6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48; 1 John 4:7–10; John 15:9–17
Miracle of Love! Love works miracles for those who believe in it and practice it.
Several years ago Reader’s Digest carried a moving story about a baby boy in a Milwaukee hospital. The baby was blind, mentally retarded, and had cerebral palsy. He was little more than a vegetable that didn’t respond to sound or touch. His parents had abandoned him.
The hospital didn’t know what to do with the baby. Then someone remembered May Lempke, a 52-year-old nurse who lived nearby. She had raised five children of her own. She would know how to care for such a baby. They asked May to take the infant, saying, “He’ll probably die young.” May responded, “If I take the baby, he won’t die young; and I’ll be happy to take him.”
May called the baby Leslie. It was not easy to care for him. Every day she massaged the baby’s entire body. She prayed over him; she cried over him; she placed his hands in her tears.
One day someone said to her, “Why don’t you put that child in an institution? You’re wasting your life.”
As Leslie grew, so did Mary’s problems. She had to keep him tied in a chair to keep him from falling over.
The years passed: five, ten, fifteen. It wasn’t until Leslie was sixteen years old that May was able to teach him to stand alone. All this time he didn’t respond to her. But all this time May continued to love him and to pray over him. She even told him stories of Jesus, even though he didn’t seem to hear her.
Then one day May noticed Leslie’s finger plucking a taut string on a package. She wondered what this meant. Was it possible Leslie was sensitive to music?
May began to surround Leslie with music. She played every type of music imaginable, hoping that one type might appeal to him.
Eventually May and her husband bought an old second-hand piano. They put it in Leslie’s bedroom. May took Leslie’s fingers in hers and showed him how to push the keys down, but he didn’t seem to understand.
Then one winter night in 1971. May awoke to the sound of someone playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. She shook her husband, woke him up, and asked him if he had left the radio on. He said he didn’t think so, but they decided they’d better check.
What they discovered was beyond their wildest dream. Leslie was sitting at the piano. He was smiling and playing it by ear.
It was too remarkable to be true. Leslie had never gotten out of bed alone before. He’d never seated himself at the piano before. He’d never struck a piano key on his own. Now he was playing beautifully.
May dropped to her knees and said, “Thank you, dear God. You didn’t forget Leslie.”
Soon Leslie began to live at the piano. He played classical, country western, ragtime, gospel, and even rock.
It was absolutely incredible. All the music May had played for him was stored in his brain and was now flowing out through his hands into the piano.
Leslie, who was not 28, began to talk. He didn’t carry on extended conversations; but he did ask questions, give simple answers, and make brief comments.
For example, one night he was watching a comedy on TV. He got fed up with the dialogue and said, “We’d better turn that off. They’re all crazy.”
Leslie now plays concerts for church groups, civic organizations, cerebral palsy victims and their parents. He’s even appeared on national television.
Doctors describe Leslie as an autistic savant, a person who is mentally retarded from brain damage, but extremely talented. They can’t explain this unusual phenomenon, although they have known about it for nearly 200 years.
May Lempke can’t explain it either. But she does know how the talent can be released—through love.
The story of May Lempke and what her untiring love did for Leslie needs to be told over and over again. But it’s especially appropriate for today for three reasons.
First, it dramatizes in a moving way the message in today’s readings, namely, Jesus’ teaching about love for one another.
Second, it dramatizes in a moving way why we celebrate Mother’s Day. It’s because mothers, as a rule, live out Jesus’ teaching about love more consistently and more faithfully than any other group of people.
Finally, it dramatizes in a moving way the tremendous power of love. What May’s love did for Leslie is nothing short of miraculous.
And that’s precisely what Jesus intended love to be. It’s a way to work miracles in people’s lives in our time, just as Jesus worked them in people’s lives in his time. Through love, God has put at our disposal the greatest power there is in the world.
It’s a power all the money in the world doesn’t give. It’s a power all the knowledge in the world doesn’t give. It’s a power all the leaders in the world don’t possess. It’s a power all the armies in the world can’t muster.
And what is more, love is a power that every human being has, no matter what sex, no matter what religion, no matter what nationality, no matter what educational achievement.
Love isn’t reserved for the healthy. It isn’t reserved for the wealthy. It isn’t reserved for the wise. It isn’t reserved for the famous.
Love is for everyone. Love is the one thing that makes all of us equal before God and before each other.
This is the good news contained in today’s Scripture readings.
This is the good news that can transform our world as beautifully as May Lempke’s love transformed Leslie’s world.
This is the good news that we must shout from the housetops and live to the hilt.
And if we do, we too will be able to work miracles through our love in our lifetimes, just as Jesus worked miracles through his love in his lifetime.
Series II 6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48; 1 John 4:7–10; John 15:9–17
Three Kinds of Giving Love involves three kinds of giving: self-giving, forgiving, and thanksgiving.
There’s a story that has come down through the years. It’s about a political dignitary who attended the coronation of King Edward VII in England in 1901.
The dignitary had witnessed the historic moment when the crown was placed on the king’s head. He had danced at the great coronation ball. And finally, he had mingled with royalty and chatted with celebrities.
When he returned home, someone asked him if there was one moment or event in his historic visit to England that stood out above all the others.
“Yes,’’ he said, “there was such a moment.’’ He went on to say that it took place one night when he was returning to his hotel suite.
It was bitter cold outside. And as he passed a vacant building he saw two street children huddled together in the doorway.
One was a boy of about twelve; the other was a girl of about four, obviously his sister.
The boy had taken off his coat and put it around his little sister’s shoulders. And he had taken his wool cap and put it around her feet.
The dignitary said that the picture of those two children, huddled together in the doorway, stood out above all the others. It completely eclipsed the pomp and ceremony of the coronation, the excitement of the coronation ball, and his conversations with celebrities.
It was a picture he never forgot as long as he lived.
That story dramatizes the kind of love that is described so beautifully in today’s readings.
It dramatizes, especially, the kind of love that Jesus describes in today’s gospel when he says, “Love one another, just as I love you.” John 15:12
And, again, when he says, “The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” John 15:13
It has been pointed out that when all is said and done, love boils down to a question of giving. It’s a question of self-giving. It’s a question of forgiving. And it’s a question of thanksgiving.
We have seen how love is a question of self-giving. The story of the boy and his little sister, huddled together in the doorway, illustrates this.
Let’s now see how love is also a question of forgiving. Forgiveness has to be a part of every love relationship, precisely because we are human.
Being human, we sin against one another and hurt one another—even members of our own family. And for that reason, fathers must be ready to forgive sons. Sons must be ready to forgive fathers. Mothers must be ready to forgive daughters. Daughters must be ready to forgive mothers.
Brothers must be ready to forgive sisters. Sisters must be ready to forgive brothers. And friends must be ready to forgive friends. And they must be ready to do this not seven times but, as Jesus said, “seventy times seven times.’’
How often we say the Lord’s Prayer at Mass, especially the words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’’
And how often we say them on Sunday but fail to practice them the rest of the week, even within our own family.
We forget that Jesus himself said:
“If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” Matthew 6:14–15
And so besides self-giving, love also involves forgiving.
This leads us to the third kind of giving that loves involves: thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is especially important when it comes to our love for God.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but the one thing everyone is capable of giving God is thanks.
When we have nothing else to give to God, we can still give our thanks. There’s no excuse on earth for not giving thanks to God.
Helen Hayes is one of the finest actresses ever to come out of Hollywood.
In her book A Gathering of Hope she takes us behind the glamor and footlights and invites us into her mind and into her heart.
For example, she recalls the end of World War I. She was only 18 then, starring in the Broadway play Dear Brutus.
During a rehearsal one day, someone came running into the theater, shouting the news that the war was over. Immediately the entire place went up for grabs. The cast forgot about the rehearsal and took off to drink and to celebrate.
Helen did not join them, however. Instead she left the Empire Theater and headed for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, making her way through the crowds of celebrating people. She writes:
“I had visions of being the only person in that vast chapel offering up a prayer of thanks to the Lord. But when I got there the cathedral was so packed I couldn’t get inside. I was forced to offer my prayer on the steps.”
That moving story illustrates the third kind of giving that loves involves—especially love of God.
It makes us ask ourselves about our own love of God. How filled with thanksgiving is it?
And so love involves three kinds of giving: self-giving, as the story of the children shows, forgiving, because we all make mistakes, and thanksgiving, as the story of Helen Hayes shows.
Let us close with a prayer:
Lord, on this special day of days, we give you thanks for our mothers—especially for their living example of what love involves: self-giving to others, forgiving of those who hurt us, and thanksgiving to God.
Give us the courage to imitate our mothers. Help us bear witness to the world—as they do—that love is ultimately a question of giving: self-giving, forgiving, and thanksgiving. Series III 6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 10:25–48 passim, 1 John 1:7–10, John 15:9–17
Our spiritual journey Three key moments. Icall you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father.” John 15:15
Saint John of the Cross was a 16th-century Spanish mystic and spiritual writer. He identified a series of significant moments that are typical of the spiritual journey of most people.
By the term moment, he doesn’t mean an instant happening. Technically, it would be more accurate to call it a stage in a person’s spiritual growth. In other words, the moment might extend over a long time.
The first moment is the moment of fervor. It’s a moment when God touches our heart and stirs our spirit tangibly. This moment is the foundation of the spiritual life. Why?
Because it awakens in us the mystery of God and of a world infinitely greater than the one we’ve experienced up to this point in our lives. Consider an example. Bede Griffiths is a modern spiritual giant. One evening, as a boy, he was out walking. Suddenly he became aware of the sound of birds singing in chorus. He writes:
I remember the shock of surprise with which the sound broke on my ears. It seemed to me that I had never heard the birds singing before. And I wondered if they sang like this all year round and I’d never noticed it. . . . Then, I came to where the sun was setting over the playing fields. . . . As the sunset faded everything grew still. . . . I remember now the feeling of awe that came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground. . . .
Now that I look back on it, it seems to me that it was one of the decisive events of my life.
Up to that time I had lived the life of a normal schoolboy, quite content with the world as I found it. Now I was suddenly made aware of another world of beauty and mystery. . . . It was as though I had begun to see and smell and hear for the first time.
And so the moment of fervor is the first step of the spiritual journey. Poet William Blake says of that moment:
It is a moment when God places in our hands the end of a golden string. If we wind it into a ball, it will lead us to heaven’s gate in Jerusalem’s wall.
This brings us to the second moment. It is the moment of generosity. It is a moment when love invites us to go beyond what we would ordinarily do in a given situation. What is more, our generosity inspires those around us to imitate it.
Father John Canary, rector of the diocesan seminary in Chicago, gives this example.
John reluctantly agreed to volunteer with a friend to help out at a shelter for the homeless.
One night a fight erupted between two street people at the shelter. His friend rushed in and literally pulled the two men from the room, threatening to call the police if they didn’t settle down.
Later that evening the same friend came to John and said, “There’s a man here with lice. He needs to be taken to a detox center.” When John’s friend saw his hesitancy, he said, “John, I’ll go with you.”
In spite of John’s efforts to avoid putting a man with lice in his car, he drove them to the detox center. After it was all over, the street person thanked them profusely.
John said the episode reminded him of the lepers of Jesus’ time. People tried to avoid all contact with them. Jesus, on the other hand, reached out to them, touched them, and healed them.
John wanted to avoid direct contact with the street people. His friend went out of his way to help them in various ways throughout that entire night. John said of his friend’s generosity:
Love had moved him into action. It was contagious. I knew I would never change my feelings about being at the shelter, but I knew I wanted to live in this spirit. I think love works this way. When we see it in action, we want to imitate it.
But to imitate it, we need courage, because it involves risk. We never know how our efforts will be received, or what they will cost us. We may be rejected and we will probably have to stretch more than we’d like to.
Father Canary concludes his comments on this step of reaching out in love, saying to us, “Take a chance. Do it. It’ll make a difference.”
That brings us to a third moment of the spiritual journey: the moment of flatness. It inevitably comes to all who take the spiritual life seriously. It is the moment when enthusiasm wanes and we tend to lose interest.
In other words, the things that once excited and motivated us to reach out heroically in love no longer do. It is the moment when we experience utter flatness or dryness.
To use the language of John of the Cross, it is the moment when we undergo purification. That is, we no longer do something, because it gives us a warm glow or makes us feel good. We do it because it is the right thing to do. It is what Jesus asked us to do. It is the moment when we make the leap from adolescent love to mature love—from romantic love to committed love. This purification happens in marriage, in friendship, and in every life of service to God’s people, especially the needy.
If we rise to the challenge, the moment of flatness will launch us into a new orbit of the spiritual life. It is the moment when—out of love—we freely choose to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
It is the moment when we choose to love others as Jesus loved us. It is a moment when saints are born.
It is to this kind of moment that Jesus invites us in today’s Gospel.
He invites us to stay the course and love—whether it be in marriage, friendship, or service to others. It is an invitation to walk the second mile in life.
And here’s the beautiful part. If we rise to the challenge, not only will it transform our own life and put it into a new orbit, but our generosity will also inspire and motivate others to do the same.
And so with Saint Ignatius we pray:
Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that we are doing your will.