Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 9, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48 / Ps 98 / 1 Jn 4:7-10 / Jn 15:9-17
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Most of you who know me know also that my wife is a middle school music teacher. She normally teaches Chorus and Music Appreciation, but this year it has been exclusively Music Appreciation. She teaches 6th graders, so you can imagine that some of them don’t have the best attitude going into it.
She introduces them to all kinds of what we would call “classical music” – starting with the Baroque Era, then moving to the Classical Era, into the Romantic, then Impressionistic. They look at music scores, but they also look at different genres. They look at opera – and lo and behold, the kids discover that, “Wow, opera is pretty cool!”
They almost always are a bit skeptical when they cover ballet, because the boys think ballet is for sissies. Almost universally, they are impressed when they actually witness these dancers, flying through the air, doing these difficult poses, all while smiling and making it look like it is no big deal at all. She introduces them to different people in ballet. One of the ones they are typically most impressed with is the dancer, Michaela DePrince. She is one of the top ballerinas in the world – but she had a really hard time getting there.
Michaela DePrince was born in Sierra Leone in the middle of that country’s ten-year civil war. She was ridiculed and shunned from birth by most of those around her because she has a skin condition. Her skin loses its pigment in splotches about her body. She was called “Devil Child” and people steered cleared of her.
When she was very young, her father was killed, and she and her mother had to move in with her uncle. He was not the nicest guy. He truly believed she was also the “Devil’s Child” and refused to feed her. Her mother fed her off her own plate – to the point where her mother eventually starved to death.
Michaela made her way to a UN orphanage and was eventually adopted by some Americans. When she was quite young in the orphanage, she saw a magazine cover with a picture of a ballerina on it. She was just enamored with that, and she thought, “Someday I would like to be able do that.” Her adoptive mother discovered this and saw to it that she had this opportunity.
Lo and behold, she was a natural. Still things weren’t easy. An instructor told her adoptive mother, “It’s not worth investing money in a black ballerina.” Her mother would have none of that. Her mother’s determined love paid off and so she was able to reach the top of her profession. I encourage you to look her up – she is amazing to watch.
The incredible love of these mothers – the self-sacrificing love of her natural mother, and the tenacious love of her adoptive mother, point us directly to today’s gospel, which has the Number Two command in all of Scripture. Number One is, “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” The second is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We hear this all the time but we may gloss it over like, “Okay, Okay. I get it, I get it.” But, if you really pay attention, Jesus amps it up exponentially in today’s gospel when he says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” If you really think about that, it’s quite scary. That has moved the bar so high. How can we ever hope to achieve it?
To really understand this, we need to review a couple of definitions. I have shared with you before that in the scriptures that “love” is not that warm fuzzy feeling when you hug your mother. That’s great, but that’s not what they are talking about in the scriptures. What they are talking about in Greek is agape, and in Latin, caritas, or charity.
Love is an action and not a feeling. I’ve shared with you before that I think the best definition of Christian love comes from Thomas Aquinas when he writes, “Love is to will the good of the other.” That really sums it up, but if we are not careful about that language, we can gloss over that, too.
“To will.” If we are not careful, we can think about that as, “Oh yeah, I hope everyone has a great life. I really have good feelings for them.” That is not the use of “will” in this definition. In this context “will” means “to attempt to cause something to happen.” Once again, it is an action – not an intention.
Jesus has put great responsibility on us. It can become overwhelming. We can think “How in the world can we possibly do this?” Because how did Jesus love? Well, Jesus tended to and healed the sick. He tended to the blind, the lame, the deaf. He tended to the lepers. He had compassion on the guilty when he said, “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” He reached out to people who were normally shunned – like when he spoke to and shared with the Samaritan woman or when he healed the Centurion’s servant.
In our first reading, we get a little glimpse of how that was carried out in the early Church when St. Peter witnesses the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on a bunch of Gentiles – if you were a Jew that was unheard of.
We need to remember, too, that Jesus’ ultimate act of love was to willingly offer Himself on the cross. We have been celebrating that for weeks. But how can we do this?
We can do this because we are not alone. We have help. In our Baptism, we were grafted onto the vine. We were grafted onto Jesus himself. We are the branches and our strength flows from Him. He feeds us sacramentally at every Mass with His very own body to give us the strength and the grace to live out this Christian way of life.
And we have powerful people on our side. We have the saints, who have lived this life and have been successful. They have reached the ultimate goal – to live with God forever – and they intercede for us.
And ultimately, we have our Mother, Mary, who is the Ultimate Mother – just like those mothers of Michaela – that sacrificial love, that determined love. She never ceases to intercede on our behalf.
And finally, we have the promise of Jesus himself who said, “I will remain in your love.”