Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
4th Annual Men’s Conference – 6th Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2018
What an incredible gathering! What a great day to celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead! What a powerful sign your presence is to our world as we resolve to live that faith as followers of Jesus!
The gospel just proclaimed for this 6th Sunday of Easter is taken from the 15th chapter Saint John’s gospel. The words that Jesus shared with his disciples – and us – were spoken during the Last Supper on the night before he died. He had already washed the feet of his friends. In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels, he would have just given his disciples the enduring gift of himself – his body and blood – for their life and salvation. And Jesus would end his words by walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane where he would pray in silence, even as he prepared to allow himself to be handed over to death.
It is in this context that Jesus provides direction for his disciples and all those who will follow after him down through the ages. These words then, my brothers, are meant for me and for you.
And at the heart of Jesus’ words is this injunction, “As the father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” … Fair enough. Keep the commandments and we’ll remain in God’s good graces. We’re good with that, aren’t we? Simple and straightforward. Clear and direct. We like that, don’t we?
But let’s not be so foolish as to breathe a sigh of relief so quickly. The only commandment expressly stated by Jesus in the Gospel of Saint John is that his disciples love one another. In fact, listen again to the words from the gospel passage just proclaimed, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Brothers, this commandment may sound simple. It resonates with an innate conviction on our parts to defend and protect our families and friends, doesn’t it? But it asks so much more. … If we’re honest, it’s not always easy to love in the manner in which Jesus gives us example. While Saint Peter in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles asserted, “God shows no partiality,” sometimes we do – especially when someone has hurt those we love and care for. It’s hard enough to love the people we like. It’s quite another thing to love and respect those we don’t!
Yet, the reality of the gospel is such that Jesus’ words that we “love one another” do not amount to a mere suggestion or an invitation with qualifications. His words are a command! There are no conditions or limitations to what he asks us to embrace.
“Be a man!” … That’s the tagline for this annual conference, brothers. But if we think for a minute that somehow being a man means that we need to get beyond the “love” talk of Jesus and live our faith more boldly and assertively, we’ve got it wrong. For, you see, the love that Jesus demands is sacrificial and total – and born on the cross.
And what happened on that cross? Jesus – the good shepherd – was unjustly led to his death – all because he preached the reign of God – all because it was more important for him to heal and forgive than to follow empty laws – all because he sought to change hearts and turn them to God rather than embrace rituals that had little meaning or value.
In familiar terminology, Jesus took the high road: not returning insult, not threatening, but submitting to those who judged him unjustly. He loved unconditionally. He served to the end. And he forgave in his last breaths on the cross.
Sadly, however, as Pope Francis reminded us in his homily for Palm Sunday, just a little more than a month ago, the selfless, unconditional love that Jesus proclaimed from the cross is often not appreciated in our polarized world today. There are some who preach a different gospel message. The hopeful message of Jesus on the cross, Pope Francis stated, becomes “a source of unease, scandal and upset for those who consider themselves righteous.” … The example of Jesus is “a joy intolerable for those who have forgotten the many chances that they themselves have been given.” The Holy Father continued, “How hard it is for the comfortable and the self-righteous to understand the joy and the celebration of God’s mercy! How hard it is to share in this joy for those who trust only in themselves, and look down on others.”
Brothers, pray every day for such souls. But as Christian men, never yield to the message of those who seek to limit God’s mercy and love! Jesus commands us to remain in his love. So follow where he leads, prayerfully, humbly and joyfully.
The focus of this year’s conference builds on the message of today’s gospel and draws our attention to the presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament – the Eucharist. Christ is indeed among us! He is indeed here in our midst.
Perhaps you recall these words that were shared in the invitation to today’s conference. “Jesus Himself is here, alive and eagerly waiting for each of us. You live because of Him, and will live more abundantly when you draw closer to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You will experience how Jesus dwells in you and you in Him. He loves us – what a beautiful consoling thought.”
These words are so true and hopeful, aren’t they? In the gift of the Eucharist – simply put – we are given nothing less than the very presence and life of Jesus. … But in the same Eucharist gift, we also discover the essence of who we are and what we are called to be as Christians.
Recall the words of Jesus that we will hear in just a few moments as we offer the Eucharistic Prayer of this Mass. “This is my body, broken for you. … This is the cup of my blood, poured forth for you. … Do this in memory of me.” … What is Jesus asking us to do in his memory? … Repeat a ritual? … Yes, indeed, for our life and salvation. … But he’s also asking us to do something else as his disciples. He’s asking us to allow our bodies to be broken for the people he places within our lives. He’s calling us to allow our life-blood to be poured forth in loving service. … Eucharist is hardly meant to be seen solely as a routine element of our worship. Yes, it demands a response of wonder and awe at the gift of God’s presence. But it demands much more.
Early on in his pontificate, Saint John Paul II wrote to the bishops of the world about the gift of the Eucharist. He spoke of the great gift of God found in the sacramental presence of Jesus that we celebrate and receive this day. He also said this: “The authentic sense of the Eucharist is that it becomes the school of active love for my neighbor. If authentically received, Eucharist must make us grow in awareness of one another.”
Yes, the great saint spoke of the awesome presence of God in the Eucharist. But he also challenged us to actively embrace and reflect the same love poured forth into our lives from the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
So when God’s people assemble in faith as we do today, we are called to recreate the ritual meal of the Last Supper. But we are also called to do something else. Saint Augustine put it best: “Become the mystery you celebrate. … Become the broken Christ whose life was poured forth for those that he loved. … Become the loving, compassionate Christ who multiplied loaves and fish and fed the hungry multitudes, satisfying not only their physical needs, but also their desire to be nourished by the God.
Receive Christ, the living bread that sustains us on our journey of faith. … Receive Christ and so become Christ in loving service to one another. … Become Christ for your husband/your wife. Become Christ for your mother/your father; your sister/your brother. Become Christ for your neighbor. Become Christ for the stranger. Become Christ for the unborn child. Become Christ for the hungry. Become Christ for the poor. Become Christ for the immigrant. Become Christ for the forgotten. Become Christ for those on the margins of life whom the righteous say are unworthy of Christ’s love. … Become the Christ whom you adore and worship.
In short, the great sacrament of the Eucharist that we celebrate this day is both a gift to be cherished and a responsibility to be embraced by all who seek to follow the Lord Jesus with sincerity of heart – from the first followers of Jesus – to countless witnesses of the Gospel message down through the ages – to me and to you this day.
My brothers, Jesus gives us the command to love generously and unconditionally – as he has loved us. And he gives us the means to fulfill that command through the gift of the Eucharist. May our prayer on this great day embody these simple words that, more than anything else, have the power to enable us to live as Christian men. … “As we receive Christ in the Eucharist, O God, help us, in turn, to become Christ for others. Amen.”