Fr Neil’s homily on the Sixth Sunday after Easter (Rogation Sunday), 9 May 2021

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.

Christ in these words makes it utterly clear that although we have the free will to respond to the call of God we are not self-chosen or self-appointed disciples of Christ. The invitation to discipleship is wholly the initiative of Christ alone. The body of Christ, the Church, is therefore no mere human institution but divinely inspired, formed of God and therefore holy.

As citizens of the kingdom of God we are also called to be holy after the manner of Christ who has appointed us as his disciples. That means we are called to live out, in the body here on earth, the will of our Father in heaven. Thus we bear witness to the spiritual realities of God to those who sit in darkness without the light of Christ.

As children of God we have the extraordinary privilege of not being seen as mere servants, which in itself is more than we deserve, but are called friends of God in Christ.

‘No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.’

The Church through the apostles bears the deposit of faith, the will and purpose of the Father, revealed in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the life blood of the Church. The disciple who is rooted in the revealed will of God will bear the marks of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity. These virtues are the fruit that are gifts of God to his disciples that abide unto eternal life. As St Paul says, everything else will pass away ‘So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.’

These virtues are so fundamental to the life of genuine discipleship that they are the spiritual hermeneutics by which we discern our actions in accordance to the will of Christ. There is even a hierarchy within these gifts of God: the greatest is love, for without love any good action gains me nothing. Without the virtue of charity I am nothing but a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. Why? Because God in his very being is love and if we are without love we are without God who is the source of life itself.

Satan’s greatest fault is justly identified as the sin of pride. Pride was his downfall because of his failure to love and trust in God’s will and purpose. Pride corrupts charity which is rightly directed towards God. Pride becomes self love above all else.

How easy for our faith to slip into doubt and give false attributes to God by doubting his goodness or the sufficiency of his mercy and grace to overcome our sins. How easy for hope to give way to despair and struggle to see beyond the horror of our own trauma or the events taking place within the Church and the world. How easy for charity to surrender to hate and the despising of others who, however flawed, bear within themselves the image of God.

No wonder Christ repeats and emphasise again and again; “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” To seek to obey this command is the means by which we abide in his eternal love.

Icon of the Divine Mercy; anonymousThis is what divine charity looks like: while we were still sinners, ungodly, enemies of God, Christ, knowingly, willing and deliberately died for us. The cross reveals the heart of the Father in Christ and the depth of his love for the fallen world. This divine charity is articulated in the words of Christ upon the cross; “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And to the murderous thief who asks to be remembered; “today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It is a love that undoes death, reconciles heaven and earth and gifts eternal life to those who willingly embrace it with penitent hearts. But O how can I love like this when bitterness, resentment, shame and anger are so often my default position? Yes, there are times when tables need to be turned over but how often am I angry about the wrong things and indifferent towards that which should actually anger me? If I say that I have love yet transgress one of the Ten Commandments, then I have misunderstood what love truly is. Love is the key to all the commandments and it is the lack of faith, hope and especially charity that leads me into transgressing God’s laws.

If we understood this properly there would be queues outside every confessional — led by the priests themselves! — not moved by guilt alone but by the knowledge that the sacrament of confession is an intimate encounter with God’s divine love and mercy, the triumph of Easter. It is the place where we truly know the grace of forgiveness and reconciling charity — the embrace of Christ our Saviour.

St Gregory the Great said ‘this love has the ability to make a friend out of an enemy.’ Such charity brings life out of death, heals the broken hearted, reconciles the estranged, brings eternal heavenly joy and happiness, despite the hardships of life. Charity is divine, of God, and makes us citizens of heaven and even by his grace, saints of God.

‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.’