This morning’s reading in John’s Gospel 15: 9-15 has the unusual expression that Jesus uses when talking to His disciples. This is part of the Vine and the Branches discourse. The meditation from today’s Word Among Us(May 11, 2023) that follows helps to explain how one might actually do that.
DAILY MEDITATION: JOHN 15:9-11
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. (John 15:10)
We know that we are supposed to love Jesus. But how do we do it? How do you love someone that you can’t touch, see, or hear?
Jesus gives us a simple answer in today’s Gospel: keep his commandments.
Now, we often equate love with passion. But keeping Jesus’ “commandments” is more likely to bring to mind a tedious and demanding list of rules, not deep sentimental or emotional feelings. In fact, it can sound about as exciting as washing a sink full of dirty dishes!
But the truth is, a love that does not include keeping Jesus’ commandments is a love that lacks depth. It’s as if a man were to tell his wife that he loves her but then spend next to no time with her. His words would have little meaning to her, wouldn’t they?
In a similar way, we show our love for Jesus through our actions, especially by the way we love other people. God wants us to treat each other with the same dignity, respect, kindness, and forgiveness that Jesus has for them. As Jesus said immediately after today’s Gospel, “This is my commandment: love one another” (John 15:12).
Loving others doesn’t have to involve grand gestures. We can show our love most clearly in the ordinary ways we serve each other. Volunteering to help out a neighbor with a home improvement project. Helping a child with homework. Caring for a sick spouse. It’s acts like these that show our love and that keep us rooted in Jesus’ love.
Some days it may seem that your acts of love go unnoticed or unappreciated. But God is always pleased with your efforts, even if you can’t see any immediate result. He is using you to bless his people!
So instead of looking at Jesus’ commandments as chores, try thinking of them as your path to joy. Remind yourself that he has given you his command to love “so that my joy might be in you” (John 15:11). You are building his kingdom by your actions—and you are keeping yourself safe in his love at the same time. How could you not rejoice?
“Jesus, teach me to love as you love so that I can know your joy.”
In the Gospel reading on Saturday, April 1st, the day be for Palm Sunday, John’s gospel (Jn11:45-56) gives us the Session of the Sanhedrin. Many members are upset to hear about Jesus’ popularity among the people and that he will be entering Jerusalem. The High Priest, Caiaphas, makes a startling prophesy!
The publication, Word Among Us, provides a Daily Meditation on the Mass readings everyday and the one on April 1st was excellent and follows here.
To gather into one dispersed children of God. (John 11:52)
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, when we will walk with our Lord through all the events of his passion and death. And today’s gospel gives us a perfect lens for viewing those events. When Caiaphas, the high Priest, told the Jewish leaders, “It is better for you the one man should die instead of the people,” he probably didn’t fully understand what he was saying (John 11:50). But John tells us that Caiaphas had prophesied: through his death, Jesus would “gather into one of the dispersed children of God” (11:52). In hindsight, we see that this is exactly what Jesus was doing: he was gathering all people to his Father.
When he entered Jerusalem, Jesus gathered his people to celebrate God’s closeness and acclaim his kingship (John 12:12-19). In doing this, he foreshadowed the celebration of heaven, when he will gather people from every nation to worship before the throne of God (Revelation 7:9-17)
When he celebrated the Passover, Jesus gathered his disciples to wash their feet and offered them his body and blood (John 13:1-20; Matthew 26:26-28). Even more, he commanded them to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). He made a way to gather all his future disciples as well – even us! We can rejoice together at the Eucharist and proclaim Jesus’ death until he returns (1Corinthians 11:26).
When Jesus accepted Pilate’s unjust condemnation (John 19:16), he gathered all sinners to himself. By offering himself on Calvary, he took upon himself every sin so that through him, every sinner can receive forgiveness (1Peter 2:24; John 3:16).
Finally, when the risen Jesus forgave Peter’s betrayal he reestablished him as the chief apostle, the one who would continue to gather believers in Jesus name (John 21: 15-19). The Lord never stops gathering his people to himself!
As you enter Holy Week, remember that Jesus is gathering you in. He is bringing you home to his Father and to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let him draw you close. Receive his mercy and forgiveness and take your place in his family.
On our recent trip to visit our daughter in Nevada, I attended Mass at the St Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno, Nevada one Sunday morning in April. I always enjoy visiting other churches to hear Mass and see how they are celebrated. Most churches are in the process of opening up as the pandemic recedes, so I was especially interested in seeing how they were doing this at St. Thomas’s. I noticed that they had pews taped off as usual, but they were taped about 2 feet in which was curious. The cantor came up to the lectern and began giving some directions for the Gloria and then began the opening Easter Hymn “the strife is over“. Tears began to well up in my eyes from a flood of emotions.
I had recently been talking with other friends about the seeming lack of joy in the Easter season following Easter Sunday especially when compared with Christmas season following Christmas Day. One hears a variety of beautiful Christmas hymns before and after Christmas day: O Holy Night, Adeste Fideles, Silent Night and so on. There are many Easter hymns as well but not nearly sung as often. And here I was, over 2000 miles from home hearing the cantor and a congregation singing: “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia…..the strife is over …….” A beautiful hymn exclaiming that Christ’s suffering on the cross is over and now also the suffering from the pandemic on the way out. Bittersweet joy of Easter, the pandemic and the joy of singing for the first time in 10 months. I could barely sing along with all the feelings going on inside.
The priest started the Mass by asking everyone to greet each other which everyone did. He was especially reverent throughout the Mass and everyone participated in kind. This parish was keeping that Easter joy and what a joy it was to be there. We all need to remember that Christmas happened so that Easter could happen! The Resurrection is Jesus’ triumph over death and makes possible the joy of eternal life with Him. That is certainly a reason to keep that joyous feeling before us! I am still listening to those beautiful Easter hymns. And the warmth and love of that parish surely is boosting my soul all the way to Pentecost!
By the way, this parish brought Communion down to the people in the pews! That is why they left space in the taped off pews. I learn something new every day.
It is always a sobering time when Lent arrives each year. A time of preparation, denial and discipline as we are getting ready to recall Jesus’ time of great trial and sacrifice. A time of mixed emotions as well since the resurrection on Easter Sunday marks His triumph over evil and death as well as our salvation. The greatest day on our Christian calendar!
Speaking of mixed emotions, when I watched Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, I was surprised at my emotional reaction to Peter’s realization that he had just denied Christ three times. I felt so bad for Peter! He was on his knees sobbing before the Blessed Mother before he ran off at the horror of what he himself had done. That caused a lot of soul searching for myself! But, then, isn’t that what Lent is all about?
Below is an article that appeared in Word Among Us ( a favorite publication of mine) last week for your contemplation. I wish you all the blessings of Easter!
Behold the Man
A new look at Jesus’ crucifixion.
Imagine that you have traveled back to the year AD 63 and are sitting with the apostle John, who is telling you what it was like to be on Calvary as Jesus gave his life for us on the cross.
“When Jesus was arrested after our Passover meal, most of us ran away. It was probably the darkest moment of my life. Jesus had just shown us at the meal how much he was willing to give for us, and I couldn’t stay with him in his moment of need. He had sacrificed three years teaching us, encouraging us, loving us, and healing us—and I couldn’t risk sacrificing anything for him.
“When I realized what I had done, I knew I couldn’t stay in hiding. I asked God to forgive me for running away, and I began searching high and low for Jesus. When I finally caught up with him, he was being led to Calvary.
Father, Forgive Them
“I pushed through the crowd just in time to see the soldiers driving the spikes into Jesus’ hands. And amidst the noise of the crowds, the pounding of the hammers, and Jesus’ own cries of pain, I heard him say, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). When I first heard this, I wondered whom he was praying for. Was it the Jewish rulers who had condemned him? Was it Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers who had flogged him, beaten him, and crucified him? Or maybe it was us, who had been with him so long and yet abandoned him at the very end?
“But over the years as I’ve prayed and talked about this with the other apostles, I realized that Jesus was doing exactly what he had taught us to do. For as long as we were with him, he kept telling us that we had to forgive seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:22). Now here he was, being just as free with his mercy as he always told us to be.
Free to Forgive
“As we reflect on this beautiful act of Jesus on Good Friday, we see just how far God’s forgiveness reached. Peter knew that he was forgiven for having denied Jesus. Thomas knew he was forgiven for his lack of faith. We were all forgiven for having run away. Now we know that no one is beyond God’s mercy. Jesus proved it when he forgave the soldiers who mocked him, the chief priests who condemned him, and even Judas, who betrayed him.
“Hearing Jesus speak words of forgiveness even as nails were being driven into him, even as he was being hung on the cross, even as he had to gasp for every breath, we all need to ask whether we are willing to forgive just as fully. And today, I’d like to ask you: Is there any way you need to follow Jesus’ example and forgive? Are there people whose forgiveness you need to seek? Don’t hold back. Remember Jesus and all he gave up for you. Then ask his Spirit to help you be just as generous.
Jesus, Remember Me
“A little bit later, something very moving happened to one of the thieves who was crucified next to Jesus. It seemed as if Jesus’ love and humility—and the way in which he embraced such an unjust death—changed this man. He defended Jesus when the other thief started insulting him. Then he turned and said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And again, in the midst of his agony, Jesus reached out in love and mercy. ‘Today,’ he told the man, ‘you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:42-43).
“It’s amazing that Jesus would welcome this sinner into his kingdom with just as much assurance as he welcomed Peter, James, and the rest of the apostles—men who had given up so much to follow him. But this thief has become a reminder to me that anyone who turns to Jesus will be received into heaven.
“Again, the depth of his mercy and love is overwhelming. And again, consider: Is there someone whom you have given up on? Is there someone whom you think will never be welcomed into heaven? Don’t judge! Don’t condemn! Don’t forget that you are just as unworthy as he was. Don’t forget that you needed salvation through the cross just as much as this thief did. Jesus didn’t condemn this man. He didn’t condemn his disciples, even though they had deserted him. He won’t turn anyone away, and he asks us to be just as open and merciful—even to our enemies.
Why Have You Forsaken Me?
“Jesus’ words just before he died were probably confusing to the apostles: ‘My God, my God,’ he cried out, ‘why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34). It’s hard to believe that Jesus, who was always close to the Father, could be abandoned by his Father at his moment of greatest suffering and need. Would God really turn away from him just as his Son was performing the greatest act of obedience the world would ever know?
“However, Jesus felt separated from his Father because he was carrying our sins. He was speaking both from the crushing pain of his crucifixion and from the relentless spiritual attacks he was enduring. This was Satan’s pivotal moment. If there was any chance of getting Jesus to deny his Father and turn away from his commitment to us, it was now. The spiritual assault he was enduring was so violent that it must have felt as if he were separated from his Father. At the same time, he must have known in his heart that God would never abandon him. This cry that issued from his bloodied lips and his parched mouth was both an acknowledgment of the battle he was fighting and an affirmation that even if it felt as if God had left him, he would not abandon God.”
Just as Jesus felt forsaken and abandoned by God on the cross, the same can happen to us. St. John must have felt that way at times, especially when he and Peter and James were arrested, or when they were beaten or mocked for telling people about Jesus. At these times they held onto trust in God and confidence that Jesus was with them, even if it felt as if he’d abandoned them. Are there times when you feel alone and forsaken? Are you wondering whether God has left you in a situation of confusion, struggle, or pain? He hasn’t. Remember the psalm: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). He is always with you!
Behold the Man
So many other things happened that day. Jesus said and did so much, even as he hung in agony and his life’s blood slowly left his body. There’s so much more you can receive and experience as you ponder Jesus’ death. As you read the passion stories, take Pilate’s advice and “behold the man” (John 19:5). Behold the man, wounded and bruised, crowned with thorns. Behold the man, who was despised and rejected. Behold the man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.
But behold also the man who loved you so much that he gave up everything for you. Behold the man who endured the nails, the whip, the thorns, and the cross for you. Behold the man who endured the weight of sin, the onslaught of the devil, and the loneliness of desertion for you. Behold him and bow down in worship and love. Behold him and give him your life. Behold him and know that he has won for you a place in heaven.
When Peter, James, and the rest saw Jesus on Easter Sunday, they beheld Jesus again—this time as a glorified man—and their hearts were filled with joy. This Lent, behold the glorified Jesus. Fix your heart on him as he is seated in heaven, pouring out grace upon grace into your heart. Behold him every time you celebrate Mass and recall the love he poured out at the Last Supper. Behold him in your family and neighbors and love and serve them just as he has loved and served you. Finally, behold him in the poor and suffering and imitate him by washing their feet. May God bless you.