Being Chosen

6th Sunday of Easter (B); May 6, 2018

Acts 10   Ps 98   1 Jn 4:7-10 Jn 15:9-17

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison; SJB

        Today’s Gospel—John Chapter 15—brings us back to the Last Supper, which contains Jesus’ final, lengthy discourses, which give us a richly textured, sustained account of Christian spirituality.   There is a particular line in today’s Gospel, which goes to the heart of Christianity, when our Lord says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you

(Jn 15:16a).

This statement flies in the face of contemporary New Age spirituality that emphasizes our quest for God, our search for meaning, our longing for peace. Jesus, however, puts us on an utterly different course. What really counts is that God seeks us out, God pursues us up and down our lives; he hunts us down like The Hound of Heaven so boldly said by Francis Thompson. It’s not so much that we have chosen Jesus, but that we are chosen. To get that straight is to understand what Christianity is about, which means everything changes. Rather than figure out how I am going to discover God in my life, I’m going to cultivate an attitude of radical surrender. Put simply, I’m going to allow myself to be found.

Most of us, like 99.9% (we’ve got to allow the exception of our Blessed Mother!) begin our life with the attitude that ‘I am the center of my life, my life is about me, and I am in control.’ We create a scenario in which I am the architect of my life-drama, in which I direct, produce, and write the play. Egoically, I script everything in which I am the main player and I then work God into the play.

God is going to deconstruct that conceit. When I encounter the real Jesus, not my egoic fabrication, then I will slowly begin the process of surrender in which I will allow God, the great I AM, to take me places where I am not the center, where my life is not about me, and where I am not in control.

Our lives really begin to get traction when we allow God to write our story in which He calls us to play a certain part. In a very telling conversation that Jesus had with Peter after the Resurrection, our Lord said, “…when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hand, and someone else will dress you and lead you to where you do not want to go” (Jn 21:19).

That’s the shift from the Ego-centered drama to the God-centered one. Before that happens we have to go through a process of individuation, in which our projects and ambitions have priority. But, when we embark on the second half of our lives, we will allow someone else to dress us, to lead us into unknown lands just as He did with Abraham. And, that Someone is the Holy Spirit. When we make that transition, then we’re ready for a real spiritual adventure.

The readings from this week show us the consequence of making this shift from our Ego to God. What does it look like?

Being chosen by Christ is to be sent on a mission: “I have appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (v. 16b). I’ve called you to do something with your life in my name; I’ve called you to do something, which is to “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). Unlike New Age spirituality, Christianity is not about self-realization. Rather, one becomes fully human by being mission-oriented, when we order our lives according to God’s purposes. The great 20th century theologian Urs von Balthasar once said, “We really don’t know who we are until we discover God’s mission for us.” In other words, we don’t really know our name, our deepest identity, until we know what God wants us to do. God has chosen us; then He sends us to promote His Mission, which is to bring salvation to the world that has been won through Jesus’ Death and Resurrection.

Once we make that shift, then we know the Mission will always be about Love because Love is what God is, which we heard in the 2nd reading from John’s First Letter: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:7).  Love is not an attribute of God, but that’s what God is, which is revealed in the Trinity: the Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the love that they share. That’s what God is—that’s the essence of God and we are made in the image of God, Who is Love.

Therefore, we’ve been chosen by Love for the sake of bearing Love to the world, which means to be bearers of Christ Who is Love incarnate, to be evangelists of His Good News. We do so not because we feel like doing it or that it’s convenient to do so. No, Love is not an emotion or sentiment, but Love is willing the good of the other as other. So, we willingly cooperate with Jesus’ Mission, which is uniquely tailored to our vocation and ministries. However we live out being a missionary disciple, will always take the form of love.

There is a simple litmus test whether we are living the Great Commandment: “No one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13), which is, of course, how Jesus lived.  So, we’ve got to find a way to give our lives away—not necessarily as a martyr does, but to see our lives as self-gifting in every dimension of our existence. Once we do, then we’re on track to be in right relationship with God.

Furthermore, being chosen by God and accepting that invitation means we become God’s friend. We cannot earn God’s friendship by doing heroic acts of virtue. Friendship always involves opening up the self to the other. We become someone’s friend when we open our heart to them and he or she does to the same to us. This is precisely what God the Father does in His beloved Son, Jesus. Jesus reveals His Sacred Heart to us; He invites us into intimacy, into an ‘I-Thou- relationship that is meant to endure forever. Therefore, Jesus can say, “I no longer call you servants, but friends” (v. 15).

How do we know that we are a friend of Jesus? The Jesuit paleontologist/theologian Teilhard de Chardin once said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” The whole purpose of the Christian enterprise is to make us happy, which comes about when we say “yes” to the Father’s will. When our will is congruent with that of our heavenly Father, then we will be joyful—how can we not be because we are in right relationship with God?   Brothers and sisters, we are happy in the measure we become God’s friends, in the measure we are conformed to His Love, in the measure we are living out of His Mission, in the measure we allow ourselves to be chosen.

As the Easter season comes to a close, allow yourself to prayerfully reflect upon the Last Supper discourses. And, you’ll realize that it’s not you who have chosen Jesus but that Jesus has chosen you. Amen.

 

 

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Being Intimately United to Jesus

Fifth Sunday of Easter (B); April 29, 2018

Acts 9-26:41   Ps 22   1 Jn 3:18-24   Jn 15:1-8

Deacon Jim McFadden

        Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus during the Last Supper, in the moment He knows that his death is close at hand. His ‘hour’ has come and this will be the last time that he will be with all of his disciples and he wants to impress upon them a fundamental truth: even when He is not with them physically, they will still be able to remain united in Him in a new way, and thus in and through Him bear much fruit. Everybody can be united in Jesus as we participate in His very being. We are part of His body: there is an organic relationship between Jesus and His disciples that does not obtain in any other religion.

If on the contrary, one should lose unity with Jesus, one would become sterile. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit unless it remains on the vine, we cannot live fruitful human lives unless we are in union with Jesus. Or, more dramatically, “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

These statements run counter to our inclusive sensibilities, in which the great vice of our society is exclusivity; that’s why Catholics are often regarded with suspicion, if not disdain. So, when we stand behind these statements that “unless you remain in Jesus, you can do nothing” or “apart from Jesus you can have no life because Jesus is Life itself,” that strikes many as being insensitive and exclusive.

Is Jesus really saying that unless we are rooted in him, we can’t be saved or if we don’t dwell within him, then we are a useless branch only suitable for the fire. Put bluntly, He is saying that. But, to understand these radical statements, we have to put them into context.

Jesus is the power by which God makes and sustains the whole world. Hearken back to the Creation story: how did God create the world from nothing? He SPOKE His Word, which is the power that God makes and sustains the whole world. It means that anything that exists at all, exists in and through Him. We hear this in John’s Prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came to b e through Him and without Him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:1-3a). So, if Jesus wasn’t as John proclaims, then it would be exorbitant to make all these claims. But, if Jesus is the Word made Flesh, then we attest that we find our very being in Him.

The Logos, the Word of God, is that power through Whom we exist from moment to moment. As the Logos, the perfect self-reflective Thought of the Father, Jesus is the foundation of the order and structure of the universe. To convey this radical contingency on the Logos, Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches: Just “as a branch cannot bear fruit cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine and you are the branches” (Jn 15:4-5).

With this image, Jesus teaches us how to abide in Him, to be united in Him, even though He is not physically present.   Jesus is the vine, and through Him—like sap in the tree—the very love of God, the Holy Spirit is passed through the branches. That why we need to be united with Jesus. Cut off from the vine, we are not self-sufficient, but depend totally on the vine, in which the source of our life is found. Why? Because Jesus is LIFE itself: through Him everything comes into Being and is sustained in being. So, it is with Christians: we are grafted onto Jesus.

How does that happen? At Baptism we are initiated into Jesus’ very Body, the Church, through which we receive new life. Thanks to Holy Mother the Church, who nurtures us, we are able to remain in full communion with Jesus.   We grow in intimacy with the Lord through prayer, listening and being docile to His Word, especially in the Gospels, and participating in the Sacraments, especially, the Eucharist and Reconciliation.

When we are united with Jesus, we will enjoy incredible blessings, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are—as St. Paul tells us—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). These are the blessings we receive when we remain united with Jesus; and therefore a Christian who is united in Him does so much good for neighbor because the Risen Christ is working in and through him. In fact, that is how one can recognize a true Christian: generosity—“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” The fruits of this profound union with Jesus are wonderful: our whole person is transformed by the grace of the Spirit; we gradually become more and more like Jesus. We receive a new way of being; the life of Christ becomes our own: we are able to think like Him, to see the world through His eyes. We are able to love like Him, beginning with the poorest and those who suffer the most, as He did and love them with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As we stay grafted onto Jesus, we will bear the fruits of goodness, of charity, and peace in our world. May we enthusiastically be living branches in the Church and witness our Faith in a consistent manner—consistent in our thoughts, words, and deeds—knowing that all of us, according to our particular vocation and ministries, participate in the one saving mission of Christ Jesus. Amen.

“I Lay It Down on My Own”

4th Sunday of Easter (B); April 22, 1018

Acts 4:8-12   Ps 118   1 Jn 3:1-2   Jn 10:11-18

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison, SJB

 

Two lovers look at one another and say without any reservation: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life” (Rite of Marriage (Roman Catholic), #25).

A father holds his newborn daughter and from some vastness within him says, “I would die for you.”

(for the prison) A friend holds the hand of a terminally ill “cellie”

and says, “Don’t worry; I’m not going away.”

When we first hear the phrase “unconditional love,” it seems a beyond-reach ideal—something that can only be attained in heaven. But actually we all have moments of unconditional love. In these moments we open ourselves unreservedly to another and commit ourselves totally to the others’ well-being. Like Jesus in John’s gospel, we often reach for “laying down our life” language to express what, at this moment, seems so clear and undeniable to us. Unconditional love means everything and is forever. We know it’s possible because Jesus has done it for us and, as the Body of Christ, the Church, we are simultaneously called to do the same.

Let’s look at this passage closely: 17 “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”

            Unconditional love necessarily entails laying down one’s life for the other. It’s important that we get this right because this passage touches on the meaning of redemption.  Sadly, there are some people who believe that Jesus paid the price to earn the Father’s love. Some people believe that Jesus paid the price to convince his Father that we were worth loving, which tells us that the Father does not love us very much and ends up making the Father a ogre, who demands blood money before he’s going to love his children.

 

Jesus is not proving himself to the Father; he’s not convincing his Father that we’re lovable; he’s not paying some kind of blood money, where the Father sees it and says, “O.K., I’m convinced; I’ll allow these people into heaven.” That could never be, because the Father is perfect Love, which does not break or cause pain but rather heals and transforms the other.

When Jesus died on the Cross, he is revealing to us that the Cross is somehow already in the heart of the Father. The Father is the unconditional Lover and Jesus is the beloved Son who is receiving the Father’s love. The Son is becoming for the world Who the Father eternally has been. The Son is becoming in space and time who the Father is. That’s why Jesus is also known as Immanuel: God is with us.            Sisters and brothers, love is simply redemptive, healing us at our very core; self-giving is redemptive and Jesus is God’s self-giving in the world. As John would say in 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for our salvation.” When we enter into this unconditioned loving energy through Christ, uniquely present in the Eucharist, we’re becoming liberated, redeemed, and freed.   Jesus lays down his life of his own free will because he has seen the Father do the same for him for all eternity. No other life than self-giving is real, true—it is being who the Father is.

So, it is with us. The understanding of who we are as the beloved children of God, who are the People of God, the Church, challenges us to keep our visionary commitment to “love all the days of my life” and “till death do us part.” We continue to gaze on our children, grandchildren, and friends and reaffirm that just as Jesus has done for me, I will do for you: I lay my life down for you.