May 9, 2021 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Reading of the day: Acts 10:25-48 / 1 John 4:7-10 / John 15:9-17
The following is the homily I will be delivering today at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:
Today’s readings direct us to this reality: Joy resides in our hearts and is accessible to all.
So, why isn’t everyone joyful? The short answer is that joy is intimately connected to our relationship with God.
Unfortunately, some people may not have experienced God in their lives or have failed to see God’s hand in things. There are others that have been hurt by the Church or whose faith has been shaken by any number of struggles they’ve encountered. Simply put, we need to invite others to an encounter with God.
After discussing in detail who should receive the gospel message, the disciples came to the realization that it was meant to be shared. They made the decision to go beyond their own people, taking the message to the Gentiles, to those that did not know God.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” God is for all.
In the First Letter of John, we hear the same message, but it is a bit more subtle: “Let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves knows God.” God is love.
In today’s gospel from John, Jesus told his disciples he loved them. Then he said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” With God’s love comes joy.
What comforting messages for us to hear. God shows no partiality. God is made known to us by the love we receive and the love we share. Finally, God’s love brings us joy. That joy resides in our hearts and can be freely accessed at any time.
Comforting, yet challenging as well. If love and joy are meant to be available to all, they must be offered to all. Are we doing that?
Last Saturday, I was blessed to give my granddaughter her First Holy Communion at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Westfield. It was a very special day.
That evening, I posted two pictures of the event on social media. One picture was of me, still in my vestments, kneeling next to my granddaughter, Ellie. We both had big smiles on our faces.
Love and joy.
The second photo was of 2-year-old Theo, Ellie’s brother, running toward her with arms opened wide to give her a hug. He was beaming a beautiful smile and, using no words, sent the message, “This is so awesome!”
Love and joy.
I posted the pictures, along with this simple message: My granddaughter, Ellie, received her First Communion from her deacon grandpa today! What an honor for me to be a part of her personal connection to Jesus Christ.
Love and joy, revealed in our relationship with God.
As might be expected, many people acknowledged the photos, commenting on how adorable the kids were and how special it must have been for me – both of which were true.
The next morning, there was a message from someone I’ve never met. The message read, “Shame on you! As a grandfather, how could you force your misguided faith onto a child? She should not be indoctrinated into your fantasy religion.”
The message certainly caught me off-guard. I immediately re-read my post. Had I come off as “in your face” or self-righteous? Had I somehow given the impression that I was forcing my religion on my granddaughter or anyone else?
I am very careful in my use of social media. I post a few things about my family, but the vast majority of my posts are simple, positive messages about the impact of God on my life. They allow me to share my faith in a non-threatening way. I am careful not to give the impression that everyone should believe as I do. I am not confrontational or judgmental, as I believe there is already too much divisiveness in the world.
So, I examined both my photos and my post again to be sure I had not been offensive in any way. No, it was about love and joy and sharing an experience of Jesus Christ with my granddaughter.
I was really taken aback by the message. For someone I’ve never met to take the time and energy to respond so negatively to something I saw as beautiful and joyful was beyond my comprehension.
After the initial shock of the message, I felt an overwhelming sadness. What had this person gone through that had compelled him to attack such a simple declaration of faith and joy? What was the source of his pain?
What I post is not for everyone; I get that. I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I say. There are things that others post that I don’t agree with either. However, when that is the case, I simply scroll past it. This person felt a need to respond for some reason.
I responded by praying for him. I prayed that God might heal whatever pain he is experiencing. I prayed that he might be able to access the joy that comes from experiencing God in his life, and that he might know the love of God and others.
The message of this homily is not about my social media post or the negative response. It is about recognizing that some people are unable to access the joy in their hearts, and it is our responsibility to help change that.
When I studied today’s readings, the messages resonated with me: God is the source of love. He pours out that love on everyone, not a select few. When I accept his love, joy enters my heart. I can then access that joy at any time; I can choose joy.
Unfortunately, those messages do not resonate with everyone.
The familiar responsorial psalm, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” comes to mind.
Some of our brothers and sisters have experienced a hardening of their hearts. We know God loves them just as he loves us, but they don’t recognize that love or they have been hurt and have pulled the plug on their faith. Their relationship with God has been damaged and they have turned away from him.
The joy that comes from accepting God’s love is trapped beneath the surface of a hardened heart.
Our role as disciples is to radiate the love of God to others. For those who may not know or feel God’s love, we must become that love for them. For those unable to access the joy in their hearts, we must share ours. We must share our experience of God in both word and deed.
Our joy and love may at times be rejected, but we must not allow that to deter us from our responsibility as disciples.
Our joy will not truly be complete until we help unlock the joy in the hearts of others as well.