Acts of the Apostles (14:21-27)
After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.
Then they traveled to Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished. And when they arrived, they called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Book of the Apocalypse (21:1-5)
Then, I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”
The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
John (13:31-33a, 34-35)
When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
One Sunday in a mass specially celebrated for married couples a priest preached about marriage. At the end of the service he was giving out small wooden crosses to each married couple. He said, “Place this cross in the room in which you quarrel the most and you will be reminded of Jesus’ new commandment “love one another” and you won’t argue much.” One woman came up and said: “Father, you had better give me ten crosses.”
No number of crosses on the walls of our homes or around our necks will make us Christians unless we practice Jesus’ commandment of love which is of course so very hard to follow. All of us struggle to put into practice this great teaching of Jesus. Today’s readings remind us that as suffering and death on the cross was the necessary prelude to Jesus’ exaltation and enthronement in heaven and so are our hardships to inherit true peace and joy in life here on earth and in heaven. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that two of the apostles, Paul and Barnabas, returned to Antioch to strengthen the believers and to encourage them to persevere in faith. In the previous chapter (13:50) to today’s text we are told, “The Jews stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their territory.” So despite the animosity and persecution, the two apostles went back to the city and continued to preach to the people there boldly. They said, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships before we can enter the kingdom of God.” In other words, they warned the believers that suffering is an essential part of Christian life. The apostles did not only warned others of suffering, they also gave witness of suffering. In his letter to the Romans (8:35) Saint Paul emphasizes the apostles’ commitment and faithfulness to Christ. He says, “Can anything cut us off from the love of Christ – hardships, distress, persecution, lack of food and clothing, threats or violence; as scripture says: For your sake we are being massacred all day long, treated as sheep to be slaughtered?”
The exhortation is a reminder to all Christians. Can you and I, courageously and willingly, go back to the palace where we have been shamed, rejected, humiliated, defamed and beaten? Can we love someone who has offended us? Can we bear the suffering for the sake of Christ? Each of us, at some time or other, experience and will experience suffering and hardships for our belief in the Lord Jesus but we are called upon not be cowed by them. In his book “The Way”, the founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaria Escriva writes, “If you accept difficulties with a faint heart you lose joy and your peace, and you run the risk of not deriving spiritual profit from the trial.” We may not be called to undergo the same kind of persecution for God’s cause as were Paul and Barnabas or the early Christians but we must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and be unselfish in our love for and service to others.
In today’s gospel we hear Jesus’s commandment. He commands us, first, “to love one another as He loves us”, and second “to love in such a way that others are able to identify or recognize that we are his disciples.” How can we love others as Jesus loves? There are several things which Jesus has given us as example, things that apply to our own everyday lives. Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, our Savior, the sinless, truly divine but he is also truly human. He shows compassion for the sick. He cares for the poor. He feeds the hungry. He is kind to sinners. He comforts the afflicted. He forgives those who are cruel to him. These are a few examples from scripture which we all can follow and obey, so we can love others really like Jesus loves. But we may not be able to love perfectly as Jesus does. To love like Jesus loves, we must place others above ourselves and to daily empty ourselves and emulate the one who did so unconditionally, wholesomely and successfully and it is not easy. Even though we strive to be like Jesus, sometimes we fail. However, we can always rededicate our life to Christ by truly repenting for our sins and by honestly making sacrifices in reparation for them.
That’s why we gather week after week to report and share with each other what God does for us and how he opens the door of faith to us. In time, as Saint Paul says in Galatians (5:22-23) we will reap the benefits of stronger “faith, peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control and eternal life.” The more we sow in the Spirit, the more we will reap spiritual things.