just you I can't stand." The real test of love is when it is lived with those closest to us, our families and in our marriages, with roommates and co-workers, and with fellow parishioners.
I am sure we have heard this Gospel enough that we all know what we should do, but may not know how to love one another. I found some helpful advice in an article I read this week in America magazine. Fr. James Martin recalls some advice given to him by his mentor, Fr. John O'Malley, on how to get along with others living in community. Here are his three rules: Realize that you are not God. Know that this is not heaven. And don't be a jerk. Actually the original is a bit more earthy, but you get the jist.
Realize that you are not God. Fr. Martin says this has three implications: You can't change most things, so stop trying to control everybody and everything. You are not in charge, so stop acting as if you were. And you don't know everything, so stop acting as if you do. Love begins in realizing we are not God.
Know that this is not heaven. He says this can help reduce the amount of complaining that we do. When we have unreasonable expectations of life, and unreasonable expectations of one another, we will end up in a perpetual state of disappointment. It is always easier to see the faults of others than it is to see our own faults, which are the only ones we need to be concerned with. People are not perfect and life is not fair. When we drop that expectation, then we have a shot at being happy in life.
Don't be a jerk. Fr. Martin says this means transcending the us versus them mentality that we swim in in our culture that seems to lack civil discourse. This means cutting people some slack, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. One thing I sometime do when I walk into our church and see all of you is to say to myself, "Everybody is dealing with something." Everybody in this church today is dealing with something, and when we realize that, it is easier to be patient with other fallible people who may not be having their best day.
All of us truly want to love one another, but sometimes we just don't know how. These three rules may aid us in taking the next step forward and being truly happy with our life.
When Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us, this does not mean having warm feelings for each other, or even liking each other. It does mean a commitment to do what is best for the other person even when it is not the easiest for us. That is real love.
This is a lifelong challenge, and we never really get it right. That is why we need to be here each week, because we need the grace of the Sacraments. We need God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Real love is difficult and messy, and Dostoevsky is right: "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams."