The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Homily: Saturday, 5th Week of Easter

Readings: Acts 16:1-10; Ps 100; Jn 15:18-21

I always like it when the Gospel quotes Jesus directly. It's as if the evangelist - in this instance, John - is telling us, "OK, this isn't me speaking here. This is Jesus Himself, this is exactly what He said, so you'd better listen carefully to His words."

Interestingly, in this passage from John's Gospel, Jesus uses one word several times: the word, "hate." Hate's a strong word, isn't it? Jesus could have used "dislike" or "turn away from" or even "reject," but He didn't. He used "hate." And when He said, "hate," He was talking about the world's attitude toward Him, and by extension toward those who follow Him, and that's you and me.

Now I don't know about you, but I don't like the thought of someone hating me. When I'm the object of hatred I experience a certain tension; opposing forces tug at me. On one side I find myself questioning my own words and actions. What could have inspired such hatred? There's just something very self-damaging about being hated. Of course, the opposing tendency is to respond in kind: to hate the hater.

When I was a boy, my father would recruit me to help him on Saturday mornings. He loved to work with wood and always had a project or two in the works. I would do the boring work: holding boards while he sawed or nailed; helping him measure and re-measure; all this while I wanted to be outside with my friends. But as we worked, we would talk, and he'd use this time together to teach me things.

I remember one morning telling him about a little skirmish I'd been involved in at school. It was one of those stupid little fights between two ten-year-old boys. I was one and Donnie Anderson was the other. Today I can't recall the cause of it, but I do remember telling Dad that I thought Donnie was a jerk. "I really hate that kid," I said.

Dad just looked at me and said, "You know, hatred is really just selfishness."

Just what I wanted to hear from good ol' Dad. He went on to explain that by hating another we place ourselves above him, and as Christians we can't do that. God loves and we must love as well. But that's no fun, and we can always find a reason to hate, can't we?

Longfellow, in his play, "The Spanish Student," had one of the characters admit:

There's nothing in this world so sweet as love,
And next to love the sweetest thing is hate.
Yes, as the saying goes, "revenge is sweet," and it's easy to hate. Hate polishes up the self-image, doesn't it? It makes us feel so superior, and when we take action, based on that hatred, we're really just trying to destroy another.

I once read about a Navy doctor during World War II who was aboard an American warship that was transporting wounded Japanese prisoners. He took such excellent care of the prisoners that some of the American officers protested. "Treat those animals the same way they treat our wounded," they told him.

"No," he replied, "Let them play by their rules. I play by a different set of rules, and if that bothers anybody, I'm sorry. I'm going to do my best to replace whatever hatred they have in their hearts with love. That's the only way we're ever going to have peace in this world."

It takes a lot of courage to be a true Christian when the world is screaming contrary values at you. How did Jesus put it in today's Gospel?
"If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world...the world hates you...If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" [Jn 15:19,20].
Yes, indeed, being a Christian creates some difficult choices, especially if we hope to gain the world's respect and escape persecution.
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you
Can we really expect to receive better treatment than Jesus? Not if we listen to Our Lord and, like that Navy doctor, exchange hate for love.

This leads us to the question we all have to ask ourselves every day: What kind of rules do I play by? The rules of the world? Or the rules of Jesus?

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