Baccalaureate Mass Homily 2017

Easter 6 Homily: John 14:15-21

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.

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.”

There is a lovely little children’s song called “I See the Moon.” Do you know it?

I see the moon and the moon sees me
And the moon sees the one that I long to see.
So God bless the moon, and God bless me
And God bless the one that I long to see.

I first heard the song on a children’s record by the Iowa folk singer Greg Brown. I’ve thought of that song often when I’ve been alone at night with my loved ones far away– the song imagines the two of us, each alone, staring at the moon from our respective places, seeing the same moon in the sky and being mysteriously united to each other through our vision. OK, it’s not the deepest song, but there is something profound about it, anyway– there’s a longing for communion, a desire to be close, a sense that perhaps somehow we are not as far away from each other as we might feel. If we each look up at the moon at the same time, there is a form of connection. The moon, so far away, somehow brings us together.

But when you think about it, the moon also sees every other person. Or, really, the moon, being a big rock orbiting the earth and reflecting the light of the sun, sees nothing. So, really, the moon isn’t doing anything in this scenario. The active agent– the real energy in the song– is the love between the singer and the object of the song.

Today’s Gospel is about love and leave-taking, about the pain of separation and the reality of our communion. Jesus, as he speaks to his disciples, is preparing them for his death.

To the casual reader, Jesus’ first words in this Gospel reading are jarring: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” One’s mind immediately goes to the question, “Uh, oh– which commandments?” as if Jesus had a long list of arcane and difficult tasks he’s set before us, or like he’s setting up some strict moral conditions for receiving his love. But one must consider the context of John’s Gospel. In reality, there is one commandment that Jesus gives in John’s Gospel: Love one another as I have loved you.

It’s like the moon song, only much deeper: Love is the basis of our union with Jesus. Love is the basis of our union with each other. Submitting to Jesus’ commandments means allowing oneself to love, to be loved, and to live and move and have your being in the milieu of God’s love.

Jesus promises to send the Spirit of truth, another Advocate, to be with us. This word that’s translated advocate is, in Greek, parakletos, a word which was used to describe a person called on behalf of a prisoner or victim to act in his or her defense. The role of the parakletos was to dissipate the fog of bias and deception and to bring justice and truth to light. And it is the truth, of course, which sets us free, which invites us to live in the reality of God’s justice and love. So, this is the work of the Spirit. And where there is truth and justice and love, there is communion. All are essential. Love without justice is pure sentimentality, a self-justifying cover. One cannot say, “I love that person but am unconcerned about his mistreatment, his oppression, his suffering.” But justice without love so quickly turns to violence and hatred. And in the context of both love and justice, the truth humbles us, takes each of us off God’s own judgment throne, helping us see that our own human brokenness is yet another bond of solidarity with both friend and opponent.

The world teaches us some horrible things. We learn to hate from the world. We learn to distrust from the world. We learn to shift blame from the world. We learn to scapegoat from the world. The world cannot accept the spirit because it neither sees the spirit nor knows the spirit.

But you– child of God, you have been called out of the world, plunged in baptism into the river of God’s love. What if love is your true home? What if love is everyone’s true home? What if the Gospel is true, and Jesus’ words are true, and a life of love, truth, justice, and mercy is really not only an option for you, but is the deepest reality in your life?

deeper than your own success
deeper than your own ego
deeper than your plans
deeper than your sins
stronger than hatred
stronger than the divisions
stronger than death or chaos or whatever you fear

The Christian life is a life lived in the Spirit, in love. And all the practices of the Christian life are intended to change our habits of attention so that we can learn that it is truly safe to love because we are loved. It is safe to forgive because we are forgiven. It is safe to side with the poor and suffering because Jesus has already sided with them and with us when we were poor or suffering. It is safe to repent and to change because change is the portal to greater love. Repentance is just a way of saying, “I see that I could love more, and I long to do it.”

So, beloved friends: not to be the bearer of bad news, but the world will probably kick you around a bit in these next few years. Those of you who’ve got sweet jobs or internships will be tempted to think that work is life, that work and success are the meaning of life. Recognize that as a temptation. You are put on earth to love and be loved and to achieve whatever completeness you will find in this life in the service of love. Those of you who are uncertain about your future will be tempted, too– perhaps with jealousy, perhaps with frustration. Recognize these, too, as temptations. You are put on earth to love and be loved and to achieve whatever completeness you will find in this life in the service of love.

And remember, too, the bond of our love and connection across time and place, and remain in it. It is Jesus, always present to us in the Eucharist. When you look at the host when elevated by the priest here today or wherever your life may take you, see in the risen Christ present under the sign of bread the eternal covenant bond of our love, and the bond you have with the universal church, with the saints in heaven and all Christ’s disciples here on earth and indeed with all whom the Holy Spirit has called into God’s family. Your true home is love and your true identity is love and your true destination is Love.

I love you all. Remain in God’s love now and forever.


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