Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

Dear Friends,

Today is Mother’s Day. We wish all the moms a happy and peaceful day. Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, our heavenly mother. May she intercede for all of us, especially our moms.

While I was thinking about Mother’s Day, I thought of my mom, now living most of the year in England. I thought of something she said to me when I was a young adult living in her home. I have forgotten the details, though I do recall it was not an easy experience at the time. She was frustrated and exhausted because I had not done what had repeatedly been asked of me, and so she said: “If you love me, as you say you do, then do your chores”. This really struck a chord with me. I always think of this when I hear what Our Lord said to his disciples, as we did this evening: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” At the heart of what my mother observed, and what Our Lord taught his disciples is this: love and obedience go together.

This explains why the disobedience of Adam and Eve was so significant. Their disobedience was a refusal to love. It was a rejection of the communion of love that existed between God and themselves. Is this why, in order to restore this communion, the life of Our Lord is described as a form of obedience: “Son though he was, he learned obedience through suffering(Heb 5:8)?

As we reflect today on the virtue of obedience as the manifestation of love, let us have three points in mind.

Firstly, “just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). In other words, when we look for the origin of humanity’s disobedience, we need look no further than Adam. And, when we look for the origin of humanity’s obedience, we need look no further than Our Lord. The history of salvation shows that the very best efforts of Israel always held something back from God. They always put conditions and limitations on their obedience. Not so with Christ whose passion on the cross is the complete gift of himself to God, on our behalf. Any reflection on obedience needs to start and end with this good news: “just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:21).

The second point we need to have in mind when reflecting on obedience as the manifestation of love is Our Lord’s command to his disciples: “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (Jn 13:34). In other words, our obedience to God also needs to be without condition or reservation. In the years that followed the Ascension of Our Lord, the virtue of obedience was emphasized in the preaching of the Apostles. Look at what St John wrote to a Christian community not that dissimilar to ours:

“Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God a is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:4).

What does it mean to be obedient to God? Christians are bound in conscience to keep (all ten) of the Commandments, to follow the moral teaching of the Church, to practice the Precepts of the Church – all of these relate to the virtue of obedience. In addition, each of us is called, according to the unique circumstances of our day, to be attentive to the voice of God directing our everyday actions, words, and thoughts. These thoughts, words and actions should be measured according to the great commandment: the love God and our neighbor.

In summary, it is enough to say that the obedience we offer God as an expression of our love for him is a virtue we are obliged to keep.  Let us desire this virtue and ask ourselves what Our Lord is asking of us according to the details of our day.

The third point is this: Christianity cannot be reduced to a set of rules and commandments – no relationship can. Even though obedience is the manifestation of love, obedience isn’t love. Pope Benedict once said that Christianity must never be reduced to a system of prohibitions and commandments. Instead, Christianity is “an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est).

After the Ascension of Our Lord, this “encounter” is with the Holy Spirit, the advocate we heard about in today’s Gospel. For the Apostles, the Holy Spirit transformed them from fearful men hiding in the upper room to men who proclaimed the Gospel in the streets regardless of the risk to their lives. For St Phillip, whose feast day we celebrate on Friday 26 May, his encounter with the Holy Spirit drove him into the hearts of many Roman citizens whose obedience to God had become lukewarm. And we who have received the Holy Spirit at baptism and confirmation have been driven into the warm embrace of God’s church today that we might be strengthened by the sacraments for the purification that comes from obedience to God, and consoled by the communion we share with Jesus Our Lord.