May 18, 2014
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Reading 1 Acts 6:1-7
Responsorial Psalm Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
R. (22) Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Reading 2 1 Pt 2:4-9
Gospel Jn 14:1-12
Back in 1986, I began a new life as a seminarian, here in Dubuque. Having left Iowa State University to pursue a life in seminary, I spent that summer studying at Loras College and living and working at Sacred Heart Parish. After the fine summer experience, I began seminary at St. Cloud Seminary in Collegeville MN. One day, early in that first Fall semester, I joined my brother seminarians in our daily ritual pilgrimage to the mail room, to see if any treasured mail might have arrived from family or friends. To my surprise, that day, I seemed to hit the “motherload.” A medium-sized box sat next to the mailboxes with my name on it.
Taking the surprising box back to my room, I quickly opened it to discover that one of the fine women of Sacred Heart parish, seeking to encourage me, sent one of my favorite encouragements—two loaves of homemade banana nut bread! I peeled back the aluminum foil from the first loaf, cut away a small slice and savored each bite. How exquisite! How delicious! How much more to go! But, this act of generosity immediately got me thinking about how I myself ought to be generous and share this delicious bread with my brothers, who didn’t have what I had. After thinking about my obligation to share my gift with others, I carefully wrapped up the bread and hid it under my desk.
Then, throughout the next week, late at night, with door closed, I would remove the treasure, slice off another piece and savor its delightful flavor. Over a week later, I found myself at the end of the loaf. However, I crumpled up the foil wrapping with great satisfaction—for there was an entire, gleaming, foil-wrapped loaf to go—and all mine! The next night, I readied myself for more delight. The second loaf was removed from its hiding place—the foil removed from one end, and then an appalling discovery—my prize was covered with mold—inedible!!
Because I had hoarded this gift for myself, it became worthless. Surely the fine woman of Sacred Heart must of thought—Scott can’t possibly eat two loaves of bread—but I’ll send a second so that he can share.
Gifts are given to be shared—and the deepest truth of all our lives is this—our very lives, our talents, everything we have and everything we are, are all gifts from God. We did not create ourselves, we did not create this beautiful day—all is gift—to be given away. If everything we have is a gift, are we not meant to share with others? If the gift of our lives is hoarded and kept to ourselves—it becomes like that moldy bread. Our lives, our faith teaches us, Jesus teaches us, were given to be given away.
Being a Christian—means we must be givers, particularly to those who are in need. This is a truth which Christians discovered early in our history—as shown in the reading from the scriptural history of early Christianity—the Acts of the Apostles. There, we hear today how our ancestors in the faith quickly discovered that being a Christian, a follower of the one who came not to be served, but to serve, means we cannot ignore the needs of others—in fact, our lives will lack vitality and fullness unless we give them away, in service of others. The Greek-speaking widows, the newest members of the faith of Jesus, were being neglected because the mission to preach the Word of God was becoming so overwhelming—so many more needed to hear about the Lord. Their part of the “daily distribution” must not be ignored. Their “being served” at table needed to be provided for. While at the same time the “ministry” of the word could not be neglected.
“Daily distribution,” “being served” at table, “ministry of the word.” All are the same word in the original Greek of the Acts of the Apostles: DIAKONIA: service, from which comes not only our word “diaconate,” referring to deacons, but also the very historical and biblical root of the work of deacons that the Church enjoys today. However, the multiple use of this term refers more generally to the service to which all follows of Jesus are obliged. Pope John Paul II—now St. John Paul II—famously asked this basic question about what it means to be a Christian: to whom will you give your life? Because we’re all Christians, I can ask you too, to whom will you give your life in service?
Why would we not give life away in service? It could be laziness, it could be selfishness. But I think it is something more basic—it is a fear that once our lives are spent on others, once I spend my time for others, I will not have enough for myself! In fact, the more we give of ourselves, the more we spend ourselves, the more life we have! In the face of this call to give our lives away in service of others, and the fear this can produce, we hear the words of Jesus to his disciples in today’s gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Why? Because the Lord who gave us life will sustain and support us in our calling to be of service to others: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus, servant of humanity, shows us the way, the truth, and the life: service of others.
In choosing this life of service, we will discover a life richer than we could have ever imagined if we tried to hoard our life for ourselves, if we try to hide away our gifts only for our own benefit. Then, we discover the perennial words of St. Francis to be true: donando si riceve, “It is in giving that we receive.”
How are you going to serve others this week? Who needs you to spend your life in their service? How can you live the fullness of life that only serving others can give? Do not let your hearts be troubled—don’t hoard, but share. If we spend our precious gift of life in service of others—our families, our friends, the less-fortunate—we will discover not less life, but an abundance of life for others and for ourselves! But even more important, the very life of others depends upon our Christian service of them—service, what it means to be a Christian.