06 May 2010

Work with what you've got

5th Week of Easter (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma


A complete circle measures 360 degrees. A complete sentence contains a subject and a predicate. A complete meal is composed of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. To describe something as “complete” is to say that this something's unrealized potential has been fully realized—there is nothing left for it achieve, nothing remaining for it to do in order to be the best possible thing that it can be; it is perfect. So, a circle with only 180 degrees to measure is not a circle. A sentence without a predicate is not a sentence. But if we draw 180 degrees, we see the potential for a complete circle. If we write a word on paper, we can see the potential for a complete sentence. Our ability to recognize the potential for perfection in the imperfect is one way that we are able to fortify ourselves along the Way with Christ. Seeing that our imperfect hope, faith, and love can be made perfect in us, we receive these divine gifts—honing them, sharpening them—and we use them as tools in the hard work of growing up to be holy men and women in Christ. Knowing that we can be perfect as God Himself is perfect, we labor on with joy, with the joy of Christ—whole, complete, perfect.

Preparing his disciples for his death on the cross, Jesus gives his friends a number of gifts. He gives them his word; he gives them his peace; and he gives them his joy. The word he gives them is the word of spirit and truth, wisdom and consolation. The peace he gives them is the peace of hope, the certain knowledge that his Father's promises of eternal life have already been fulfilled in him. The joy he gives them is the joy he himself feels as his ministry among them comes to fruition in Jerusalem—the elation, the satisfaction of having done the Father's will perfectly. How did he accomplish his appointed task? He kept his Father's commandments and remained in His love. Christ's joy can be our joy as well if we follow him: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. . .” Why does Jesus tell us this? “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” 

It is no accident that we are reading the Acts of the Apostles along with this portion of John's gospel. In the gospel, Jesus is teaching his friends how to be apostles, warning them of their future trials and girding them with all the hope they will need to sustain them. Like us, the apostles are fully aware of their deficiencies, fully aware of all the ways in which they are incomplete. They have the words of Christ and his peace; they have his commission and his authority; they have the anointing of the Spirit and tongues unchained for preaching. And so do we. Like us, in the course of carrying out their ministries, they butt heads with governors, princes, and the spirits of this world. They fail; they succeed. They suffer and die by the hands of their enemies. The gospel is preached and heard. The Church spreads and prospers despite fierce opposition and bloody persecution. Just as it does now. They remained in Christ and he remained in them. Their joy is complete. And ours can be as well. Our imperfections as apostles are hazardous to the gospel mission only if we forget to love as Christ loves, only if we forget his words, and fail to live out his joy. If we can see the perfect circle in the 180 degree line, and if we can see the complete sentence in one word on a page, then surely we can imagine the smallest seed of joy growing into the perfect joy of Christ. We can, if abide in his love as he abides in the love of the Father. His love is our complete joy!

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