Pastor’s Column

Seventh Sunday of Easter                    May 29, 2022
Unity is as Important as Ever

 

Most of our congregation is no doubt familiar with the catchy hymn, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” found in our own Breaking Bread hymnal. Written by the late Peter Scholtes, it is relatively easy to sing. A bit of background on the hymn: while leading a youth choir out of a Chicago church basement, Scholtes could not find an appropriate song for a series of ecumenical, interracial events, and so wrote his own, finishing it in one day (https://hymnary.org/text/we_are_one_in_the_spirit).

The hymn’s refrain, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” is straddled by lyrics such as
“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and we pray that all unity will one day be restored;”
“We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand, and together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land;”
“We will work with each other, we will work side by side; and we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride;” “All praise to the Father, from whom all things come; and all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son; and all praise to the Spirit who makes us one”
(Copyright, Words: 1966 F.E.L. Publications. Assigned 1991 Lorenz Publishing Company (Admin. by Lorenz
Corporation), Music: 1966 F.E.L. Publications. Assigned 1991 Lorenz Publishing Company).

These beautifully uplifting lyrics underscore the central motif of John 17:20-26, today’s Gospel passage – Jesus’ prayer for unity among the faithful. Neal M. Flanagan, O.S.M., in his treatment of the Gospel of John in The Collegeville Biblical Commentary (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota; copyright 1989, Dianne Bergant C.S.A. and Robert J. Karris, O.F.M., general editors) writes that “for future disciples, Jesus prays for one central gift – unity: ‘that they may all be one, as You Father, are in Me and I in You … that they also may be in Us … that they may be one, as We are One, I in them and You in Me, that they may be brought to perfection as one’ (vv. 21-23). It will be only through this evidence of loving unity that the mission to the world (v. 18) can be effective; for only if the loving union of disciples is apparent can the world believe (v. 21),
can the world know (v. 23) that the Father has sent Jesus, and that the Father’s love can be found in the disciples as it can be found in Jesus Himself (v. 23). Where this loving unity of disciples is found, there too will be found the company of Jesus (v. 24), the divine presence (v. 24), the power of the divine name, and the living love of both Father and Son” (v. 26) (p. 1008).

I recently received a text from Christians I have known since my college days up at Pace University in Pleasantville, NY. Ken and Debbie led a Campus Crusade for Christ chapter for students and drew us all together each Wednesday evening for a Bible study. Those weekly Bible studies with fellow students were among the hallmarks of my college experience. When there were threats of protests during Catholic Masses this recent Mother’s Day, with the leak of the Supreme Court draft decision on Roe v. Wade, which resulted in increased NYPD presence outside our churches, Ken and Debbie reached out to let me know their support and prayers were with me and Catholics everywhere, as we faced persecution for upholding God’s laws on the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death. This offer of support and prayers touched me deeply.

Taking heed of Jesus’ prayer, as we work and pray for unity among all Christians, we are reminded in these perilous times, fraught with confusion over what constitutes flourishing of the human person, of the importance of proclaiming the definitive Truth of Christ and the Peace that comes with knowing Him, and doing so hand in hand, side by side.
Rev. Michael W. Panicali

 

Pastor’s Column                                   May 21 – 22, 2022
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

 

Our gospel reading this weekend for the Sixth Sunday of Easter comes from what is known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples at the Last Supper. And the going away present he offers to them is the gift of his peace. “Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Peace is one of those reat gifts you never have to worry about someone not liking, not using, or returning. Who among us doesn’t want or could not use more peace in their lives?

Back in 1979, the year I graduated from Dartmouth College, our Holy Father of happy memory, Pope St. John Paul II said, “Never before in the history of mankind has peace been so much talked about and so ardently desired as in our day. […] And yet again and again, one can see how peace is undermined and destroyed.” Forty-two years later, his prophetic words are, if anything, even more true today. In a turbulent world filled with a pandemic, chaos, war, violence and the ever-present threat of terrorism, Jesus offers us the peace the world cannot give.

St. Thomas Aquinas once taught that “peace is nothing else but the tranquility arising from order. In a human being there is a threefold order: that of a person to himself, to God, and to his neighbor. There are three things that have to be put in order within us: the intellect, the will, and the sense appetites. The world gives peace so exterior goods can be possessed undisturbed, but Jesus gives peace so that we can obtain eternal things. The peace of Christ brings tranquility both within and without.” Bishop Robert Barron expands on that notion. He says that “Jesus’ peace is not the comfort that comes from material wealth or good physical health, or the companionship of friends, or even the intimacy of family life. It is the Shalom of the Holy Spirit, the love from all eternity connects the Father and the Son. After his Resurrection from the dead, Jesus breathed this Spirit forth upon his disciples and then invited them to share it with everyone. And such has been the mission of the Church for the past two millennia: to be an agent and instrument of the peace the world cannot give.”

How do we receive this peace from Christ? We get it by loving and listening to Him. Jesus says: “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.” Jesus speaks of a presence of God within each person, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul renewed by grace. Our life in the Spirit begins with our Baptism when we become sons and daughters of God. And it grows and matures when we are sealed in the Holy Spirit at our Confirmation, as were several of our young people this past Friday. This is life in the fullest sense of that word, a participation in the divine life, the life that never ends, eternal life.

Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, the Advocate, and Counselor. In our litigious society we are well aware of the need to have a good lawyer to watch out for us and protect us. Our Lord says that the Spirit will teach his disciples everything and remind them of all that Jesus told them. Jesus was preparing to return to the Father. We will celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension, a holy day of obligation, this coming Thursday. But Jesus promises us that through the gift of the Spirit he will not leave us alone. Through the Spirit, God dwells in us and we become temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us to all truth which is personified in Jesus Christ who is our way, our truth and our life. The Holy Spirit saves us from arrogance and error of thought and helps keep us right in matters of conduct.

Unfortunately, the world does not always recognize or agree with that which is right conduct in the eyes of God. But we should never allow ourselves to despair or to become discouraged. As Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Come Holy Spirit! — Fr. Bob

 

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter                    May 15, 2022
“I give you a new commandment: love one another.”

Consider this thought-provoking question: “If you were put on trial and accused of being Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” To be a Christian is to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. And in our Gospel this weekend, Jesus himself provides us with the evidence he will be looking for. He says, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This portion of John’s Gospel is known as The Last Supper Discourse, and this particular part is called The New Commandment to Love. Jesus’ time with his disciples was growing short. They would see him die upon the cross the very next day. If his disciples were ever going to hear his voice and understand his message, this was the time. And so he tells them: “I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

Now there is nothing really new in the command that his disciples should love. Early on in his ministry while debating with the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus taught that the entire law could be summarized by two commandments; first, to love God above all things, and second, to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. What is new about this commandment is how his disciples should love. We must love one another as Jesus loves us, and that takes this commandment to a whole different level.

So how did Jesus love his disciples and what does that mean for us? First, he loved his disciples selflessly. Even in the noblest human love, there remains some element of self. We often think, perhaps unconsciously, of what’s in it for us. Perhaps we think of the happiness we will receive or about the loneliness we will suffer if love fails or is denied. But Jesus never thought of himself. His one desire was to give himself and all he had for those he loved. Can we be selfless and love by willing what’s best for the other solely for the sake of the other and not for our own sake?

Second, Jesus loved his disciples sacrificially. There was no limit to what his love would give or to where it would go. If love meant the cross, Jesus was prepared to go there. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that love is meant to give us happiness. So, in the end it does, but often love may well bring pain and demand a cross. Are we willing to pay the price and sacrifice ourselves for the good of the other?

Third, Jesus loved his disciples understandingly. He knew them through and through. Jesus had lived with his disciples day in and day out for three years and he saw them at their best and at their worst, and he still loved them. Sometimes we say love is blind, but that’s not love; that is infatuation and it is destined to end in utter disillusionment. Real love happens with our eyes wide open. It means loving someone for who they are, not for who we want them to be. Are we able to love people as they are, warts and all?

Finally, Jesus loved his disciples forgivingly. One of them was about to betray him. His chosen leader would deny him. They were all to forsake him and run away in his time of need. But Jesus held nothing against them; there was no failure he could not forgive. There is a famous movie line which says, “Love means never having to say you are sorry,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Those people whom we love the most also have the capacity to hurt us the most. True love means being able to ask forgiveness and grant forgiveness. All enduring love must be built on forgiveness, for without forgiveness love is bound to die. Are we able to forgive those whom we love? May all come to know that we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another!

 — Fr. Bob

 


 

Rev. Michael W. Panicali