Sunday, May 13, is the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B, Cycle II).
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17
While studying abroad in England and doing parish visitations with the Legion of Mary, Tom met a devout Catholic man from India. He said he had only returned to the full practice of his faith five years before, and he explained why.
“I was in my apartment when I had a heart attack,” he said. “My wife called an ambulance, and it came right away, but I was very afraid.”
On the way to the hospital, he was gripped with a terrible fear of death. He had always meant to return to his faith. But he never really had. What would happen now? He had let God down. How would he be judged?
Then, suddenly, he was overwhelmed by a feeling of calm as a voice said to him, inwardly, “It is not your love for me, but my love for you that matters.”
He heard the words of the First Letter of John — but he heard them from God’s perspective. That changed his life. It is a lesson many of us need to learn. But, first, we need to unlearn a different lesson: We need to stop thinking of everything like we think of school.
School takes up a huge portion of our childhood and early adulthood and so becomes a dominant metaphor in our life. We talk about “scoring points” and “making the grade” and call serious mistakes “fails.”
But the school metaphor doesn’t work in the Christian life. We could never score enough points to “make the grade” of eternal life — it isn’t possible.
The family is a better metaphor. We are in the family of God through love. We are “begotten” in it, says the first reading:
“Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
Knowing that we are in God’s family clarifies our relationship and our responsibilities. The minimum requirement is to keep the commandments. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love,” says Jesus. Keeping the commandments keeps you in the family.
But then Jesus gives a greater commandment, a greater responsibility: “This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you.”
If you think about it, this is no different than human families. Brothers and sisters love one another the way their parents love them: not for the sake of personal gain or out of fear of punishment or as a difficult “duty” that they have to fulfill, but because that is what families do.
In the family of God, it is no different.
But one other dimension of that conversion story impressed Tom — and it touches on the nature of the family of God. Tom, a half-Mexican Arizonan, heard the story in a small house in Oxford, England, from a man born in India.
When God said, “Not your love for me, but mine for you,” the man learned that Christianity is a religion initiated not by Christians, but by Christ. In hearing the story, Tom saw firsthand how Christ is initiating his religion all over the world.
Jesus says the same thing in today’s Gospel: “It is not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”
In the Old Testament, that phrase would have been taken to mean simply that the Jews were the “chosen people.” But in our first reading from Acts, God started choosing Gentiles, too.
Many Jewish Christians didn’t like that. They found it odd to be sharing “their” religion with the likes of Cornelius and his family.
But that’s how the Church is supposed to be — growing around the world. It still is.
By 2050, China is expected to be the nation with the largest Christian population. God is choosing more people to be part of “our” Christian family. This shouldn’t alarm us. In fact, it should encourage us.
God loves us all, and it is his love that matters.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.