For audio of this homily from the 10 am Mass, click the green arrow below
Do you notice something unusual in the gospel we just heard?
One word recurs again and again and again: “world.” Jesus utters it no less than nine times, in one brief passage. I think this is for good reason: this is all about what it means to be a disciple and also to be in the world. But one phrase stood out for me: “I gave them your word, and the world hated them.”
Right now, as we await the fire of Pentecost, it is a timely reminder of an ancient truth: the Christian life isn’t all hymns, harps and halos.
It also involves sometimes being hated.
A story about Mother Teresa drives that home.
Early in her ministry, when she was just beginning to work with the poor of Calcutta, she went to a local bakery, to beg for bread for her orphanage. The baker saw her come into the shop, and listened to what she had to say. He considered it a moment. Then, he took a deep breath…and spit on her.
After a long moment, she spoke.
“Thank you for that gift for me,” she said quietly. “Now,” she continued, wiping the spittle from her face, ”what about the bread for the orphans?”
Stunned, the baker had nothing to say. He gave her the bread. In fact, he went on to become one of her most consistent and generous benefactors.
But Mother Teresa knew there would be days like that. The gospel promised as much. “I gave them your word,” Jesus said, “and the world hated them.” Yet, considering what happened to the saint from Calcutta, how many of us have experienced anything even close to that?
This morning, I had the privilege of marching with parishioners and members of the Pro-Life group, the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. It’s an extraordinary ministry founded by Brooklyn’s own Msgr. Phillip Reilly, and it now stretches around the world. The routine is fairly simple for all the marches, wherever they take place; it’s the same in Queens as it is in Krakow. It begins with an early morning Mass, always with a bishop presiding. It then continues with a march, along with police escorts, to the abortion clinic – in our case, the All Women’s Pavilion down on Austin Street. This morning, as we walked we prayed rosaries, sang hymns, and then marched back to the church for Benediction. It is always peaceful, prayerful, non-confrontational. As Msgr. Reilly puts it, our only conversation is with God and the Blessed Mother.
People on the sidewalks sometimes stare — maybe in disbelief, maybe in awe. Maybe they sense something extraordinary taking place — seeing their neighbors taking an unpopular stand in the middle of a city street. Sometimes people yell. They will scream about how abortion is a right, and legal, and there’s nothing we can do to change that. They will tell us to keep our rosaries off their ovaries. This morning, one woman shouted again and again, “This isn’t what Jesus would do! You’re wrong! This isn’t what Jesus would do!” We continued walking, and praying, and singing.
She disappeared. We marched on.
But the taunts from the side of the road are mild compared to what our brothers and sisters endure around the world. Violence, persecution, imprisonment. There are bombings in Iraq, outlawed churches in China, executions in Nigeria. Every year, more unknown, unnamed martyrs give their lives for the faith. And yet: miraculously, wondrously…the church endures. It grows. It thrives.
It thrives because it carries into the world something inexhaustible and irrefutable: the person of Jesus Christ.
It thrives because that same Jesus Christ promised us that it would – and then, to ensure our consolation and hope, he sent us the Holy Spirit.
It thrives because again and again those who hold fast to the faith also hold fast to the timeless truth contained in the letter from St. John – truth that transcends whatever persecution, large or small, we might encounter.That truth is, very simply, love.
“No one has ever seen God,” John wrote. “Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.”
In loving one another, we not only keep God in our lives; we make Him present to others.
Or as the famous line from “Les Miserables” so beautifully puts it: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
To be a Christian in the world is to strive, every day, to allow others somehow to see the face of God.
Mother Teresa did it in a bakery in Calcutta.
Dozens of people did it Saturday morning, praying and singing on Austin Street.
Where will you do it? Where will you help others to see God’s love?
As we prepare this day to receive an enduring reminder of that love, Christ himself in the Eucharist, we pray.
We pray for those experiencing persecution.
We pray for strength to uphold the gospel.
We pray for patience in our trials, gentleness toward those who offer us only spittle and hate.
We pray for those courageous enough to stand up for life in a world given over, increasingly, to death.
And we do all this the only way we know how: with Christian joy.
The gospel gave us fair warning. Sometimes the world will hate us.
But sometimes, too, that is the price of love.