Friends, this homily was done by Pastor Dick Dahl in my absence.
No one is perfect. Nor can mothers be. Yet I think mothers epitomize the theme of today’s liturgy–love–more than anyone. A happy Mother’s Day to each of you who are mothers and to all who have been mothers to us, living and deceased.
This past Wednesday I went to the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse for a webinar presentation by Father Richard Rohr. The title was “Rediscovering the Wisdom of Early Christianity.”
For the first three hundred years the Christian community identified with Jesus who taught us how to love. He did not seek power or status. In the 4th century Emperor Constantine changed things. He made the persecuted Christian church the religion of the empire. Now it had status and power. Furthermore Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in 325 AD in which the Nicene Creed was formulated. A focus on correct belief gained importance. The self-image of Christianity became very different after Constantine.
Father Rohr explained that earlier Christians focused on living so as to experience the divine. Love characterized the early Christian communities more than theological definitions.They focused on how Jesus lived and what he taught–especially the Sermon on the Mount–Blessed are the meek, the poor, the merciful, the pure of heart, those who suffer in his name. It was the community of the powerless.
Then Father Rohr put the Apostles Creed on the screen. It highlights power. The all-mighty Father is mentioned twice. The word “love” does not appear once. Jesus’ birth is followed immediately by his passion and death. There is no mention of his life, his miracles or teaching; no mention of the Sermon on the Mount.
This does not mean that the creeds are wrong or bad, but a different emphasis entered the Church, and it became even worse after the Great Schism of 1054 when the Church split in two with the Orthodox in the East and the Roman Church in the West.
The Roman Church defined beliefs. Being one with God depended on believing the correct things. We needed someone like Peter in the first reading today to declare that God shows no partiality. Any person who loves is acceptable to God. And in the second reading today John affirms thatlove is from God. One who does not love knows nothing of God. Would the Church have sanctioned the Crusades or the Inquisition had the earlier emphasis on love remained primary?
The phrase “Perennial Tradition” refers to the reflection of God’s presence and influence throughout the world in people and religions at all times and everywhere. The Divine Mystery is not limited or restricted to those in power or who know the correct catechism answers.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel; use words if you must.” God does not meet us in formulas, doctrines, and moralisms nearly as much as God meets us in everyday reality as it offers itself hour by hour. Is this not truly “our daily bread”? The Word became “flesh” because words can’t get you there, only experience can.
God has a predeliction, a special love, for the poor and helpless, the refugee, the suffering. People in these conditions are not always attractive. When a man saw Mother Teresa washing the wounds of a leper. he said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa replied, “Neither would I, but I would gladly do it for Christ.” One of her Missionaries of Charity said, “We care for Christ in his distressing disguises.”
Cory Booker is a Senator from New Jersey. I don’t know his religious affiliation or even if he has any. However he said the following: “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.”
Father Rohr emphasized the importance of not judging others. He said it may be more helpful to work at not labeling others. Once we label someone, we put them in a box and it becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, to listen to them and understand them.
Disconnection is the source of much of our suffering. Love, however, creates connections which sustain us, connections that give meaning, connections that provide a pathway to the sacred.
Pedro Arrupe, a former Superior General of the Jesuits whom some consider a saint, wrote the following:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you will read, who you will know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.