• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

6th Sunday of Easter (A)

"I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate."

Entrance Antiphon: Is 48:20 – “Proclaim a joyful sound and let it be heard; proclaim to the ends of the earth: The Lord has freed His people, alleluia.”

First Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 – “Peter and John laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 – “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.”

Second Reading: 1 Pet 3:15-18 – “Put to death in the flesh, Christ was raised to life in the Spirit.”

Alleluia: Jn 14:23 – “Alleluia, alleluia. Whoever loves Me will keep My word, says the Lord, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him. Alleluia, alleluia.”

Gospel: Jn 14:15-21 – “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate.”

Communion Antiphon: Jn 14:15-16 – “If you love Me, keep My commandments, says the Lord, and I will ask the Father and He will send you another Paraclete, to abide with you for ever, alleluia.”

A coach told his team, “I expect each of you to maintain superb physical condition.” One player looked as though a great burden had been lifted. “What makes you so relieved?” the coach asked. “I was afraid you were going to make us do hard stuff like running laps and lifting weights.” Like that player, we may feel relieved that Jesus told us, “Love one another.” We might even harbor a tinge of, “I’m glad He didn’t give us hard stuff.”

In the Gospel today, the question behind the passage we heard seems to be: Can the disciples still love Jesus when He is gone? And this question also extends to us here and now ... people such as ourselves who never knew Jesus as a real person. So, the question remains ... How can we love Jesus now that He’s “gone?” And to answer that partially ... He hasn’t … He isn’t … and He will never be gone. The only thing that has changed is the way in which He is present to us since He walked the hills of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus is present to us in the Sacraments, including the Eucharist. He is also present in the Word. Yes, Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is present in the Scriptures we hear proclaimed at Mass ... the Gospel, yes, but also the First Reading and the Second Reading, which is why it is so important to come to Mass early. And in this time of COVID, we should read the selected Scripture passages before coming to church. We can read them privately in those various aids such as the Magnificat or The Word Among Us, use an online source, and / or most especially find them and read them in the Bible. Jesus is also present in you ... the Body of Christ assembled ... remember when He said ... “where there are two or three gathered in My name ... there also shall I be.” And after we walk away from our computer or TV screen after watching Mass being streamed ... when you visit someone who is sick ... or help someone who needs help ... you also meet Jesus through people such as those.

“I will not leave you orphaned.” Feeling alone and unsupported is a terrible feeling, especially when faced with a huge responsibility ... or a difficult job. And you can be sure, God also knew that we would feel isolated and alone during the COVID restrictions at times. Jesus knew that being His disciple would often be a daunting task ... it would often be hard. However, He promised that we would never be alone in taking it on.

I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete ... to be with you always.” Paraclete ... the Spirit of Truth ... the Greek word “Parakletos” is rich with many related nuances of meaning. Various translations render it as an Advocate (and perhaps that’s the best single word) … but it can also be translated as an Intercessor, a Counselor, a Protector, a Supporter, a Comforter, a Helper, or a Consoler. Some translations of the Bible, such as ours avoid the issue all together by simply putting the Greek word into English letters: Parakletos Paraclete.

Jesus gave clear directions for how we are to love Him. The Gospel begins and ends with similar sayings though they are in reverse order. “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (Jn 14:15, from today’s Gospel). In other words, love is the motivation for keeping the commands of Jesus. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). Besides the verses in Saint John’s Gospel, the First Letter of Saint John is overflowing with admonitions to love one another as Jesus did. It could not possibly be clearer.

Like the athlete in my opening story, we may not realize what a radical, all-encompassing, challenging command Jesus has given us. Even though we know better, we sometimes associate loving others with a warm, satisfying glow. But realize that there was no warm glow on the cross. There was no warm glow attending Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s taking the place of a young husband and father slated to die in Auschwitz. By her own account, Saint Teresa of Calcutta endured years of emotional and spiritual dryness while she ministered lovingly to the destitute and dying. Because of the warm aura surrounding the word “love,” we may find it difficult to see it as a command. For example, “Thou shalt not steal” is a command, but “Love others” sounds different ... it sounds nice. But remember, when Jesus told us to love ... He also used the word “commandment.” Commands are not optional, nor are they simply pep talks.

From time to time, we should consciously examine our life to see how well we are following the command of Jesus and to look for opportunities to do so. The people to whom we’re most closely related (our parents, our brothers and sisters, our spouse, our children) present a special challenge to our mission to love. Because we live in close proximity and perform necessary household duties, we may think of ways to love them more deeply. It’s easy to love your Mom and Dad ... right? But sometimes being too close isn’t a good thing either. And what I mean by that is being around those we love all the time. Close proximity exposes faults and deficiencies. I bet most of you can all relate to that after two months of COVID restrictions. Perhaps these can pose serious stumbling blocks to the acts of love Jesus commands of us. No matter what we feel, we can still choose to love.

The Second Reading describes an important way to love. We are to speak gently and respectfully to anyone who challenges us or makes fun of our faith. Such a person might be an atheist (someone who denies or disbelieves in the existence of God) or agnostic (someone who believes that it is impossible to know whether or not there is a God). Unfortunately, they are far more likely to be a relative, or a friend, or a neighbor who has been soured on the faith by the abuse scandals and / or other perceived faults of the Priests assigned to the Parish or to the perceived faults of our Church itself. In those cases, it is important that our own behavior is not a cause of anyone’s disillusionment.

But remember ... we are not all on our own (remember the Paraclete?). Nor are we expected to know exactly how to love in every possible circumstance. One thing you can be do is to pray to be shown. On September 11, 2001, Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan fire chaplain was one of the first on the scene at the World Trade Center and unfortunately, he died there. He composed what is now a very well-known prayer: “Lord, take me where you want me to go … let me meet who you want me to meet … tell me what you want me to say … and keep me out of your way.”

We can invest ordinary gestures with an intention to love as Louis Armstrong reminds us in his lyrics to “What a Wonderful World”: “I see friends shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do?’ and what they are really saying is ‘I love you.’”

There are many ways we encounter the same Jesus who gave us the great mandate to love in today’s Gospel. We all need to pray to Jesus and to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, minds, and hearts to ways in which we can love him by accepting and following the mandate ... by following the command He gave us ... to love one another.

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