The Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
At first hearing, it may seem as though we receive two contradictory statements in the Scriptures today. First, Saints Paul and Barnabas tell us – curiously enough, by way of encouragement – that “it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Second, Saint John tells us that God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). The first saying is disarming and striking; the second saying is comforting and desirous. Can it be that the Beloved Disciple contradicts what the Apostle to the Gentiles says?
When considering such a question, it is good for us to remember that the Sacred Scriptures do not compete against each other. Rather, taken in their entirety, the Sacred Scriptures form a great harmony. It is for us to attune our ears to their hymn so that we might hear it properly.
When Saints Paul and Barnabas remind us that it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God, they say this as a matter of fact. This is a central fact of the Christian life. Even so, the centrality of the Cross in each of our lives is often either rejected or denied – whether implicitly or explicitly – by many Christians today. This rejection of a tenet of discipleship is, in part, what hinders our efforts to evangelize our culture and society that drifts further and further away from Christian life.
If we are to find the harmony between what Paul and Barnabas and John say, we have to consider who the they are to whom Saint John refers. Looking at his words in their full context, we see that they are those found in the holy city, in the new Jerusalem, those who names are found in the book of life at the Last Judgment. Their tears will be wiped away precisely because they endured the time of tribulation, because they underwent hardship, because they remained faithful to Christ Jesus, and for this reason they now live with God. We have the relics of two of these here in this very Cathedral Basilica.
What Paul and Barnabas say, then, about the necessity of hardship and what John says about the final and enduring comfort are not contradictory statements at all, but are instead part of a whole, two sides of the same coin, if you will; both are the fruits of an authentic discipleship. Both are to be found in the faithful adherence to Jesus’ command: “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (John 13:34).
It should come as no real surprise that our society does not understand what love is. True love is always a willingness to suffer for the beloved; true love always entails a willingness to sacrifice for the beloved; true love always entails a renunciation of self in favor of the beloved. If there is no wiliness to suffer, if there is no willingness to sacrifice, whatever else it may be, it is not love.
Is this not what made the ministry of Saint Damien, of Saint Marianne, and of the Servant of God Joseph Dutton so very fruitful compelling? Did they not each in their own choose to suffer for those they loved, to sacrifice for those entrusted to their care, to renounce themselves in favor of those who needed their assistance? They did not choose the easy way out because they knew “it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Their lives were fruitful because they lived and loved like Jesus; they willingly suffered for others and made heroic sacrifices for their benefit.
Some today might think that this aspect of love is difficult to discover because so few of us seem to recognize it. But there are always examples of authentic love to be found, and hints of love can be found in perhaps surprising places. We can find one such hint in the Hawaiian language in a word we all know well, though it is famously difficult to translate in English terms.
The word aloha, so I understand, has something of a kaleidoscope of meanings. While its best known meaning is love, it is not simply a romantic or rosy love; it is instead a love that also connotes compassion and patience, which is to say a love that involves suffering, hardships, and sacrifices. It is a love as we encounter and receive in Christ Jesus.
Father Damien, Mother Marianne, and Joseph Dutton each understand this, even if each in their own unique way. Saint Damien famously said, “I make myself a leper with the lepers.”
|Saint Damien of Moloka'i|
Saint Marianne said, “I am hungry for the work.”
And Joseph went to Kalawao on his own accord as a personal penance to atone for his past sins. This heroic trio show us as if through a prism what it means to undergo hardships so as to enter the kingdom of God. They show us what it means to love others as Jesus love them and as he loves each one of us. And in the joy they exhibited in their care of the lepers, they received a foretaste of God wiping away their tears from their eyes; they were comforted by the Lord Jesus because they united themselves to him and loved like him.
They did so in the extremes of the leper settlement, but you and I do not have to go so far. Joseph Dutton once said to a correspondent who lamented he could join Joseph at Kalaupapa, “One’s Molokai can be anywhere.”
It remains then for us to undergo hardships wherever they come to us out of love for Jesus Christ and out of love for others. It remains for us to unite ourselves to the Lord Jesus and to love like him so to suffer for those we love, to sacrifice for those entrusted to our care, and to renounce ourselves in favor of those who need our assistance. For if we live and love in this way, being united to Christ Jesus, on the last day he will wipe away every tear from our eyes and welcome us into his kingdom. Amen.