Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 15th By Brian Maher OMI
Why is it that so many people live in a kind of perpetual fear of God? They are, maybe, able to say that “God loves me”, but everything in their conversations and actions make clear that deep in their hearts they are still people without real joy or hope or happiness. This fear manifests itself in, perhaps, a preoccupation with sin, an inordinate need to do penance or a difficulty in accepting the forgiveness of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or a need to keep confessing the same sins over and over in the Sacrament.
In today’s Gospel Jesus calls us, “My little children,” Think about that for a moment: “My little children.”
If any child hears a parent call them ‘my little child’, then we can be certain that that child knows with certainty that they are loved, and forgiven, and accepted and protected. Why then, when Jesus says, ‘my little children’ do we find it so difficult to accept it?
…And it is not like this is the only time and place that God calls us his children. The prophet Isaiah, in the Old Testament, constantly comes back to this theme:
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb? Even if she could forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15)
Or Psalm 27:10, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”
As far back as the Book of Genesis, we have the incredibly beautiful image of God coming down from Heaven, “in the cool of the evening, to walk and talk with Adam and Eve.”
In the Gospels we find, “I no longer call you servants.., I call you friends.” (John 15:15)
In the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to me all you who carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest….for I am gentle and humble of heart.” (Matthew 11:28)
And today’s “My little children…”
It is almost as if we cannot truly hear these particular words repeated by God again and again. We are “made in God’s image and likeness”. In Psalm 8 we are told that we are, “…little less than Gods.”
As a priest, I have journeyed with people I would consider Saints, people of prayer and love and justice and joy, who, as they approach death, suddenly become paralysed by fear, and dread and doubts. Now, of course we all fear the unknown and no matter how great our faith, death is still, in human terms at least, the greatest unknown. But the fear I talk of is, somehow, greater than this. It is a spiritual fear, a ‘dark night of the soul’ experience, a doubt and fear aimed directly at God.
Why is this?
Could it be that we have such a low opinion of ourselves what we cannot see ourselves as lovable. A kind of, “God can say what he likes, but I know myself and I know that God cannot really love me!” That thinking will surely lead to fear, and doubt and confusion. If I feel I am ‘unlovable’, then no words of forgiveness will convince me that I am forgiven! If I feel I am ‘unlovable’ then of course I will fear, because I will always be unacceptable and unworthy.
At Mass, every time we attend, we say, just before Communion, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” It seems to me that we hear the first part of that statement but not the second. Don’t we realise that “the word has been said, and we are healed”? Isn’t this exactly what we celebrate at Easter? The Cross and Resurrection makes us God’s ‘little children’ or, it may be truer to say, confirms that we have always been God’s ‘little children’.
If we cannot love ourselves, then how can we ever love another?
“Just as I have loved you, you must love one another.” The key here is the first part of the statement, ‘Just as I have loved you….’; I must accept, truly and completely, that I am loved by God before I will be able to love another person.” Elsewhere, in Mark 12:31 Jesus says it more simply: “You must love your neighbour, as yourself.”
This tiny Gospel today contains, for me, the greatest challenge of the entire Gospel; accepting and believing that we are both lovable and loved before we can ever love anyone else.
Jesus is very clear about it, “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
We are called to be disciples of Jesus in our world. People are meant to look at the way we live together and see peace, joy, acceptance, forgiveness and patience. Until each of us is absolutely convinced within ourselves that we truly are loved by God, we can never be those disciples.
It is an inner journey we must make, and it is not an easy one. So many things from our childhoods and in our lives conspire to keep us feeling unlovable. Even our Church, well meaning and sincere, can sometimes make us doubt how lovable and loved we really are.
The thing we are called to do today, in the light of the Easter mystery of Death and Resurrection, is allow ourselves to hear God call us, “My little children.” If I can close my eyes, hear God say those words to me, gently and tenderly, and in my heart accept them, then, not only am I fortunate, but I can be a disciple as Jesus calls me to be a disciple – one who knows they are loved now and always by God, and in turn can share that love and joy and peace with others.
In the Son of Man, God has been glorified
When Judas had gone Jesus said:
‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.
‘My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
I give you a new commandment:
love one another;
just as I have loved you,
you also must love one another.
By this love you have for one another,
everyone will know that you are my disciples.’
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