5th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 14:21–27; Revelation 21:1–5; John 13:31–33, 34–35
Linda and Peter Our Christian mission to the modern world is to help it rediscover the power of love as taught by Jesus.
In 1976 a car accident tore open the head of a 21-year-old Chicago boy named Peter.His brain was damaged and he was thrown into a deep coma.
Doctors told Peter’s family and friends that he probably wouldn’t survive. Even if he did, he’d always be in a comatose state. One of the people who heard that frightening news was Linda, the girl Peter planned to marry.
In the sad days ahead, Linda spent all her spare time in the hospital.
Night after night, she’d sit at Peter’s bedside, pat his cheek, rub his brow, and talk to him. “It was like we were on a normal date,’’ she said.
All the while Peter remained in a coma, unresponsive to Linda’s loving presence.
Night after night, for three and a half months, Linda sat at Peter’s bedside, speaking words of encouragement to him, even though he gave no sign that he heard her.
Then one night Linda saw Peter’s toe move. A few nights later she saw his eyelash flutter. This was all she needed. Against the advice of the doctors, she quit her job and became his constant companion.
She spent hours massaging his arms and legs.
Eventually she arranged to take him home. She spent all her savings on a swimming pool, hoping that the sun and the water would restore life to Peter’s motionless limbs.
Then came the day when Peter spoke his first word since the accident. It was only a grunt, but Linda understood it. Gradually, with Linda’s help, those grunts turned into words clear words.
Finally the day came when Peter was able to ask Linda’s father if he could marry her. Linda’s father said, “When you can walk down the aisle, Peter, she’ll be yours.’’
Two years later Peter walked down the aisle of Our Lady of Pompeii Church in Chicago. He had to use a walker, but he was walking.
Every television station in Chicago covered that wedding. Newspapers across the country carried pictures of Linda and Peter.
Celebrities phoned to congratulate them. People from as far away as Australia sent them letters and presents. Families with loved ones in comas called to ask their advice.
Today, Peter is living a normal life. He talks slowly, but clearly. He walks slowly, but without a walker. He and Linda even have a lovely child.
The story of Linda and Peter is a beautiful commentary on the words of Jesus in today’s gospel:
“And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
“If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” John 13:34–35
If there’s one thing we need to do today, it’s to rediscover the power of love, the kind of love that Jesus preached. The story of Linda and Peter illustrates that this kind of love has tremendous power, a miraculous power. It has the power to bring people back from the brink of death to life. It has the power to bring people back from hopeless sickness to perfect health. It has the power to inspire people the world over and give them new hope, as Linda’s love for Peter did.
Small wonder a Hindu in India said to a Christian missionary:
“If you Christians . . . were like your Bible [and loved the way it says to love], you’d convert India in five years.’’
In the early 1980s, an unusual film was playing in movie theaters across the nation. It was called Quest for Fire.
Its French producer said it fulfilled a lifelong dream. He’d always dreamed of celebrating, in film, the discovery of fire. For it was the discovery of fire 80,000 years ago that saved people on the planet Earth from total extinction. It was the discovery of fire that made it possible for them to make tools for survival and to protect themselves against the cold.
Today, people on planet Earth are beginning to worry again that we are headed for total extinction.
Today, people on planet Earth are beginning to worry again that we are teetering on the brink of global disaster.
This time the danger comes not from something basic like the lack of fire but from something even more basic the lack of human love, the kind of love Jesus preached, the kind of love Linda had for Peter.
This makes us wonder. It makes us ask ourselves a question, a frightening question.
Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the rediscovery of love in the 1980s and 1990s?
Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the only thing that can save our planet from extinction the rediscovery of human love, the kind of love Jesus preached, the kind of love Linda had for Peter.
Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the outpouring of love that came forth from the Christian community in the 1980s and 1990s and changed our world?
Only the future and only the Christian community will answer that question.
Only you and I, and millions of Christians like us, hold the answer to that question somewhere deep down in our hearts.
Today’s gospel is an invitation for us to look into our hearts and to see how we ourselves are answering that question by our own lives of love especially within our families. For we must begin to change the world there or we won’t change it at all.
Let’s close with these words by the famous priest-scientist Teilhard de Chardin:
Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love,and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire.
Series II 5th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 14:21–27; Revelation 21:1–5; John 13:31–33, 34–35
The cockroach We cannot wait for people to become lovable before we love them; it is in loving them that they become lovable.
In April 1989, Communist officials in Czechoslovakia surprised the literary world. In the spirit of glasnost, they lifted their ban on the books of Czechoslovakia’s most celebrated author, Franz Kafka.
Kafka died in 1924 at the age of 41. His personal life was unhappy. He had parents who were cold and unfeeling. They denied him the simplest affections and made him feel unwanted and worthless. Kafka once said of his family situation, “In no other family I know was there so much coldness.’’
Not surprisingly, Kafka’s novels and stories reflect his tragic home life. Take just one story, a bizarre tale about a bachelor named Gregor.
Gregor lives with his parents and his sister. He works as a clerk in a store. On the outside, he makes sales, smiles, and chats pleasantly with customers. But on the inside, he is deeply unhappy. Both his employer and his family treat him like an insect. Soon he begins to have nightmares about his insectlike existence.
Then one morning Gregor wakes up and finds that he has become on the outside what he has long felt like on the inside. He has changed into a giant cockroach. The real tragedy of the story, however, is that the only way that Gregor can be changed back into a human being is for him to be loved by human beings, especially his family.
But his cockroach appearance prevents this. It sickens his family to the point that they cannot show him even the simplest forms of affection.
The greater part of the story concerns Gregor’s pathetic efforts to express himself to his family.
In the end, he simply gives up and dies.
Kafka’s story is a variation of the story of The Beauty and the Beast. In that story a wicked witch curses a handsome prince and changes him into an ugly monster.
He remains that way until a beautiful princess comes along, kisses him, and changes him back into a handsome prince.
In Kafka’s story, the beautiful princess never comes. No one kisses Gregor, and he remains a cockroach until he dies.
Kafka’s story of Gregor is really the story of his own tortured life, and as such it makes a fitting introduction to the words of Jesus in today’s gospel.
“My children, . . . I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
Kafka’s story of Gregor underscores a tragic fact. One place where we sometimes fail most to carry out Jesus’ command to love one another is in our own families.
And by failing to carry out Jesus’ command,I mean failing to express our love to one another in a concrete way. I mean failing to show one another concrete signs of affection.
This raises an important question: Why do we often fail to carry out Jesus’ command to love in our own families?
Sometimes it is because we find family members to be repulsive, just as Gregor’s family found him to be repulsive. I once heard a father tell someone that he could not embrace his own son even though he wanted to because his son was gay.
More often, however, the reason we fail to show affection to members of our own families is because we take them for granted. We are like the man who said, “My family knows that I love them. Why there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them, and there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for me.’’
“But that’s the trouble,’’ said his friend. “You end up doing nothing for each other.’’
In addition to stressing the fact that we fail to show affection to one another, Kafka’s story of Gregor makes another important point.
It illustrates in a dramatic way why Jesus stressed love so much. It’s because love has the power to transform people.
Love has the power to turn a beast into a prince. It has the power to turn a sinner into a saint. Yes, it even has the power to turn a cockroach into a brother and a son.
Here we need to keep in mind an important truth about people: No one needs love more than someone who doesn’t deserve it.
If we sit around and wait for people to become lovable before we love them, we will sit around the rest of our lives.
It is precisely in the process of loving others that they become lovable.
This is the message contained in Kafka’s story of Gregor. This is the message contained in today’s Scripture readings.
This is the good news that Jesus came into the world to teach by word and by example.
This is the good news that our heavenly Father wants us to share with the rest of the human family: The way to change our world is through love. Let’s close with these words of St. Paul concerning the importance of love in the Christian scheme of things.
Paul writes to the Corinthians:
I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong. . . . I may have all the faith needed to move mountains but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, . . . but if I have no love, this does me no good.
Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous . . . ; love is not ill-mannered . . . ; love does not keep a record of wrongs. . . . Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. 1 Corinthians 13:1–7 Series III 5th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 14:21–27; Revelation 21:1–5a; John 13:31–35
Grace Grace is the undeserved and unmerited gift of God, inviting us to share in his work of renewing the face of the earth.
They commended them to the care of God’s grace. Acts of the Apostles 14:26
John McLain was an Air Force chaplain with the American peacekeeping forces in postwar Kosovo.
He said that, among other things, his tour of duty in Kosovo gave him a renewed appreciation of God’s grace.
For example, one day he received a large supply of candy from Europe for the kids of Kosovo.
A Special Forces team volunteered to help him distribute it to the kids. They had him climb up into the hatch of an armored Humvee.
Riding atop the Humvee, he said he felt like an ancient Roman general, returning victoriously from battle. Only instead of tossing coins to adoring Roman crowds, he was tossing candy to excited kids.
After they had covered one neighborhood, the Special Forces team moved through a deserted side street to a new neighborhood. As they did, Father McLain spotted a boy walking home all alone from school, his head hanging down heavyheartedly.
Father McLain pounded the roof of the Humvee to signal the driver to slow down so that he could toss a fistful of candy to the boy.
When the boy saw the candy raining down upon him, he couldn’t believe his good fortune. The expression on his face changed from total sadness to total joy. That’s when Father McLain began to think about grace.
We are all like that little boy. There are times when we too trudge down the side streets of life alone with our head hanging down heavyheartedly. We wonder if anyone sees us or cares about us.
Then suddenly, out of the blue, God surprises us by raining down on us some unmerited and undeserved grace.
When this happens, the best way we can repay God for this grace is the way the Kosovo boy repaid Father McLain for the candy.
Accept it, rejoice in it, give thanks for it, and use it for whatever purpose God seems to have given it to us.
Unexpected and unmerited graces are God’s way of letting us know that someone sees us and someone cares about us.
That brings us to today’s Gospel reading. Its setting is the Last Supper, just after Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. He returned to the table, sat, and said:
“I shall not be with you very much longer. . . . I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:33–34
Those words of Jesus at the Last Supper served as the Liturgy of the Word, preparing the disciples for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
It prepared them for the greatest of all graces: the incredible gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus, under the form of bread and wine.
The purpose of this gift of gifts and grace of graces is to empower us to share in the work of salvation that Jesus began in his lifetime.
It is to empower us to share in the Holy Spirit’s work of renewing the face of the earth. And that brings us to one of the most amazing things about this greatest of all graces, this gift of all gifts. It empowers everyone regardless of how unlearned or poor to share significantly in the work of renewing the face of the earth.
This is because God has chosen to make love the means by which the world is to be transformed.
As Mother Teresa was fond of saying, “God doesn’t want our deeds; God wants the love that prompts them.”
That means the least important person among us at least in the eyes of the world can contribute mightily to the transformation of our world.
They might even end up contributing more than the most learned and wealthiest among us.
For as Mother Teresa, again, was fond of saying, “We cannot do great things, only little things with great love.”
An example will illustrate the power of love to transform people and through them our world.
Haley Mills, the popular child actress of some years back, was playing in a movie called Whistle Down the Wind.
At one point in the film, she and two little friends are playing in a farmer’s large barn.
Accidentally, they come upon a man lying half concealed in straw. As children are wont to do, they approach him and ask his name.
Caught by surprise, he blurts out, “Jesus Christ,” intending it as an expletive.
The children, however, take it as the truth and proceed to treat him with awe, reverence, and love.
They bring him blankets and food, sit at his feet, share with him their dreams, and even ask his advice on children’s problems.
The man, who turns out to be an escaped convict, is so moved by their love, kindness, and innocence that it begins in him a remarkable transformation. Retold from Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew
The point of the movie is to dramatize the transforming power of love. It also illustrates that no one needs love more than someone who doesn’t deserve it.
If we wait around until they deserve it, we will wait around the rest of our life. For it is precisely in loving them that they become loving and “deserving.”
That brings us back to Father McLain. He ended his Kosovo comments, saying:
I don’t know what the future holds for the people of Kosovo. I know only that God is there with them in their darkest moments and in their joyful moments. I know, too, that God’s grace is raining down on them to heal their hurts and wipe every tear from their eyes. “Faces of War: Notes of an Army Chaplan” by John J.McLain, S.J., America magazine (March 27, 1999)
For in the words of today’s first reading, the one who sits on the throne is making all things new—and inviting us to join him in his monumental work of renewing the face of the earth.