This homily was given at Holy Rosary Parish, Portland, OR on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 22, 2022. The audio is available here.
It’s Holy Thursday in the upper room.
St. Peter looks across the table.
And there’s John, his eyes half-closed, leaning against Jesus’ chest.
“Look at him.”
“He’s so young. So innocent.”
“And me? I’m an old sinner, a blockhead. Just the other day Jesus called me Satan!”
“No wonder Jesus loves him more than me.”
Peter notices something in John that he lacks in himself.
We all notice qualities in others that we lack.
“My buddy can always get a laugh. People light up just seeing him come into the room…”
“My wife is so kind. I don’t know what it is, but everyone loves her…”
“Father Corwin is such a good preacher. When he preaches, people listen!”
As we notice qualities in others that we lack, envy turns us inward, away from the other person.
We tend to curl up around the hole in our heart, sulking over our inadequacy.
Notice Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus to look at John — and ends up staring bitterly at himself.
Like Peter, we long to be loved, but most of the time, we live as if God’s love is really quite conditional.
As if his love depends on us meeting some standard of perfection.
And so we obsess over our inadequacy.
I’m not funny enough, not kind enough, not good enough to be loved.
But there is a fundamental law of the spiritual life: we become what we behold.
The more we fixate on what we lack and spiral inward into shame and self-loathing, the more we loathe and envy others for having what we don’t.
The inward turn suffocates love.
The self-hatred we nurture will spawn hatred for others.
And the downward spiral ends in broken relationships, isolation, loneliness, and despair.
But hear what the Lord says to St. Peter and to each of us in today’s Gospel:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
At every moment, at this moment, Jesus, with true sincerity in His eyes, asks:
“Do you love me?
Keep my word.”
And His word is simple: “Follow me.”
Loving Jesus and following Jesus begins with a choice to turn toward Him.
As we turn to Jesus with a simple look of love, we find that Jesus indeed dwells in the innermost depth of our souls, deeper than our sins, deeper than our weaknesses, deeper than our doubts, our insecurities and fears.
God is with us, not when we finally feel we’re “worth it,” but precisely when we feel most low, abandoned, unworthy and alone.
To follow Jesus is first to look at Jesus.
As the Devil tries to get us to fixate on our inadequacies, we simply turn our gaze instead to the love of Christ shining through them from within.
We give thanks to God for our inadequacies, because those are the very places where the radiant glory of His unconditional love for us shines forth most brightly from within.
In the very places we are inadequate, God allows us to see that this ardent love depends not on our merits, but on His own goodness.
And instead of shame, we begin to feel in those places the warmth of His love and the peace of His presence … the peace the world cannot give.
Today, at this Holy Mass, call to mind one place where you feel inadequate.
As we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, ask Him for the grace to see the glory of His love shining forth from that very place.
And the next time the Devil tempts us to “compare and despair,” flip the script.
We shift our gaze from what we lack to the light of Christ who dwells within.
Then, affirmed by the unconditional yes of the love of Jesus, we turn back to our wife, our husband, our brother or sister, and return a blessing.
As we turn from the darkness to the light and return blessings rather than curses, shame fades in us, self-loathing dies in us, and love and peace reign in our hearts.
“Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.”
And one day, as we meet our loved ones in the Kingdom of Heaven, beholding together the radiant face of the One who loves us so well, we shall hear Him say:
“Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter into your master’s joy.”