Spirit and spirit
If I were to title this homily this morning, it would be Spirit (with a capitalized “S” ) and “spirit” with a small “s.” Because that is what we hear in today’s readings. We learn of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus tells his disciples will be their constant companion and advocate. But we also learn through the readings of the spirit that must guide our lives and our actions.
This Gospel is part of what is known as the Last Supper Discourse. Can you imagine the emotions of the Apostles when they heard Jesus give them this farewell instruction. He would not leave them orphans and would send another Advocate to be with them. Why was he leaving them? Where was he going? Would they ever see him again? What were they to do next? Those are probably some of the questions that went through their minds. In his conversation Jesus answers these questions.
He begins by making the statement; “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But Jesus teaches them and us to view commandments in a new way, in a way that was different than merely a list of behaviors to be followed or avoided out of duty. Here, Jesus tells his disciples that commandments are to be lived as an act of love. If we love someone we do what pleases them. This love moves us to do things we might not want to do, and even things that we might see as being difficult or a sacrifice. And Jesus calls us to look at the commandments through the prism of love and to live them out of our love for God.
One of the most vivid demonstrations of this is how we view the Eucharist which is part of the central theme of today’s Gospel. I suggest to you that the Eucharist should be viewed in three ways.
First, The Eucharist Is the Sacrament of Life. Jesus is the Bread of Life. The Gospel passage of today places the Eucharist in the context of giving and receiving life. “Just as the Father who has life sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the man who feeds on me will have life because of me.” The Eucharistic sacrifice is the very action of Christ by which He destroyed our death and restored our life. Whenever we gather for this sacrifice, we are celebrating the victory of life over death, and when we receive this Sacrament, we receive the life that never ends.
Secondly, The Eucharist Is Also a Sacrament of Unity. St. Paul declares in today’s second reading, “We, many though we are, are one body, since we all partake of the one loaf”. Imagine all the people, in every part of the world, who are receiving Communion today. Are they all receiving their own personalized, customized Christ? Are they all receiving some personal, designer communion fashioned for them? Are they not rather each receiving the one and only Christ? It is through this sacrament that Christ the Lord, is drawing all people to Himself. And if He is drawing us to Himself, then He is drawing us to one another. When we call each other “brothers and sisters,” we are not merely using a metaphor that sort of dimly reflects the unity between children of the same parents. The unity we have in Christ is just as strong as the unity of blood brothers and sisters, because we do have common blood: the blood of Christ! The result of the Eucharist is that we become one, and this obliges us to be as concerned for each other as we are for our own bodies.
Imagine a person who receives Communion, accepts the Host when the priest says, “The Body of Christ,” says “Amen,” and then breaks off a piece, hands it back, and says, “Except for this piece, Father!” Because you see, this is what is done, spiritually, by the person who rejects other people—whether by hatred, anger, pettiness, unforgiveness, or a failure to recognize the dignity of another. In receiving Christ, we are to receive the whole Christ, in all His members; in welcoming Him, we are to welcome all those whom He made, whom He loves, whom He died to save—all our brothers and sisters, whether convenient or inconvenient, wanted or unwanted, liked or disliked. That’s hard. I know that. I struggle with that every day.
The Eucharist Is, Finally, the Sacrament of Love. St. John explains, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” Christ teaches, “Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends. The best symbol of love is not the heart, but rather the crucifix. Think of that for a second. The best symbol of love is not the heart but rather the crucifix. What does that tell you about the way you love your love?
Love says, “I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person. In the Eucharist we see the meaning of love and we receive the power to live it. “This is my body.” These four little words are spoken throughout the world whenever a Mass is celebrated. Christ gives His body away so others might live. Christ says, “This is my body given up for you; this is my blood shed for you.” These are the words of sacrifice; these are the words of love.
Everyone who wants to follow Christ needs to say the same. Spouse says it to spouse, parents to children, priests to their congregations, friends to friend. We need to imitate the mysteries we celebrate. “Do this in memory of me” applies to all of us in the sense that we are to lovingly suffer with Christ so others may live. We are to be like lightning rods in the midst of this negativity and anger that we see in so many countries of the world, including the United States and Canada. We need to be able to say, “Yes, Lord, I am willing to absorb some of this violence, some of this anger, some of this hatred and transform a small part of by my love so that others may see the love that I bear in my heart
But make no mistake about it. It is a process. We don’t wake up one morning suddenly transformed (well, at least, most of us don’t” ) It is a conscious act of living the day in a different spirit. Sometimes it is hard and gritty. Sometimes, it seems pretty easy.
But there is one other thing. We can’t do it in isolation. We need to do it in community with one another. That is why Acts today stresses the unity of the Christian life and why the Gospel emphasizes how God dwells and in fact remains in us if we only stay open to his presence. Today so many people fight loneliness and the temptation to doubt whether they matter in the eyes of another or not. While loneliness is a perennial threat to every child of Adam, it seems that in today’s fast-paced and very mobile societies have heightened each person’s sense of alienation and wondering where he or she belongs. Some still carry the images of themselves when they were children and realized that they were not the most beautiful, the mot handsome, the most athletic, the most gifted. Some still carry the hurt that came from a spouse or a sibling who was not uplifting but rather demeaning. Some still carry the burden that they don’t look like the person in the fashion magazine or in a tabloid.
The commandment of love reaches out to us with a clear message. We NEED each other to lift each other up. Pope Francis recognized this when he said that he would not live in the Papal apartments but rather in union with other priests and brothers in a simple apartment. When asked why, he emphasized that community with others dedicated to Christ was an essential part of his life.
That unity, that community comes directly from the words of Jesus. There is the unity of the Trinity that he speaks about as he teaches us about the Advocate, and reveals to us when he says tht he and the Father are one. Jesus invites us to experience the Love of our Father, The grace that flows from him, and the unity of the Holy Spirit that binds them into one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There is also the unity of the believers in Christ. Jesus taught that, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me.” St. Paul experienced this on the road to Damascus when he heard the voice say, “Why do you persecute me.” The unity of the body of Christ – of us with Christ – should not be underrated. It is a beautiful part of God’s love that binds us to him.
All of this comes from the unconditional love God has for us. Reflect on all that God has done for us and is doing for us out of this great love. When you reflect on Christ’s overwhelming love for us, you can not help but want to reach out in love and allow his commandment of love to be the rule of your life