St. Ambrose University President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, isn’t retiring quite yet, but along with the graduating students of the Class of ‘21, she commences a new chapter in her life’s story. As a farewell Mass on Mother’s Day ended, Sister Joan gave a brief, heartfelt message. It contained this call to action befitting a commencement address: “May you take this mission of service to others with the education that you have been given and the degrees you will earn here and carry that message of God’s unconditional love into a world so sorely in need of justice, mercy and compassion. I will join you in that as I go forth.”
The Scripture readings these seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost echo Sister Joan’s message, as Jesus prepares his disciples to commence their mission to carry the message of God’s unconditional love into the world. In John’s Gospel for the sixth Sunday of Easter (May 9), Jesus said to his disciples: … “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.” In the Gospel from John for the seventh Sunday of Easter, Jesus prays to the Father: “… As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”
This graduation season serves as a reminder to each of us baptized in Christ to begin anew, to commence our mission to carry the message of God’s unconditional love into the world. The command to love one another “is no ordinary love,” says Catherine Cory in her synopsis of 1 John 4:11-16. “No, this command to love … is predicated on knowing and experiencing God’s love. We are commanded to love as God loves and because God first loved us” (“2021 Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers and Proclaimers of the Word”).
Our fractured culture has placed a seemingly unmovable wedge between our ability to share the gift of God’s love with someone whose views differ from ours. Our society has become entrenched in dualistic thinking, aided and abetted by social media that reinforces the either/or position on all of life’s difficult issues. Is this how we forget that God’s love extends to all sinners, including ourselves?
Pope Benedict XVI, wrote his first encyclical, “Deus caritas est” (“On Christian Love”) in 2005 “to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others.” His focus was on the meaning of charity — material and spiritual. He noted that the means of mass communication has narrowed “the distance between different people and cultures. This ‘togetherness’ at times gives rise to misunderstandings and tensions, yet our ability to know almost instantly about the needs of others challenges us to share their situation and difficulties.” Each day “we see how much suffering there is in the world on account of different kinds of poverty, both material and spiritual…. (No. 30).
Columnist Kathy Berken writes in this week’s Catholic Messenger (Page 5) about compassion and offers a simple but profound suggestion to carry God’s unconditional love to others. “The image of sitting with another person and believing that each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, regardless of their upbringing, beliefs or values, has given me a huge dose of compassion. I do not have to agree with or feel compelled to be in any long-term relationship with anyone, but I’m speaking about a present moment of encounter.”
In his homily during the farewell Mass, Bishop Thomas Zinkula hoped “the pandemic is helping us reconsider our priorities. Hopefully we are focusing more on our faith and our spirituality, focusing more on living a more deep and meaningful life … on eternal life.” The journey to communion with our loving God begins and continues with carrying that unconditional love of God to the world.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor