The story is told of a parish priest who was hospitalized. The
head of the parish council went to visit him. “Father,”
he said, “our parish council passed a special resolution
wishing you a speedy recovery. Six were for it, five were against,
and nine were undecided.”
I’m reminded of this story today because of today’s
gospel. In the one brief reading Jesus says twice that if we love
him we will keep his commandments.
What commandments? We live in a world where pretty much anything
goes. Actively homosexual bishops? Same-sex marriages? Abortion?
Six for, five against, nine undecided. Politicians get their convictions
from opinion polls. The tendency is to pick and choose, even among
believers in Christ. We call it Cafeteria Christianity.
Ronald Knox was an Anglican who became a Catholic priest. He once
remarked that the weather vanes on the steeples of some of the
churches were very appropriate, since the teachings of those churches
change according to how the wind is blowing at the time. The Ten
Commandments have become the Ten Suggestions.
I think this is why Pope John Paul II was so admired by the young:
He had a direction in which he was going. He was like a migratory
bird heading for a distant destination. He had a goal –
which was to show his love for Christ by how he lived –
and no headwind or bad weather could blow him off course. Young
people were drawn to John Paul like slivers of metal to a magnet,
despite the fact that their sexual life styles were often in open
contradiction to his teaching. We admire people with convictions,
with goals, people who know where they’re going.
Have you ever seen homing pigeons released from cages far from
home? At first they circle around a bit to get their bearings,
but once they do, their instinct for home is sure.
I think this is what today’s scripture readings are encouraging
us to do: to circle around today’s gospel till we get our
bearings, and then head off with a more definite direction to
our lives. Once the migratory bird gets its bearings, it’s
in for a tough life. There will be headwinds, long sessions over
water, hunger, weariness – but always they’re buoyed
up by hope, by living life with a purpose. It’s this hope,
having a goal and hoping to attain it, that makes us resemble
That’s why in the second reading today St. Paul says, “Reverence
Christ in your hearts. And should anyone ask you the reason for
this hope of yours, always be ready to reply, but speak with courtesy
and respect.” As you know, here in Kloof, it’s fashionable
to be a Christian just now. In fact, it’s fashionable to
be a fashionable Christian just now. Kids at school, and others
too, question our beliefs.
And we should be able to reply not only with courtesy and respect,
but also with confidence, because of the hope that is in us.
And where does this hope come from? If a migratory bird alighted
for a brief rest on a church steeple next to a weather-cock, the
weather-cock might say to it, “Cockle – a –
doodle – do and who are you?” And when the migratory
bird replied with courtesy and respect, “I’m a Catholic
migratory bird on my way home,” the questions would start:
“Why all the effort? Look at me. I’m attached to this
church, so I don’t have to fly anywhere to be at home. Why
don’t you join me, save yourself a lot of effort?”
And the bird would reply, “Indeed, whoever made you did
a wonderful job. You have a beautiful profile. But aren’t
you just a little bit one-dimensional? Birds are meant to fly.”
Then the weather-cock might say, “You Catholic birds are
always flying against the wind: do this, don’t do that.
Look at me. I change with the wind. I’m up-to-date. I’m
today. You Catholics are so yesterday.” And the migratory
bird might reply, “When you’re on a journey you live
in hope. If anything, I’m so tomorrow.”
Birds don’t sing because they have a message in their minds.
They sing because they have a song in their hearts. And what is
the song in our hearts? When Jesus says in today’s gospel
that if we love him, we will keep his commandments, he is not
saying, “If you keep the commandments, I will love you.”
He is saying, “Keep the commandments because I love you.’
We don’t keep his commandments so he will love us, but because
he loves us. That is the song in our hearts. His commandments
are the instinctual navigation aids that guide migratory birds
unerringly to where they’ve never been, to a home they long
for but have never seen.
Mothers and fathers are like God in this respect. Parents give
dos and don’ts to their children because they love them,
not in order to make them lovable. I will never forget a distraught
father whose daughter had left him to join the Moonies. “I’d
give my right arm to have her back,” he cried, and I knew
he really meant it. The anguish in his voice will live in me forever.
That’s the way God the Father feels about each one of us.
Indeed, he gave the very life of his only Son so we would come
home to him. That’s why in today’s second reading
St. Peter says; “Christ died for us….so that he could
lead us (back) to God.”
What, then, are the commandments that show our love for God? What
does Jesus himself say? Let’s start with a few on the don’ts.
Do not return evil for evil. That’s what turning the other
cheek really means: returning good for bad.
Do not judge your neighbour. Leave judgment to God. He knows all
the facts. You do not.
Do not worry about food and drink and clothing, as if these were
the most important things in life. Your Father in heaven knows
you need all these things. Trust him to take care of you.
Do not store up treasures for yourself here on earth. The only
riches waiting for you in heaven are the things you entrust to
Do not look back once you have put your hand to the plough. Once
you have decided to follow Jesus, keep going forward, always hoping
in God. You can stumble, you can fall, but get up again and keep
Then there are the do’s:
Do forgive those who sin against you. Be merciful as your father
in heaven is merciful.
Do love one another as I have loved you. I love you just as you
are, unconditionally and without any ‘if you do this’
conditions at all.
Do take this bread and eat it. Take this cup and drink it. Do
this in memory of me; in other words, remembering that I died
for you, so that you might live for me.
Do live your life for others, not for yourself. If you lose your
life for others, you will save it. If you save your life for yourself,
you will lose it.
Do good. Don’t be content with avoiding evil. Visit the
sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked.
(This entire list of do’s and don’ts is heavily indebted
to Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year A, pp
Well, these are some of the more important commandments. They
are not the 10 Commandments, but if you count them, there are
ten, ten direction signs that Jesus himself stressed
At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “Great, but
how do I go about it? Frankly the Ten Commandments sound a lot
easier.” And it is here that Jesus comes to the rescue.
Listen to what he says in today’s gospel:
“I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate
(the Holy Spirit) to be with you forever…. He is with you,
he is in you. I will not leave you orphans. I will come back to
you….. On that day you will understand that I am in the
Father and you are in me and I am in you.”
And a few lines later Jesus adds, “Anyone who loves me will
keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to
him and make our home in him.”
What Jesus is saying here is that he and his Father and the Holy
Spirit will be not only for us but also with us on our journey.
He will be our inner navigational system on our journey. Just
as the migratory birds have an inborn instinct to guide them to
their unseen destination, so do we.
Like homing pigeons we have been circling around these truths
for the past ten minutes or so. Unlike the parish council, which
was undecided about wishing the pastor well, God is totally for
us: 3 for, none against, no undecided. Now it is time to head
for home, remembering that migratory birds always fly together
in flocks. Let’s be on our way in trust and hope, knowing
we are loved.