Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and you're listening to Season 4, Episode 12 for the Fifth Sunday of Lent: March 21, 2021. Our Gospel reading is from John, Chapter 12, verses 20-33:
Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me. “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.
The Gospel of the Lord
“The Bigger Picture of Love," by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut
For those who are sincerely desiring and seeking out a relationship with God, great comfort can come in knowing that God's law is written on our hearts. It takes away the anxiety of trying to search for God in places other than ourselves; of having to find him in some hidden remote place that's apart from our own experience of life. To realize that God's own law, God's very presence, is written on each of our hearts shows us that we only need to begin to look within in order to discover that which we desire to have so deeply. It’s a further help for us to be able to define ,even to a minimal degree, what God's law really is. And our tradition of scripture and the tradition of the church allows us to do precisely that.
God's law ultimately is love.
Now, at first hearing that all sounds very simple, almost as if we can find ourselves reducing our relationship with God, then, to simply being people who love others. Well, when something sounds too simple, usually it is too simple. And it really does require a bit more than that.
As we look at ourselves and our ability to love, we sometimes see that as just some extension of who we are. I can love my spouse. I can love a friend. I can love a job. I can love Dunkin’ Donuts. There are many things that can captivate us and be defined as “our loves.” But all of those things aren't just extensions of ourselves; they aren't just affections that we have. Love is not just a random act of kindness that we show to our neighbor or a good work that we do.
In order for us to fully understand God's law of love that is etched on our hearts, we have to connect what we feel here with the bigger picture of God; with the bigger picture of love. It stands to reason that our earthly loves, then, are not useless in and of themselves. They have great depth and meaning for us.
But each one of them points to something greater; points to something bigger. Each one can lead us back to God if we truly understand the source of that love within us.
We can gain some spiritual help from a friend who we've heard from before, Julian of Norwich, who has some profound things to say about this virtue of love or charity. She says there are really three forms of charity, of love. And I think understanding each one of these forms helps us fit ourselves within the bigger picture of God, with the bigger picture of God's love and life.
The first form of charity, the first form of love, is “charity unmade.” And she goes on to say that charity unmade is really God. And in understanding this trinity of charity, so to speak, we have to understand God and all the fullness of God's power and grandeur and love, existing for all time and all ages, uncreated, unmade, just always present, ever there; the source of the fullness of life, the fullness of love: charity unmade.
And then she says the next form of charity in this trinity of charity is charity or love “made.” And that manifests itself in the soul that rests in God. That soul that each one of us has, is what God makes out of charity, out of the fullness of his love. So the essence of every human being, the essence of each one of us, is love; God's profound, eternal, always existing, all powerful love. And in the depth of our person that "love core” exists, and has been placed there by charity unmade, God himself.
Now there's something that we all know about “love fully.”and that it can't really be defined as love unless it is then given. Love cannot be a selfish endeavor. It has to be something that connects, gives life, spills over, and that leads us to the third piece of Julian's trinity of charity and that's “charity given.”
Charity given is found in virtue.
So charity unmade produces charity that is made, which is in the very soul that we have. And from the wellspring of that soul, from that love relationship that God places within us, we then embark on the journey of virtue. And this is where love becomes much more than just a wink at our neighbor, doing something good or a random act of kindness.
It really becomes a participation in the truth of who we are. That virtuous life begins with the virtues that God places within us, those three immortal, timeless virtues of faith, of hope and of love. You see, we really can't understand what love is unless we bring it to the source of where it comes. All other attempts pale, unless we're able to make this profound connection. And once we begin to see that it is out of God's love that we're brought to faith, that we're brought to hope, we then begin to see that in the end it all comes back again to love. That eternity, the fullness of time, is really us being reunited with our essence in the fullness of love, and having that all connect in the source of that love: God himself.
And so understanding this truth allows us to really find that power within, and to understand it as a gift given to us from God that leads us back to God.
And then there's our relationship with one another. And that's where virtue comes in again, which, again, goes far beyond just being nice to one another, or doing something kind. All of those things certainly have merit, but if we are truly pursuing a spiritual life, we're going to want to be concerned about a few other things. And it's those natural virtues that many of us learned about at some point in our understanding of our faith.
Temperance or moderation: being able to judge our lives; to live temperately, not self indulgently; to choose priorities for how we act, to present ourselves, dress; understand who we are; and how we put the package of our lives together, all has to connect back to and relate to the truth of who we are, the essence of love.
Prudence: To be able to judge rightly of all of the things that we can choose in life; to be able to use the wisdom of our faith to chart that course; to choose what is good over what is not good, what is healthy over what is unhealthy; (are) the gift and wisdom of prudence.
Justice: What a huge virtue that can easily change up how we live in this world with our brothers and sisters, how we understand our role in the bigger picture of life, of how we see all of the pieces of the puzzle falling together to work and pursue justice is at the core of the gospel message.
And so we have prudence. We have temperance. We have justice. Then we need one more in order to be successful in this spiritual endeavor, and that is fortitude or a strength, because we live in a world that can rip us apart from the truth of who we are, that can bring us down a river that we do not really want to traverse. And you can find us was led to a place where we're really off axis and off course, and so we need to have that fortitude, that strength, to persevere, and to keep our focus. And we're asked to keep that focus just as Jesus was asked to keep that focus.
Julian of Norwich, another profound piece to this, she says to us in falling and in rising, listen to this, it's beautiful: “in falling and in rising, we are ever preciously kept in one love.” In falling and in rising, we are ever preciously kept in one love.
You know, as Jesus was facing the cross in his suffering, we see Him having a little bit of a struggle with that. “Father take this away from me,” He even says at one point. But then through that suffering, Jesus learned obedience. And in that obedience, Jesus touched and felt and encountered that one love. He felt its power. And then he was able in courage and in truth and with fortitude to take it to the next level of embracing death on the cross for the salvation of all of us.
And during this time of Lenten journey, where we have an opportunity to focus, that same lesson can be learned by us, too, so that we realize, as we journey through life, a life that is uncertain the life that brings us to places we don't often want to go, that whether we are falling or whether we are rising, we are always connected to this one big circle of love and that one true love, preciously, always, tenderly carries us and keeps us.
Maybe truly learn what true love is all about.
Father Mark Suslenko is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community at www.isidoreandmaria.org. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.