May 15th, 2022

crucifix and ciborium

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter

Today, at the beginning of our Sunday reflection, I would like to ask you a question: Is there any recipe for happiness? Have you ever heard of such a recipe for happiness? We can also ask a slightly different question: What to do in order not to be unhappy? Contrary to appearances, the recipe for happiness is very simple, and tells us that we should live not for ourselves but for others. Simply put: Love is the most perfect recipe for happiness. In today’s Gospel we heard that after Judas left the Upper Room, Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I give you a new commandment: love one another’. As we remember this scene took place during the last supper, or in other words, during the first Eucharist that Jesus celebrated for his disciples. I think Jesus wanted to show them all very clearly, that the Eucharist is very closely related to the commandment of love.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who was an auxiliary bishop of New York, once told two interesting and quite similar stories, that he wrote in his diary many years later. The first story is as follows: During a mass celebrated somewhere in one of the churches, a little altar boy approached the priest holding two tiny jugs in his hands, one with wine and the other with water. At one point, one of the jugs suddenly slipped from his hands, fell to the floor and broke into small pieces. The boy was completely scared of what had happened, he was unable to say anything and waited for any reaction from the priest. The furious priest looked at him angrily and said without thinking: ‘How could you?! Pick it up now and get out of here, I don’t want to see you anymore! You broke my precious jug that served me for many years in this church!’ The little boy left the church and never came back. As Archbishop Sheen emphasized in this story that really happened, the same boy became a politician after many years, and finally became the leader of communist Yugoslavia. His name was Josip Broz Tito.

The second story is very similar, but this time the Mass was celebrated in the cathedral and it was held by one of the archbishops. A little altar boy was carrying jugs of wine and water. They were very posh, beautiful, crystal jugs, and suddenly one of the jugs slipped from the boy’s hands, fell to the floor and broke into tiny pieces. The boy was extremely frightened by the noise of the jug hitting the floor, he was completely petrified. After a moment of silence and uncertainty, he knelt down with tears in his eyes to pick up all the pieces of the broken vessel. He wanted to cry and apologize to everyone in the church, but after a while he noticed that the archbishop knelt next to him. He not only knelt down, but also helped him pick up the small pieces of the jug scattered on the floor. As they knelt together, the archbishop said to the boy: ‘Listen, maybe you will become a priest in the future!’ As you can imagine, these words struck him very much as they came as a huge surprise to him. This thought of becoming a priest gradually grew and matured within him. He thought about it more and more often, and after many years he did become a priest. Archbishop Sheen ended this story by saying: ‘That boy was me. This is my own story. This is the story of my life and of my personal call to the priesthood’.

This touching story shows us that love for our neighbours has great power and can change anyone. Moreover, these two scenes show us that, in a very similar situation, we can act in two completely different ways. How many times in the Gospel can we find a passage where Jesus looked at someone with love? Perhaps at times we find it difficult to look at certain people with love, especially when our neighbour is not easy, or when he or she is extremely difficult. We all encounter such people, and maybe quite often. C. S. Lewis, a British fantasy writer and theologian, author of the famous ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ and many other novels, once said: ‘If you have a problem with love, and if you feel that you are unable to love this or that particular person, then try to treat that person as if you love them, and you will see that love will come automatically’. I know this may sound like a very complicated platitude, but in actual fact this is the only and best recipe for us. ‘If you have a problem with love, and if you feel that you do not love this or that particular person, then start by treating that person as if you love them, and you will see that love will come automatically’. Our acts of love have the real power to change our feelings and emotions towards our neighbours, and thanks to God’s grace we can love every person, even the most difficult. Today Jesus gives us a new commandment, it is worth accepting this commandment as a gift. This most precious gift can really make us happy and can really change a lot in our lives.

Fr Gregory