Thursday of the 5th Week of Easter
Acts 15:7-21; Psalm 96; John 15:9-11
I’d like to start with a story adapted from Parker Palmer’s book, Courage to Teach. It’s about two brothers, Tim and Tom, gifted artists from a small town. They were encouraged by their high school art teacher to pursue their passion for art along with their gift for sharing their passion with others. Tim was ambitious and wanted to make a name for himself and so went to a large city university on a scholarship, got a PhD and became a professor. He still dabbled in art occasionally but focused on research instead. He was focused and very critical. He was respected and feared by his students as he was merciless in criticism. His brother Tom pursued his passion a little differently. He focused on being an art teacher and continued to practice art. He taught in schools and small colleges and was relaxed and popular with students. When their art teacher met both of them some years later, he noticed that Tom was happy but Tim was not. It was obvious. He asked Tim, ‘Do you love what you do? Because it doesn’t seem so. Why not try to be more of yourself?’ Tim was shocked but reflected and realised that he should follow his passion and do what he loves so that he can better love what he does.
If we follow our passion, if we love something, all will fall into place. Things won’t seem so difficult and should make more sense. Fr Pedro Arrupe, the famous Jesuit General Superior in the period immediately after Vatican II famously said in his prayer – Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, falling in love in a quite absolute, final way…Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything. He’s exhorting us to be like Tom and do what we love so that it will help us decide everything. To remain (or abide) in the Lord’s love and that will decide everything. That’s a simple but difficult instruction to follow.
We realise that keeping the commandments is not the main thing that we should focus on. Not that we ignore them but we have to get other things right first. As Tim the 1st brother showed, trying conform to externals would not do us much good. Just trying to follow commandments as those in the first reading did would lead us to be too narrow in our ability to love others. We need to remain or abide in the love of the Lord. The commandments may not make sense without the grounding of love. Like Tom, we’re called to love what we do and follow the commandment not because we NEED to but because we WANT to. That’s how we reach the joy that the Lord described.
This abiding in the Love of God is also the key to understanding what happened to Peter. He had an abiding understanding of how God works and did not slavishly follow rules but in had a real knowledge of God and how God loves. Through this, he sought to make things easier for people to believe and worship God. He showed that if people are actively seeking God, we should help not hinder them. After all, who are we to impose more difficulties if people honestly want to follow the Lord?
The reality is that the foremost commandment to ‘love one another’ (John 13:34) is difficult. And it will be made more difficult if we try to do this just by following a set of rules and not feeling what it really means. That’s what happened to Tim and that’s what made him unhappy. We should instead try to be more relaxed, happy in the love that the Lord shows us and seek to love what we do. To love our ability to obey the commandments will in turn help us to obey them more easily. That we want to love also means that we want to follow the commandments. And that’s a reality that we should look towards and aim for.
What is it that we love that makes us WANT to follow the Lord?