Friday, May 27, 2011

Homily for John 15 on Friday, May 27th

                We hear about the depth of the love of Jesus for us again in the Gospel. While all this love talk may seem overboard for us, these words were profoundly reassuring for the Christian community that gathered around the disciple John. They faced persecution and were kicked out of their places of worship by their Jewish siblings who were following a new rabbinic way of being a Jew in dispersion. Jesus was in solidarity with them in their hardship so they would not suffer in isolation. That means a great deal.
          Without the foundational love of Christ, nothing else matters. I think of all the times we need to know and hear that Christ is (or was) present to us - especially in our darkest moments or times of trauma. People come on retreat to experience Christ's love, and yet sometimes they become frustrated because they don't.
          Re-examining our image of Jesus Christ is a good place to start. Bill Barry, author of numerous Ignatian Spirituality books, writes that we ought to look at our friendship with God and Christ in the same way we develop human friendships, but somehow when we move into our prayer, we adopt a different (a foreign) mode of relating and we try on a more pious language that is not our own. We put ourselves in a different role and we don't present our true selves to God. This can be uncomfortable and we are aware of the power imbalance.
          Prayer is most effective when we talk with Christ the same way we talk with our friends. If I'm feeling vulnerable, I set my defenses high enough to protect myself - even from Christ. If I'm angry, I close in on myself and I am not so generous with my words. If I feel unimportant, I communicate in so many ways that I am not worthy of one's love. I look at the many ways I do not measure up and cannot be in the relationship. In other words, I look inward instead of looking at the one who is trying to actively love me. We replicate our non-verbal responses as well. I can give God the cold shoulder if my habit is to passive-aggressively do it to a colleague who offends me. I can curl up in a ball when frightened and not let anything or anyone touch me. I can smile to communicate friendliness. I can reach out when I am longing and want more.
          We make prudential judgments all the time about the data our senses give us about one another. These are healthy judgments, but we are to always challenge these judgments so we can grow and act with greater care and compassion. We have to choose our friends and then choose to spend time with them. This is a great gift - just to be there for someone you care about.
          Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises has the retreatant look at the call of the earthly king as the person moves into the Second Week exercises. After one considers the human dimensions of kingship, one can then contemplate how the eternal king thinks, acts, and feels. We have to use a similar model to examine the qualities and depths of friendship as well. As we hang out and spend time with a good friend, we notice crucial aspects about our friend's behavior and our own. We act a certain way when we are comfortable, the flow of discourse is relaxed, and our defenses are down because of the trust we have established over the years. We are happy and we enjoy our friend's presence and we let more and more of our true selves be known. When we examine our style of being with Jesus Christ, we find that we act similarly to the way we do with friends. Friendship is a mutual sharing of self with the other. We are given to ourselves as gifts and we are to share our gifts freely with others.
          We get healthy images of the ways friends act in readings today. In Acts, the apostles and presbyters send chosen representatives as official delegates with Paul and Barnabas to bring the good news of the inclusion of Gentiles into the community. Paul's community was under great assault by their Jewish cousins who told them Paul's version of Christianity was perverted. This delegation from the Apostles gave Paul credibility, but the real message that won over the hearts of the people was the tone.
          The tone told them, "You are welcome, and we, nor the Holy Spirit, wish to place upon you any burdens beyond the necessities of faith. We want you and care for your good growth and development and we want you to inherit the promises of God with the same equal dignity that we have. We want you to exercise your good judgment in freedom." It is healthy for us to notice the tone and style of words. When the tone is all about rules, rigidity, and authority, the person (or the church) is defensive; when the tone shows compassion and care for the other, freedom is encouraged. The Apostles and presbyters gave the Gentiles freedom and encouragement. A good friend encourages your freedom and freedom brings energy and new life. Freedom is essential to healthy prayer.
          Jesus gives us freedom in the Gospel passage. We have a choice to believe. We have a choice to keep his commandment - which is to love one another. I wish it were an easy commandment to keep. If it were, we would not be hearing such stories of heartache and suffering, and yet we are heartened by the immense love that God continues to show us throughout our suffering. Let's be conscious of what we choose to do, to be, and to say to Christ. He offers us his radical friendship, and a dimension of his friendship is to lay down his life for you - individually and personally. It is his free choice. The cross is his free choice. Will you choose to go with him to the cross of suffering and glory? You cannot escape it.
          We make choices every day based on our good desires. Accepting the cross is a choice. You can choose to be happy. You can choose to love or to fail to bother to love. Today, the choice before you is to accept this offer of friendship from Jesus, which is combined with his commandment to love. However you answer, savor how you have grown in your friendship with Christ over the years. If you decline the invitation, notice what Jesus might be feeling. If you accept, ask him once again how your choice makes him feel. In whatever we choose, may our lives always be oriented to creating and sustaining a free and generous love in a world that deeply yearns for it. May we experience Christ's longing desire to abundantly grace us with his generosity.