Homily: Loving as Jesus Commands

May 22, 2022 – Sixth Sunday of Easter

Readings of the day: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 / Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23 / John 14:23-29

The following is the homily I will be delivering this morning at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:

In one sentence from the Gospel of John, Jesus shared all we need to know about living a fruitful life and attaining heaven. We heard the following: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

As for living a fruitful life – first, we are directed to love Jesus. Second, we must keep his word. What is his word? We hear it several times in the Gospel of John: Love one another. Jesus doesn’t simply encourage loving one another, the gospel says he “commands” us to love one another.

So, if we love Jesus and we love one another, God will provide a dwelling place for us in heaven.

While this may sound simple and straightforward, it’s important that we understand the love to which we are being called.

The word love is found in the Gospel of John 57 times. It is sometimes referred to as the “gospel of love.”

Our everyday vocabulary is saturated with the word love. Each of us likely say the word a dozen or more times per day.

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Happy Anniversary, Carol!

May 21, 2022

I am updating this anniversary message as Carol and I celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary today:

Since I started my working life as a paperboy at the age of 10, I have had seventeen different jobs. Since I started driving when I was 16 years old, I have owned sixteen different cars. Since I was born, I have lived in eleven different houses. Since I married Carol thirty-nine years ago, at the age of 23, I have had one wife. Carol and I celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary today.

I have spent some time recently reflecting on our time together: How much we have grown as a couple, how much we still love one another, and how odd it seems that we have been married thirty-nine years, despite being SO different. My friends actually had a wager pool going on how long we would last.

Now that I am a grandfather of ten, I think ahead to a time when I will be sitting in a rocking chair after attending an engagement party for one of my granddaughters . Ellie or Aggie or Ivy will sit down next to me and ask, “Grandpa, how have you and Grandma stayed married so long?”

I am a planner by nature; so in order to prepare for that day, I have compiled a list:

  • Carol and I have celebrated our differences, even found humor in them. She is an extreme extrovert; I am an extreme introvert. She talks to think; I think to talk. She is shopping at a downtown mall; I am fishing in a boat on a quiet lake. Carol is messy; I am neat. These differences could have proven to be frustrating and at times unmanageable, but we have each allowed the other to be genuine. Acknowledging and celebrating our differences, and laughing about them, allow each of us to grow as an individual while we also grow as a couple.
  • We remember why we married one another. At one point in our marriage, it drove me crazy how Carol did (or didn’t do) the laundry. She would start the laundry when we were completely out of clothes, then do it all in one day. Wash them all in one day – fold them and put them away over the course of the subsequent 3-4 days. It was more than my left-brain self could handle. After quite a lengthy period of frustration, I calmly asked myself, “Why did I marry Carol?” I was able to give many reasons. Not one of those reasons was to do my laundry. So if I didn’t like the way Carol did laundry, and I did not like being frustrated, that left me one choice. I started doing the family laundry and have been doing it ever since.
  • We make a decision to love one another each day. As corny as it sounds, I believe in this and do it. We have not always done this. Carol and I facilitated marriage prep retreats and “love is a decision” was a unifying theme of those retreat weekends. We bought into it. When you wake up every morning and put yourself in the mindset – I will love my spouse today – it makes an impact. Even if we are getting on each other’s nerves, we can think, “I may not like you much today, but I am committed to loving you today.”
  • We are deliberate in acknowledging our love for one another. We say, “I love you” to each other all the time: when we wake up in the morning, when one of us leaves the house, at the end of a phone conversation, and in any text or e-mail we send to one another. We hold hands. Gentle touches are administered by one of us if the other is struggling. The struggling spouse may not feel like talking, but will appreciate the acknowledgment and concern shown.
  • We are sensitive to one another’s needs. Sometimes Carol needs to talk and I need to listen. Sometimes I need to not talk and Carol needs to respect that. When she cries, I don’t tell her, “That’s not something to cry about,” even if I do not find it cry-worthy. Although I had to learn it over time, I now know I need to respond to her when she speaks. Early in our marriage, she would talk for a while and then get frustrated because I didn’t answer her. And of course I, a male, was thinking to myself, “You didn’t ask me a question.” Her point was that I needed to acknowledge her and let her know she has been heard.
  • We share our faith and prayer lives with one another. This final piece came along later in our marriage and has made us even closer. We pray together. We share where we are in our faith, our doubts as well as our discoveries. I believe that this has allowed Jesus to enter more fully into our marriage. We feel His presence.

Now, when my granddaughter asks me the question about the longevity of our marriage, I will be prepared.

Happy Anniversary, Carol. I have made the decision to love you again today!

Bear Fruit

May 20, 2022

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain… (John 15:12-17)

BEAR FRUIT: What does it mean to “bear fruit”? We bear fruit when we build up the Church.

The readings of the entire Easter season are focused on the apostles’ effort to share the good news, the joy of the Resurrection. Their actions allowed for the building up of the Church, with the number of Christians growing from those eleven men to the 2.3 billion believers in the world today.

The apostles were sent out to bear fruit, to grow the Church. They did this by sharing their personal experience of the Risen Christ.

All Christians have that same responsibility.

So, what can we do about it? Well, for starters, we can take the directive from today’s gospel seriously. We can bear fruit by growing the church.

The manner in which we do this will be different than it was for the original apostles, but the bottom line is the same – we share our experience of Christ. We tell our story. We share with others the awe and wonder of God’s presence in our lives.

God is active in our lives. He elicits a sense of awe and wonder for us. In our hearts, we know God is still relevant. We believe He is still important to people and truly impacts their lives.

The problem is, we don’t share our experiences. We keep them to ourselves, as if we are not allowed to talk about them. We need to have those conversations; we need to LEAD those conversations.

It is those conversations that will bear fruit and build up the Church.

Joy

May 19, 2022

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. (John 15:9-11)

What does it mean to have our “joy be complete?” Given the context, I know that eternal life is the opportunity for complete joy to which Jesus is referring.

The passage gives me pause and raises a question for me: Is it possible to have complete joy here on earth? I do not want to get too philosophical, breaking apart the word ‘complete’ and delving into the essence of completeness. I am too simple-minded for that.

So let’s take the definition of ‘complete’ out of it and ask the question this way: What can we do here on earth to experience as much joy as possible?

Suggestions:

*Maintain a loving and active relationship with God. Let him know you are around. Talk to Him. Show gratitude for the many blessings in your life. Allow Him to work through you.

*Have joyful heart. No one can walk around whistling a happy tune 24 hours a day, but we can have a joyful heart – a heart that is open to others, that sees suffering and responds, and that shows a willingness to forgive.

*Live by the mantra, “Your will be done.” Give up control.

None of the above suggestions are easy. However, I think they give us the best shot of experiencing as-complete-as-possible joy while still on this earth.

Branches

May 18, 2022

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

I am the vine, you are the branches. (John 15:1-8)

The beginning of this Gospel passage presents a beautiful image. We are the branches, given life by and growing out from Jesus, the vine. We owe our lives to Him. We are nourished through Him.

Then the reality sets in: He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit.

It sounds like it is not just a one way street. We are expected to pay forward the life we’ve been given. We must bear fruit. If we insist on being “takers” only, and bear no fruit, we will eventually be thrown out like a branch and wither.

We are so blessed. The best way to show our gratitude to God for our many blessings is to bear fruit – to produce something beautiful from what we have been given. The fruit we bear has many forms: an active prayer life, a joyful presence, a giving spirit, and a servant’s heart.

As we are nourished, so must we nourish.

Hardships

May 17, 2022

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. (Acts 14:19-28)

HARDSHIPS: The message of Easter is one of joy. The primary Gospel of Easter is that of John, which reiterates the unconditional love God has for us and the need for us to love God and one another.

We certainly do not want to lose sight of this joyful message, but today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that we will face hardships along the way.

The challenges we face come in many forms: The actions of others that cause us emotional pain; physical suffering; or our own lapses in faith.

The key to surviving these hardships is not allowing the door to close on Jesus Christ. Our door is wide open when things are going well, but tends to close a little bit with each challenge we face. We must not allow it to completely close. This may mean forcing ourselves to be more deliberate in our faith lives – praying when we don’t feel prayerful, showing gratitude when we aren’t feeling all that grateful, and counting our blessings when they seem few and far between.

This deliberateness may buy some time, allowing Jesus to push open the door a bit further.

It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God,  but it is worth it!

Love

May 16, 2022

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him.” (John 14:21-26)

LOVE: The Gospel of John is packed with references to love. Yesterday’s Gospel passage revealed Jesus’ new commandment: love one another. Today, we read, Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him.

It is difficult to follow the commandment to love one another, at least to follow it the way Jesus intends. The challenge comes in loving others when they are not so lovable.

So it might be easier to wrap our minds around loving acts. We love others as Jesus intends through loving acts.

Examples:

I get in an argument with a co-worker and we are angry with one another. I may not be ready to hug him or invite him to lunch right away, but I can love him as Jesus intends through the loving act of forgiveness.

I choose to go out and serve the homeless twice per month. When I do that, I am not only loving those I serve. I am loving as Jesus intends. Through the loving act of of serving the homeless, I am loving all of the homeless, the poor, and the disenfranchised, many of whom I will never meet.

The loving act of prayer allows us to love as Jesus intends. We may feel like we cannot touch the lives of all who suffer, so many who need our love – but we can pray for them.

We can’t put an end to war on our own. We can however, exhibit the loving act of peacefulness.

It is incredibly challenging to love as Jesus intends us to love. Breaking the challenge up into small loving acts may make it more manageable for us.

Homily: Lawnmowers, Pick-up Trucks, and Loving Others

May 15, 2022 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 14:21-27, Revelation 21:1-5, John 13:31-35

I delivered the following homily, based on the same readings we have today, at St. Pius X in Indianapolis back in 2019:

I have some exciting news to share. I bought a new lawnmower last Saturday. This is exciting on multiple levels. First, it’s exciting because I’m a guy and a lawnmower is a piece of power equipment. Second, I have needed a new lawnmower ever since the self-propelled mechanism died three years ago.

My excitement manifested itself in several ways. For instance, I took pictures of it and sent it to my sons and sons-in-law – who were quite impressed. I also timed how long it took me to cut the grass and shared the comparison between my previous old lawnmower time and my current new lawnmower time with Carol. She was very supportive and pretended to be excited about it, too. And, I cut the grass twice this week – once because it needed cut, the second time just because I wanted to.

I experienced this same type of excitement last year when I gave my Toyota Camry away. It had 270,000 miles on it. I bought a new used pick-up truck with only 80,000 miles – very exciting.

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Joy

May 14, 2022

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” (John 15:9-17)

JOY: For many of us, true happiness can only be found in what comes next. When we’re in grade school, we know high school will make us happy. Then senior year begins and our thoughts turn to college. High school just doesn’t do it for us anymore, but college will make us happy. Those of us who have been through all of that remember when we couldn’t wait to be done with college. Finally being done with school would make us happy. Then getting a job, then a better job, and so on and so on.

Happiness has an expiration date. It usually depends on things from the outside world. Our happiness is never complete because there is always something better out there. Unfortunately, we may miss out on some beautiful things going on in our lives right now because we are too busy looking for what’s next.

Notice that Jesus did not tell His disciples, “I have told you I love you so that my happiness might be in you and your happiness might be complete.”

Jesus used the word “joy.” He said, “I have told you I love you so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”

Joy is happiness on steroids. It is not something that we have to search for and it does not depend on anything from the outside world. We do not need to wait for it or hope for it. And no one can take it away from us unless we let them.

Joy resides in our hearts. The source of that joy is the love of Jesus Christ. We can access it at anytime.

Prepare a Place for You

May 13, 2022

Each day, I reflect upon a word or phrase from the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. (John 14:1-6)

PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU: What comforting words! Jesus is telling us once again that He is in this for the long haul. He is with us now, and will stay with us until we are called home to Him.

Many us of battle feelings of unworthiness; we’re broken and we know it. We might be able to find a human being or two to love us, but can we really expect Jesus to love us – forever? Even after the countless times we have strayed from the path? Despite how often we doubt? Regardless of the many times our faith wavers?

Today Jesus locks eyes with us and lets us know that there is nothing we could ever do to make Him love us less…nothing. His faith in us has never wavered. His faith is such that He has already prepared a place for us in heaven. We have advance reservations, so that where He is we also may be.