Homily by Father Denis Stanley
(Priest Support and Education Fund Mass: Fifth Sunday of Easter)
When my grandmother died a number of years ago, my family lost a leader, a story teller, a teacher, a musician and a good cook whose meals and generous and unsparing welcome, lovingly brought us together. Did or do you have a person like that in your family? Are you that person? Every blessing if you are!
However, no matter how wonderful and important the memories of what my grandmother did, pouring herself out, to keep our family happily united, memories were not enough when she died. Because for a time my family fell into a kind of crisis as there was no one quite like her to pick up her mantle and carry on what she had done to lovingly lead and gather us.
It seems there is no “apostolic succession” of grandmothers. But there should be, because every family, in every generation, there needs to be that someone who offers themselves to welcome, gather, lead, and centre; it doesn’t happen automatically.
Churches to need such people, and so, in the first reading we read, “they appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.” Paul and Barnabas were on the move; no time for a seven-year seminary course. Leaders had to be found and appointed before they moved on.
In those lines from the acts of the apostles we see the teaching of God’s love revealed in Jesus, being passed on to the next generation of community leaders. The good news did not get stuck and end in a one generation.
The commandment to love as Jesus loved touched the hearts of a new generation, they welcomed it and new leaders offered themselves and took up the sacrificial ministry of welcoming, gathering, leading and centring the Christian community.
Paul and Barnabas could move on, their work done, their mantle picked up.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples. “I will not be with you much longer.” So, he turns with hope to the little band of those he will entrust with the leadership of his new community; he shares with them the heart of his life and message; that which will keep them bound together and make them so distinctive. “love one another – how? – as I have loved you.”
You apostles, you leaders, hand on the unique kind of love that you have experienced in my love for you. That “foot washing love”, that agape love that puts the good of the other first.
We, as disciples of Jesus, called and committed to loving in the way that he loved us, we are invited to do the same. To pick up that mantle and bring it to life in our generation. It doesn’t happen automatically.
It is precisely by seeking to love as Jesus loved that God comes into people’s lives. It is through a constant love-centered interaction among each other that the “new earth, the new heaven and the new Jerusalem” can begin to come into existence – not at some unknown future time and in some other place but here and now. Today. It is in our hands.
Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
So, we welcome that parting gift of the Lord that he gave to his disciples and that has come through countless generations to us – love one another – how? – as I have loved you. It is as simple and a complicated as that.
Because the experience of loving and being loved is not simply the way to salvation. It is the very experience of salvation itself. We know that every generation needs leaders and enablers of love; those people who give themselves in a Christ like way to welcome, gather, lead, and centre – that wonderful spirit which seeks the good of the other; to love as Jesus loved.
This is a mission for all, but especially for a community’s leaders. This is the humble task of the seminary - they appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. To ensure that each generation has priestly servants who will offer themselves to welcome, gather, lead, and centre a community on the gift that Jesus handed on to us. Love one another – how? – just as I have loved you.