Acts 14:21-27, Revelation 21:1-5A, John 13:31-33A, 34-35
We all like new things. The word ‘new’ often implies something that has just come into our possession. We love the “new car” smell, the appearance and feel of new clothes, or the excitement we get from our newest technological gadget.
All of the Fifth Week of Easter readings speak of newness. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we rejoice when we hear of St. Paul’s journey back to the new churches he established and how the Gentiles are welcomed in accordance with the message of Christ. In our reading from Revelation, we see how the new and eternal Jerusalem will be realized in all its glory at the end of time. Most of us will not be called to establish new churches, and indeed the end times should be left to the Lamb of God himself, who says: “Behold, I make all things new.” So, how can we hope to follow the new commandment to “Love one another, as I have loved you,” proclaimed in today’s Gospel?
The Commandment of Love is given to us as our Lord’s disciples. The Old Testament law commanded human love for ourselves and our neighbors. Through his acts of charity and generosity, Christ mandates divine love for one another. The divine love is selfless and expects nothing in return. This supernatural love comes not from us but from the Holy Spirit. By merit of our baptism, we join in the divine nature of our Lord and are conformed and wired for goodness—for divine love. As humans, though, we need mentors and role models of this new commandment which speaks not to possession but the free will of giving of ourselves.
In the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is an intimate moment between our Lord carrying His cross and the Blessed Mother. Our Lord, who has fallen to the ground, looks up at His Mother and utters the words: “See,I make all things new!” He did indeed, and His Mother made the new possible with her Fiat, her ‘yes’ to the plan of salvation set out by the Father. Mary could not stop or prevent His suffering, so she courageously continued her ‘yes’ to love by following and comforting our Lord. “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing is so gentle as real strength.” Undoubtedly, St. Francis de Sales had the Blessed Mother in mind when writing those words. When we find our “Yes” to God’s plan too tough or with more suffering than we can bear, let us recognize that our Blessed Mother is always there and ready to comfort and guide us. During this month of Mary, let her answer be our answer to this new covenant: ‘Yes, Lord, do with me as you will.’ Only then will we see with the eyes of our Lord in our neighbors, and we can become their comfort and strength. Servant of God, Fr. Bill Atkinson exemplified this law of love by his entire self-gift to everyone he encountered. As the first quadriplegic ever ordained to the priesthood, one might wonder how he gave to others? Through his daily example of courage and faith in God’s grace, Fr. Bill served in the selfless manner of love. As Fr. Bill stated: “In this modern age where the dignity of human life is measured by productivity alone and where suffering should be eliminated at all cost, we must, more than ever, preach Christ crucified.”
Fr. Bill followed our Blessed Mother’s example of saying yes to the will of God. He was an example of strength for those who knew him. Through his strength, one witnessed his gentleness as well.He often got a person’s pulse by asking a simple question: “How are you doing?” It was an effective yet simple expression of love that allowed him to connect with many. He asked not as a supplemental greeting but as an honest attempt to communicate on a personal level. In our present climate, when all the world desires connection, and the primary outreach for this kind of craving is through texts and emails, how refreshing would you find it if only someone asked you face to face: How are you doing? Love is personal.
Our Lady’s and Fr. Bill’s stories are quite different but share the same path. Both followed the will of the Father and showed us the way to the selfless law of Love of the Son. Joy is the result of regularly practicing this kind of love, and we should think of it as a lifelong journey. As St. Augustine said: “Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, we shall find rest.”