Robert J. Guessetto, O.S.A.
National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia
Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Ps 98: 1, 2-3, 3-4
1 Jn 4: 7-10
Jn 15: 9-17
Let me start with a story from the Jewish tradition by the late Brooklyn-born Philadelphia writer Chaim Potok, about a young boy whose father was a good man. The boy, though, was troubled because the father was away often serving their religious leader the Rebbe during some very difficult years for their community.
One night, he and his mother were looking up at the stars. Asher, [you see] the Big Dipper? It contains all the evil deeds that people do during the day and during the night it spills those deeds into a special space in the heavens called The Place of Evil Deeds.
But there is the Little Dipper, and that contains all the good deeds. The good deeds are fewer but they weigh more in the eyes of the Master of the Universe.
Your father is trying to give a balance to the world and fill the Little Dipper with good deeds so it will outweigh the evil deeds of the Big Dipper.
On one level, this is a charming story about the triumph of good over evil. On another, this gentle Jewish mother helps her son to understand the motivation of his father who sacrifices much to do good in the name of faith. The source of that good is the Master of the Universe, God, and as John puts it today: … love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
As a Christian people, formed by the paschal mystery of the Messiah, the Son of God, we build on that Jewish mother’s faith and proclaim that Jesus is the love of God made man. In other words, God loves us with a human heart and shows us how to love. The consequence for us is that charity/love must be the distinctive mark of the Christian.
St. Paul tells us that God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us equipping us with the capacity to be instruments of goodness, like Asher’s father. Today we heard St. Peter affirm this again as he marvels in the descent of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his family precisely as he is speaking to them of this action of God: the believers who accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles, also.
And that’s the key for us today as we look at goodness: God has given us who are baptized Christians the ability to cooperate with his grace, His Spirit, and to do good. It goes back to our story: The good deeds are fewer but they weigh more in the eyes of the Master of the Universe.
Remain in my love, says Jesus in the Gospel. And then, to explain how, he adds: You will remain in my love if you keep my commandments. That can leave us perplexed. Remain in my love can seem so airy, ideal, beautiful. Commandments on the other hand speak of rules, duty, behavior, restrictions. But Jesus is not referring to the 613 precepts but rather his commandment, the greatest commandment: Love God will all your heart, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. St. John today in the gospel makes that into one commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.
We often keep love airy, linking it to emotions, feelings, superficial beauty. Jesus is talking about something deeper, fuller, concrete. It is loving and serving even those whom I find difficult to love. It brings us back to the Last Supper when Jesus got up and washed the feet of his disciples: Do this in memory of me, he said. Concrete care to others in need; patience with those who are difficult; holding back judgement when I’m provoked; forgiving enemies; seeing others as neighbor - this happens when I allow myself to be loved by God, first. Remain in my love. Love as I have loved you. In that sense, the commandment becomes a container for my love, gives it form.
Just as the young boy in the story discovered, doing good requires a sacrifice - his father was often away - we heard it in the Gospel: no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Like that Jewish father, we are asked to live to set things right with the world, one small step at a time; to give balance to the world and to confront unrighteousness … to confront it with the truth that comes from our belief in Jesus, the love he gives us and the Spirit he has sent to us. This outweighs the evil deeds, it bears fruit that remains.