Homily From the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

If you take a second to look through the bulletin today (not right now, though, I’m preaching…), or if you check out our brand-new All Saints Parish website, you’ll notice that there’s a lot involved in being a Christian.  We’ve got Mass to go to every week, confessions to do at least once a year, laws, hierarchy, High School Mission Trips, Shopping as Jesus Would, Picnics, fundraisers out the wazzoo, defending human rights, standing up for the teachings of our faith, and on and on and on.  Kind of makes you want to hide your checkbook, right?  But ultimately today, Jesus sums up how to do all of that, and how to be a good disciple in one short sentence – “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Everything else flows from that – the picnics, the fundraisers, the boring homilies, and even those crazy church teachings.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

But what is that love that he’s talking about?  There are about a million different songs, books, and poems that give us definitions.  But I’m going to use an illustration.  Love is like a candle.  As we’ve been talking here, it’s been slowly burning away, melting and dripping and shrinking.  The candle is slowly consumed by the flame, until eventually, it will be nothing but a stubble to be thrown out into the trash.  The candle slowly gives of itself, slowly dies away, in order to provide light and warmth to those huddled around it.  Oddly, that’s a beautiful image of what love is.  We’re called to give of ourselves, we’re called to die to ourselves, in order to provide the warmth of love to others.

In other words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Authentic love is a gift of self.  We find it when we put ourselves at the service of others, when we live to give and not to take, when we are willing to suffer, so that someone else can rejoice.  That’s what Jesus teaches us, not just as a suggestion, or a nice way of life, but as a commandment – in fact, it’s the greatest commandment.  And just to make sure we got this, just to make sure we understood, he didn’t just tell us, but he showed us.  He accepted mockery, and humiliation, and torture, and rejection, and agony, and betrayal.  He accepted them – not because he was weak, but because he was strong, because he wanted to show us what love really is – a commandment of complete and unreserved gift of self.

It’s sad to say that this idea of love is rather counter-cultural, even today.  It seems more and more that our culture, our society, and even those sitting in our pews, are losing touch with what love is really supposed to be.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a son of St. Louis and Cardinal Archbishop of New York, put it this way: “In a culture that prefers getting to giving, and entitlement to responsibility, in a society that considers every drive, desire, or urge as a right, and where convenience and privacy can trump even the right to life itself, and in a mindset where freedom is reduced to the liberty to do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever, however, with whomever we want, rather than the duty to do as we ought…”  Well, in that culture, my brothers and sisters, this meaning as love might as well be a yellow light out there on Mid Rivers Mall Drive.

This commandment of love that Christ gives us, that he shows us, is something supernatural.  The natural way that we engage in a relationship is to evaluate what we can get out of someone: “This person is fun to be around.”  “This person annoys the heck out of me.”  “This person can get me tickets to the ballgame.”  “This person always seems to need something.”  But when we begin to embrace the commandment of love that Jesus gives us, those selfish desires or considerations take a back seat, and we begin to see others as God sees them.  Maybe this week, try to make a list of the acts of love you want to do for people.  What is one small thing you can do to lighten the load of your spouse?  What is one thing you can do to make your boss’s day just a bit easier?  What is one small thing you can say or do to make your parents smile?  And the tough one: what is one thing you can do to help a stranger see the love of Christ?

This week and beyond, I challenge you to be that candle in the darkness.  May all of us burn brightly, slowly dying to ourselves, slowly sacrificing of what we have and are, even to the point of laying down our lives, to provide the light and warmth of the love of God to those around us.

The Secret Prayers of the Mass: The Commingling of Water and Wine

Probably one of the first science experiments that we all did when we were little was pouring oil into a glass of water.  And what do we learn?  The two substances have different densities, and so it’s very difficult to completely mix them.  Well, during Mass, we do a little “science experiment” as well, by mixing water and wine.  Why, you say?  Well, I’m glad you asked!

As the priest pours a little drop of water in the wine during the preparation of the gifts, he says in a low voice (a secret one!), “By the mystery of this water in wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

This co-mingling of water and wine is a very ancient practice.  It was part of the culture at the time of Jesus, and so it has always been assumed that he did the same at the last supper, tempering or diluting his wine slightly with water.  So we see it referenced in Proverbs 9:5, and St. Justin Martyr (150 AD) and St. Cyprian (250 AD) both make reference to this in the liturgy very early on!

So what does it mean?  Well, consider for a second that water is a pretty common thing.  It’s used to water plants, it is very cheap at the store, and you even see athletes drink some, only to spit it right out on the field!  Wine on the other hand is expensive, takes a long time to make, and you never want to waste it, because it is valuable.

So when we mix the two, it’s a symbol of what’s happening with the Eucharist.  Human beings are amazing creations, but we’re nothing on our own – we need God.  Unlike water and oil, water and wine mix completely, so if we are the water, Jesus is the wine, and we see the point of his becoming a man.  St. Athanasius (296-373 AD) said, “God became man, so that man might become like God.”  Jesus, the Son of God, (symbolized in this case by wine) completely humbled himself, so that we (symbolized by the water) could be built up and share completely and inseparably in his divine life.

In fact, that’s what happens at the Eucharist.  When we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and we are joined in such a close union with God, a communion (see what I did there?) that our common human nature is mixed with the divine!  Awesome, am I right?