Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Phileo Kind of Love - Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

“Simon, do you love me?”

For us, the word “love” can mean many things: I can love the Cardinals, I can love a hamburger after Lent, I can love my mom—all the same word, but very different levels of intensity. Underneath the English translation of the text here, there is the Greek. And for the Greeks, this word, “love,” has many forms.

So, for example, Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?” The Greek word for love here is “agape.” (pronounced ah-GAH-peh or AH-gah-peh). Agape is the highest kind of love; it’s a divine love; a love that is a total gift of self—a love even unto death. Agape. So, Peter: do you agape me—do you love me even unto death?

Peter responds by saying, “Lord, you know that I love you.”

But Peter doesn’t use the word agape. He uses another Greek word:“phileo"—from which we get Philadelphia—the City of Brotherly Love. So, what Peter is saying is,“Lord, I don’t love you unto death, but I do love you with a brotherly love.”

*          *          *

Admittedly, this sounds kind of sterile to us. That’s because “brotherly love” has been quite sterilized in our culture….

During this past week, for example, I went to Denver and spent several days with my brother. It was a great week and, at the end when we said our goodbyes at the airport, I gave my brother a hug and I told him that I loved him. But, as guys, it’s hard to do that with any deep vulnerable affection. After all, we’re Gerbers. We’re competitive. And, on top of it all, I was annoying when I was younger—and I still am. So, to cut through all of that and say “I love you” without qualification… well, that’s very difficult.  So the temptation is to do the “guy hug” (which is more of a double pat on the back) and to say “I love you……. man.”

And, even then, we feel the need to chop down a tree and reaffirm our masculinity somehow.

The term “Phileo” is not sterile like that. It’s from the Greeks—it’s amorous and affectionate. It denotes a kind of admiration and a longing to imitate. It’s excited to see the other—such that when Peter sees the Lord, Peter immediately jumps overboard to run to the one he phileos. There is deep friendship there.

And perhaps that’s another word that we Americans have made so sterile: that word, friendship. Friendship isn’t just knowing one’s status; it isn’t just an observation of what’s on the surface. True friendship involves a deep knowledge of the life and heart of another: their hopes, their struggles, their fears, their history, and so on. Friends really know each other—the good and the bad—and because of that, conversations are deeper and more honest, more accountable… but also more exciting, more energizing… there is an eagerness to be with the friend. This is phileo.

So, when Peter says that he loves Jesus with a brotherly love, phileo, he is saying: Jesus, you excite me, I know you, I want to imitate you, and I love you like that. So, it’s a pretty good love.

*          *          *

In my life, I can point to a particular moment when I knew what this word meant. It was on my priestly ordination morning. I was getting ready in the sacristy there at the Cathedral Basilica. A good friend of mine, Ray, was also getting ready—not to be ordained, but to be one of the altar servers. Now, Ray and I have known each other since high school. We’ve been through so much together—even a few years at the seminary. He knows all of my strengths and my weaknesses and I know his. We know each other’s histories and we know each other’s favorite one-liners—even being able to finish them before the other gets through. So when I saw him in the sacristy (and he’s 6’6”—or 5’18” as he likes to say)—when I saw him and knew we were sharing this moment and all that we had gone through… I threw myself into his arms and hugged him, told him this was all so beautiful, and I began to joyfully weep.

Yes, I can say that I love him.

And maybe that’s odd to hear: a man saying that he loves another man. As a society, we balk at such expression. On the one hand, it’s because we are part of a puritanical culture that does not allow for expressions of passion. Such expression is seen as messy and, let’s face it, effeminate. But, really, there is a good and quite beautiful masculine expression of affection and passion that we must discover as a culture. It is desperately needed because it is this deeper friendship that moves men to band together with their brothers and to fight together and for one another. And, let’s be serious: there’s a fight out there that needs the best fight we as men can give.

On the other hand, our culture balks at expressions of phileo, especially between men, because our culture has made everything sexual. “I love him” is immediately interpreted to have sexual overtones. In other words, Phileo is being radically replaced by eros. Eros is another Greek word for love; but from it we get the word “erotic.” In our culture, a man cannot say “I love him” without someone doing a double-take, thinking that there is something sexual there. That’s because in our over-sexualized culture, phileo is always being seen through the lens of eros. 

I cannot overstate the incredible damage this is doing to men and to teenagers especially.

For teenagers, the removal of phileo for eros results in much confusion. For example, in high school, a guy discovers another guy who is really interesting, inspiring, and so on. There is excitement and eagerness to see him. The guy is experiencing phileo. But the world is shoving eros at him. So he starts to wonder: Am I … gay?

For men, the loss of phileo is damaging because there deepens the distance and therefore the isolation between us. No one really knows another. When we hang out, we shoot the breeze, drink a beer, watch some tv or sports, and when questions like “So, how’s the family doing?” we simply respond, “Oh, you know, things are fine.” Even so-called accountability partners often fail to go deeper. We don’t want to go deeper because our culture says it's effeminate or it's sexual. Strangely, we are told that this kind of avoidance is the manly thing to do—but, really, it’s quite impotent.

*          *          *

Jesus, the man’s man, is asking Peter the deep, deep question: “Do you love me?”

There’s nothing sexual about it. Indeed, it is quintessentially masculine.

How so? Because tending the sheep is dependent upon the answer. Tending the sheep means fighting against the wolves. And if Peter doesn’t realize how much he loves Jesus—the passion, the affection—then Peter will never know the fight that is in him nor face the fight that is before him.

And so Jesus asks again: “Peter, do you love me?”

*          *          *

But phileo is not enough. Jesus is asking: Do you agape me?

Peter has already expressed that he loves Jesus as a friend, a good friend, a friend that excites him and inspires him to jump out of boats and so on. But, agape? No.

So, Peter responds a second time: “Lord, I phileo you.”

Strangely, Jesus asks for a third and final time: “Peter, do you love me?” But, with this final time, Jesus does not use the word agape. Rather, He uses the word phileo—“Peter, do you phileo me?” Why does Jesus ask differently this final time?

Because Jesus knows that Peter is still struggling to go deeper in his love. So, Jesus comes down to Peter’s level. This is why Peter is distressed by this third question; perhaps Peter is discouraged at his own weakness: “Lord, you know everything…. you know how much I struggle to love you more than that… Don’t you remember my three-fold denial? You know that the highest I can give is just phileo….”

Yes, Jesus knows. He knows that our hearts can be weak or even cold or mired in the eros. He knows that we struggle to love Him purely and perfectly and as much as we know we should.

But, nevertheless, He looks at Peter and says: someday, “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands…”—which means that Peter will one day be crucified—someday, Peter, you will love me with agape.

So, I know you struggle to love to the end, Peter. But someday you will. Someday, you won’t be afraid of the Cross and you won’t deny me, but you will have a perfect love, a love that will go to the Cross. Someday you will have agape.

Until then, Jesus tells him: “Follow me.”

This is our lesson: keep following me, says the Lord, and your love will be raised up. Keep following Jesus and He will purify and strengthen your love. You will know phileo. And then agape. For Him and for others.

And more, you will see that He is excited about you. His heart jumps when He sees you and He can’t wait to be with you. He phileos you. And more, He agapes you—He loves you totally, to the end, to the Cross, forever and ever.

And so we pray: Lord Jesus, purify our love. Raise our love and perfect it. Help us to receive your love and to go deeper in it. Help us to love others: to discover phileo and to move to agape. For we long to love you as you love us—with a love that bears all things and which never fails.....

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Divine Mercy Sunday and the Sacred Priesthood - Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (C)

 On the night before He died, Jesus washed His apostles’ feet and instituted the Holy Eucharist. In this, Jesus ordained these twelve men and gave them the power of Holy Orders to confect the Eucharist—that is, not simply to change water into wine, but the greater miracle: to change bread and wine into God Himself. Lest they let this divine grace go to their heads and they “Lord it over others as the Gentiles do,” Jesus gave them an example and washed their feet so that they may be like Him, one who humbled Himself, taking the form of a slave.

After receiving this great gift of the Eucharist and the Sacred Priesthood, what did the Apostles do? They betrayed the One who gave it to them. They abandoned Him in His hour of need, fled from Him as they went to the Cross, afraid that they would be killed along with Him—all but one, of course: John, whose words we are reading in the Gospel today.

In the Gospel, we are just a day and a half removed from the crucifixion. The Apostles have gone back to the Upper Room, the place of the Last Supper—perhaps to find solace in the last place where they were friends with Jesus—and have locked themselves in because of fear. It is here that Jesus enter the room, passing through the door as like a ghost, but able to be touched—as does Thomas, later. Jesus is really resurrected; once dead, but now alive.

It is here that Jesus could have revealed wrath, revenge, the sword, any number of resentful words for the Apostle’s apostasy. But, instead, He says, “Peace”… In this moment, Jesus manifests the power of the divine and that power is manifested in mercy.

And yet, it happens in the Upper Room and with those whom He has ordained. This is no accident. Jesus is giving them the second miraculous power of the Sacred Priesthood: the power to absolve sins. This is why He says:

            As the Father sends me, so I send you.

Why did the Father send Jesus? To go in search for what was lost; to show the Father’s love for the Prodigal Son; to give mercy; to forgive sins. “For this reason I have come, not for the righteous, but for sinners.”

But notice: Jesus doesn’t give this power to the Apostles on Holy Thursday when He gives them the Sacred Priesthood. He waits—He waits until after Good Friday. Why? Because it is on Good Friday that the treasury of God’s grace is opened for sinners; only after it has been opened that the mission can now be given to the Apostles to dispense of this treasure.

Indeed, they must first themselves experience Jesus’ mercy. Hence He says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus is forgiving them of their apostasy; and the Apostles, now having experienced Jesus’ mercy (as a new kind of Washing of the Feet) are sent “as the Father sends me”: to go and forgive sins, such that “whatever sins you forgive are forgiven”…

Thus we can see the evenings of Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday as one Ordination Rite in the Upper Room: at the Last Supper, Jesus gives them the Eucharist and the power to confect it; at the Easter Evening, Jesus gives them mercy and the power to dispense it.

To show how powerful and particular this grace is, Jesus breathes on them—which is the only other time that this is done in Sacred Scripture (the other being when God breathes on Adam to bring him to life). The connection being quite amazing: Jesus is fashioning the Apostles in such a way that they have this new life in them: a new life to give to others: namely, the very forgiveness which God offers us through them.

This is also why He pours out the Holy Spirit upon them—for only God can forgive sins. But as water through a pipe, this Holy Spirit and the grace of God will flow through the Apostles chosen and appointed by God.

*          *          *

Of course, Thomas was not there on that Easter Evening. Who knows why. But he wasn’t and so he missed this second part of the ordination. This, too, was no accident in the plan of God.

Jesus wanted to show the others how far God’s mercy extends: that it isn’t just a one-time offer; it is a mercy that goes the extra mile.

Jesus, therefore, draws near again to the Apostles, this time when Thomas is present. Thomas doesn’t believe the Apostles: both that Jesus is risen and that this power to grant mercy has been given them. Thomas proclaims, as does modern science, that he will not believe until he is able to touch.

Ask and you shall receive, Thomas.

Mercy draws near and invites Thomas to enter in—and quite literally. (This is the only way to come to knowledge of God: by entering into that relationship). Jesus invites Thomas to touch the side that was pierced by a lance—that lance which went all the way to the heart, a heart that, once pierced, poured forth blood and water upon the Roman soldier who held the lance. And, who in that moment was not only covered by the blood and water of Jesus—a foretaste of the Sacraments—but through it came to believe in Jesus: “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

Thomas was invited to touch this very side. And so Thomas places his fingers there. But not just on the skin and not just on the ribs. Thomas slides his fingers in such that he is able and likely does indeed touch the very heart of Jesus. A heart that is alive and beating and pouring out divine mercy upon him.

Thomas cries out: “My Lord and My God!”

He has received forgiveness and, not only that, the power to forgive; for Jesus Himself had said to Thomas, “Peace be with you”… Imagine how awesome Thomas and the Apostles would have been as confessors!

Indeed, we see (in the First Reading) Peter going through the area healing people of their physical and spiritual infirmities. Even if his shadow fell upon them, they were healed!

*          *          *

To think that I have received this grace—both the forgiveness of my own sins and the power to forgive others of theirs—it is truly overwhelming.

This gets at the heart of Divine Mercy Sunday: not only that Jesus forgives sins, but that He has given this divine power to sinful men. It is humbling and overwhelming and a tremendous manifestation of His mercy.

What can I say to all of this? I pray the Psalm:

            Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His mercy endures forever!