HOMILY EASTER SEASON WEEK 05 01 – Year I
Experiencing God Through Intimacy:
Optional Memorial of Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine
(Acts 14.5-18; Ps 115; Jn 14.21-26)
When someone is on their deathbed, and sharing their last thoughts and words with us – we pay attention.
The gospel today asks us to pay attention to the words of Jesus before the Passover, because his hour had come and he knew he was to die the next day. His message at that poignant time is simple: keep his commandment to love one another.
Actually, if we pay close attention to his words, we are taken into a journey deep into the mystery of love, of relationship, of intimacy: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
What does this all mean – “I will love them and reveal myself to them?”
A hint at an answer comes from a woman who was answering the question, “How do I feel when I achieve intimacy with my spouse?” at a Marriage Encounter Deeper Training weekend in Toronto that I attended with a fellow priest.
She answered that question by saying it felt like there were no barriers, no separation, no walls between her and her husband. It struck me that she was experiencing salvation. She was experiencing God as Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit in her relationship of intimacy with her husband. The reason for that is because God is relationship, intimacy, communion, oneness. They were experiencing, through their own intimacy, these words of Jesus, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
When two people, especially a husband and wife in a committed marriage relationship, trust each other totally, have no secrets between them, forgive each other everything – they achieve intimacy and experience God in their relationship, because that is what God is – intimate relationship. In this way, Jesus reveals himself to them, as intimacy.
Recently, elders A. J. and Patricia Felix of Sturgeon Lake First Nations worked with Harry Lafond and me to conduct a session on Indigenous spirituality, issues and ministry as part of the Spiritual Direction Formation program at Queen’s House in Saskatoon. He spoke forcefully and with great conviction about the traditional law of love, and challenged us to forgive those who hurt us, to apologize to those we have hurt, and to show affection and hug much more freely.
A.J. surprised us by sharing how their marriage at one point was on the verge of breaking up due to his hurtful behaviour flowing from his addictions and anger stemming from his years in a residential school. Then he broke our hearts open by sharing how at one point he sat his wife down, out of desperation and knowing he could not continue that way, and told her who the man she married really was – confessing everything to her and holding nothing back. Her reaction was to get physically sick, throw up and not talk to him for over a week.
Instead of throwing him out as he dreaded and expected, however, after that silent week, she sat him down and told him who the woman he had married really was, and confessed everything to him, holding nothing back. Now it was his turn to become angry, and withdraw for a week.
Then, quietly, tentatively, they started to relate again and do things together. Significantly, they built a sweat lodge and had a sweat together. Their relationship was healed and they never, ever had to talk about any of that painful history again. Now they work together putting on powerful workshops as they did with us.
It struck me that they had experienced what Fr. Armand Nigro SJ taught me about the Vietnam War veterans. A spiritual wall goes up between a couple when they are separated, and unless they take down that wall through a process of communication and reconciliation, trust and forgiveness, their relationship will fail, as happened to the veterans who tried to pretend nothing had happened and pick up where they left off. Only the couples that took the time and effort to communicate with love, to share their stories no matter how painful, to trust and forgive each other, survived according to Fr Nigro.
As I listened to A. J. share their experience, I realized they had gone through exactly that same process of moving from union, to separation, to reunion, through communicating with love, to an even deeper communion because of all the love as trust and forgiveness they experienced in their humble, gut-wrenching rigorous honesty with each other.
Today we honour one of the unsung Canadian heroes who lived out these readings was Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine. Born Catherine de Longpré in France, she entered the convent of a branch of the Augustinians, the first order to send missionaries to Canada. In 1648 she asked to go to Quebec City to help the sisters in the Hôtel-Dieu hospital, the first established in Canada. She worked with the poor through famine, conflict and illness, and was graced with several mystical experiences. What stood out for the people, though, was her kindness and great love for them. She battled poor health all her life and died in 1668 at the age of 36. Counted among the founders of the Canadian Church, she was beatified in 1989.
The Eucharist is our intimate meal with Jesus. He listens to our confession of sin and failing during the penitential rite, forgives us through his word, and then heals us by sharing his very Body and Blood with us, making his home within us.
May our celebration empower us to truly love one another as Jesus has loved us, so that we also can experience God as Trinitarian relationship in our own intimate relationships with trusted others in our lives, and live out the good news proclaimed by the apostles in the first reading.