Friends, this set of readings given us by the Spirit today is probably the strongest yet since Easter giving us a most clear direction in the way we as followers of Jesus must proceed—must, in fact, live our lives. We see in the first reading from Acts that the budding Christian community is not at all sure that they can trust Paul, who as Saul was a rabid persecutor of Christians. Understandable—perhaps. Barnabas steps up though and calls the others to love and forgiveness as Jesus modeled so well from the cross. Fear was overcome by love.
In John’s 1st letter—our second reading, we are instructed to basically, “walk the talk”—to love in deed and in truth and not just talk about it! John continues and I paraphrase; love is our way of knowing that we are committed to the truth and are at peace with God, no matter what our consciences may charge us with. This is a tremendous statement when you think about it! We are to love, no matter what our consciences charge us with—love is always the test! If the action isn’t about love, we may have to check the foundation of our consciences.
What is the loving thing to do?—always a question we must ask when we don’t know how to proceed. Many times people’s consciences have been formed devoid of love and so we will see people rabidly defending the God of their own making, or morals intended to control others, lifestyle choices, truly believing in the rightness of their actions—all without the consideration of what is the loving thing to do—or what Jesus would have done. As Easter people, we are challenged to this deep kind of thinking.
Often, we pray in our liturgies for the renewal of our Church—a renewal that needs to happen. We try to do our piece here at All Are One, but I believe each of us realizes the challenge that is before us each day to do the loving thing. Sometimes, I think we become confused and think that “the loving thing to do” is about “sweetness and light,” never saying, “No,” never speaking the truth as the Spirit gives it to us. Not so; doing the loving thing, is hard work. It is always easier to not say what needs to be said, to protect ourselves, our positions, our reputations. But the loving thing is about bringing compassion, hope, mercy, understanding and truth–to situations often devoid of these gifts. Our brother Jesus showed us so well how to bring these gifts to most all situations.
Jesus gives us the wonderful analogy today of the vine and the branches—we are part of something living and good and Jesus’ life force pulses through this vine/this family that we became part of at our baptisms—we grow as branches from that vine if we are people of love. If love is not the determining factor in how we do “church,” then the young that we hope to attract will walk away, as many already have. The younger generations want and have a right to expect that we be authentic—that we at least attempt to walk our talk.
Friends, it is good to regularly question our commitment, check to see that we are indeed, “walking the talk”—that our words do show up in our actions. There was a wonderful example of this in last Friday’s Winona Daily News of a young woman, Allison, a high school sophomore at Lewiston-Altura, who, out of concern that her life-long friend, Trent, who lives with Down Syndrome, would be asked to the prom, asked him herself. The story describes how Trent continually throughout his young life has always reached out to others, whether he knows them or not, says, “Hi,” and offers a hug. Now Trent may be asked to live his life with an extra chromosome that makes him different from others, but he also possesses a trait lacking in many of us—an ability to consistently look on his world with love.
During the month of May, Catholics have traditionally turned to Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother and our sister for the journey. Mary adds the human feminine face of God to our world, a face that has traditionally been depicted in a totally male form. Mary was a woman of strength, a woman who said, “Yes” continually to God throughout her life on behalf of her son who showed us the way, the truth and the life to strive to live. I like to consider Mary more as a sister in my relationship to her, than as a mother, because it allows her more of a voice. As a mother; she can be relocated to a pedestal, to be respected, yes, but I truly believe God intended more from her—as a challenge to us, as a model in how to follow her son, our brother, Jesus.
As most of you know, I retired from my position as chaplain at Winona Health this past week after 20 years of service in hospice, acute hospital and long-term care. It was quite a week too in getting to that final day on Thursday. The week included a funeral for a staff person that I officiated at, a special remembrance for her with staff at the hospital later in the week, crisis situations with several families, pastoral care to a long-time neighbor and friend along with his family and his ultimate death, later on, as well as all the day to day visitation and pastoral support of those in the hospital.
As I reflected on what it means to “retire” as I believe I will do for a while, I found myself being so grateful for the opportunities I have been given over these 20 years to bring God’s love and care to the situations that life brings to each of us on our personal journeys through life and home again to God.
So many people have asked me what I’m going to do now and while I see retirement as an end in some ways, to some things, I see it very much as a beginning in other ways—a refocus, a time to truly be more aware, asking all the questions of myself in a more profound way, that I continually ask all of us each week about how we live as Jesus’ followers and then hopefully, responding in more concerted and good ways because I have more time now. Easter calls each of us, each year, to now carry on where Jesus left off making a difference in our world. I look forward to the new ways now that our brother Jesus will be calling me.