In the first reading each week of the Easter season, we hear from the first generation of the Church in the story of the post-Easter apostles. They are learning what it means to be Church. They are learning what impact the gospel they proclaim will have on the world and times they live in. They are learning the first hard lessons about trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, still a new gift they don’t fully understand. They are confronted with the difficult task of surrendering their assumptions, prejudices, and behaviors in the face of something quite new. They are faced with what God is doing in the world.
At the same time in the gospel story each week, we are hearing from the time when Jesus was still with his disciples, both before and just after the resurrection. This “flashback” to the time of Jesus relates to the experience of the early Church quite deliberately. They are living out the truth of the advice and example Jesus gave them.
Finally, we have that middle reading, the one most easily forgotten. It comes from the Book of Revelation. If the time of the post-resurrection Church can be considered the present age—it is after all the generation we still inhabit—and the generation of Jesus is the past we hold in sacred memory, then the scenes recorded by the visionary John are of a different time and place altogether. Is it the future he sees? Often the events of Revelation are relegated to the future as an end-time scenario. What John is actually seeing is happening in the realm of God right now. The Holy Now of God is always and everywhere taking shape.
We are called to participate in this Holy Now of God. We do not just remember it as a past event and we do not just hope for it as a future event. We are called to embrace it, the Holy Now of God, in the present moment. This Holy Now comes when we join our will to the holy will of God.
It comes to us in this holy Eucharist that we are about to share. The same holy Eucharist that our innocent children recently received for the first time. This same Eucharist Pope Benedict called in his Letter Sacramentum Caritas - The Sacrament of Love. In that apostolic letter, Benedict did not limit his reflection on pieties—how to hold your hands, how to sing, how to decorate—no, he made a strong statement about being and remaining a Eucharistic people. Benedict was clear that Eucharist emboldens us to be people of charity. Eucharist forms us to be people of solidarity. Eucharist is an active agent in our lives – a dynamic agent not merely a stagnated object for us to observe, but an object of adoration. Why? Because, in that act of adoration we are compelled to act. We are compelled to act with justice and compassion, empathy, and sympathy. We are compelled to act with love.
Each of us must choose to obey the commandment to love one another. When I do, I claim participation in the Holy Now of God. When I come in love and act from love I am a participant. If you obey this commandment you can see and appreciate the Holy Now of God.
To live according to the commandment of love also means to sacrifice. For to love is to sacrifice one’s self for another, as Pope Benedict reminded us in his first Encylical Deus Caritas Est. We have to let God make all things new—starting with ourselves. To love as God loves is the most difficult yet the most profound activity in our lives. How do we go about it?
There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn. He decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he was finished it was gorgeous. It was breath-taking.
A neighbor asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?"
The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!"
If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion, mercy, or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have hatred, prejudice, vengeance, or envy in your heart, for God's sake, for the sake of others, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like love.