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Bishop's Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 6, 2018

[Sacred Heart Church, Pahoa (Confirmation)]

I remember a nun telling the story about her travels that involved a change of planes in India.  The original flight was delayed, so she missed her connecting flight.  It was late at night, and she had no money to speak of and no credit card.  She knew no one there, and the next flight to her destination would be about 24 hours from then.  As she stood in the airport, obviously looking bewildered, a cab driver approached her and asked if he could help.  When she explained the situation, he offered to take her to his family home where she could spend the night.  She was, of course, wary, but her instincts told her this was a trustworthy man, so she accepted the offer.  He took her to his family home, gave her breakfast the next morning, made arrangements for her continuing flight and drove her back to the airport.  As she approached the airport, she began to thank him for his great kindness and said, “You are a great Christian!”  The man became annoyed, and said to her, “I am not a Christian.  I am a Hindu.  Why is it that you Christians seem to think you are the only ones who can be kind and caring to others?”  She apologized and learned a great lesson that day.

Whenever we talk about religion, we usually refer to the moral life, of keeping God’s commandments, which is very important.  But people of no faith whatsoever can be very kind and caring people, just as we know that people of faith can be very sinful.    It is perhaps for this reason that we do not share the faith as we should, because if someone can be good without the faith, as they sometimes are, there is no real reason to evangelize.  So what is it about our faith that makes it unique, that gives us the desire and the need to share it with others?  It is, at heart, an expression of friendship with a person, the person of Jesus Christ.  And this is not just an admiration of some hero of the past who did good deeds and taught wise things; no, this is a relationship with this person who is living today because he rose from the dead and continues to be present with us, calling us to be his intimate friends.  This is a human friendship with God himself, because this person who calls us to be his friends is both human and divine.

Yet Jesus makes it very clear that to love him is to keep his commandments.  So it does have to do with the moral life, with living according to the way God wants us to live, because he knows who we are and knows what will ultimately bring us happiness and joy here on earth and eternal joy in heaven.

If some stranger asks you to do something good but difficult, sometimes we are willing to do it.  But if a friend asks us, we are much more willing to do it, because we know it is a way of showing our love for this friend.  Therefore, the key to the Christian faith is building a relationship with a person.  And Jesus gives us many wonderful means to build such a relationship.  As in any friendship, however, he may take the initiative, but he never forces himself on us.

Jesus gives us his living Word, so that he can continually speak to us, guide us, support us, and challenge us.  And that Word is found in the Sacred Scriptures, in the Bible.  How many of us Catholics only hear the Scriptures when we come to Mass on Sunday?  If I were to hand everyone here a Bible, for example, and told you to turn to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, I wonder how many would even know how to find it.  This is a treasure that is so often neglected, when it is available to all of us.  It is through this living Word of God that we can encounter the living Word of God that is Jesus himself.  Our friendship with Jesus can be nurtured through our listening to him in his Word.

Then there is prayer.  A friend who seldom communicates with us is not going to be a friend for very long.  Communication is at the heart of friendship.  So prayer – not just formal recitation of formulas – involves heart to heart conversation with our friend about the very real aspects of our lives, whether joyful, painful, self-giving or sinful.  Jesus wants us to speak to him about all of these things so that through his love, we can learn to better love one another.  A person who does not regularly pray is soon going to find religion a burden rather than an opportunity to increase in love.

Then there is the greatest gift Jesus gives us, the gift of intimate communion with himself.  He who gave his life for us, makes himself present to us in a miraculous way as food and drink, so that eating his Body and drinking his Blood, we can have eternal life and joy in its fullness.  It is hard to imagine how someone could be more intimate with us that allowing us to actually take him into ourselves physically and spiritually, so that he can show us how much our friendship means to him.

It is this intimate friendship with Jesus, fully human and fully God, that is at the heart of our Catholic faith.  Once we realize that, then we will want to keep his commandments and will not find them a burden but a joy.  Once we allow ourselves to accept his offer of intimate friendship, then we will want others to be his friends, too.  We will no longer think of inviting people to come to church because of the wonderful people who are here, or because of the great priest or the beautiful music.  Instead we will invite them to something they can find nowhere else, this intimate communion with Jesus, risen from the dead, living among us, and loving us intimately so that we in turn can love one another.