As the situation in my world unfolds, I am expecting that things will get a lot worse before it (hopefully) gets better. I am marooned in a foreign city, separated from family, unable to reach the vaccine available in my home country because of work, quarantine and other travel inconveniences. Alone, darkness becomes darker. Between panic and being practical, I packed a small bag to take with me to hospital should the virus reach me. (Choy!) Inside are electronic gadgets to stay in touch with the family.
I read about India. I read about the shortage of oxygen. I read about choices being made as to who gets the oxygen. I read similar stories that happened a year ago in Europe. Why did we as humanity not learn? In my ponderings, I have always searched to listen to that inner voice. Last week it spoke about our inter-connectedness whether we are family or stranger. What if I end up being a choice in an oxygen shortage?
“This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” (Today’s Gospel)
If we were asked to give up our oxygen, many, many of us will say no, only a few will say yes. Here is not a debate about whether we must say yes, or we can say no. It is rather to situate ourselves into this drama that occurs in the reality of our everyday life. We are faced with this opportunity to lay down our life for our friend, beginning in little, non-life-threatening choices. When we make this journey from no to yes, we give ourselves oxygen to our spiritual life to know what true love means and who God is.
“Anyone who fails to love can never have known God because God is love. This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.” (Second Reading)
Love is initiated by God. It is the first thing he gives, even if we refuse. It is not an exchange for ours. Today, preaching this call to love one another is preaching into a world of doubt. A doubt generated by complacency and cockiness from generations of progress humanity made. Those changed our values. We know well about family love but cringe and feel awkward about this call to love the stranger. We have become pagan in the belief of this commandment because of this generation’s gearing towards self-importance. But this pandemic is carrying a message we will do well to heed.
“You did not choose me: no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last.” (Gospel)
As baptized Christians, we have been chosen by name especially in this pandemic to rise up as lay people. The preaching of the gospel is ours. It is time to bravely become church, which this pandemic has pronounced to be outside buildings and around us in everyday life. It is time to come out of our shells of family love and expand, to start calling colleagues and strangers around us “friend”. It is time to preach not by words but by doing the little acts of charity that will collectively become the big gospel of Love. God initiates, yes but the love can only flow if there are willing bodies to allow it to flow through from one to another. This is our discipleship, the reason why God chose us, calling you and me by name.
We must repack that bag. Gadgets to stay connected must be exchanged for values to promote the interconnectedness beyond family and commission strangers as friends. Disciples invest time into friends as acts to love to listen and comfort, and to share our material well-being with those who now have less.
The pandemic has changed the needs of the world. These needs are immediate in the persons immediate in our life who we know are suffering badly in this pandemic. We all know strangers who have lost income or are suffering emotionally. We are the ones God placed to reach them. It is time to call them “friends”.
Repack that bag. We are now disciples embarking on a new road to be church in a new era. We need to carry the oxygen that will give new spiritual life to the ‘pagans’ who do not know the fulfilment of bearing fruits that will last through the call to love one another.
6th Sunday of Easter