24 May Jesus’ call to cultivate friendship with God | Homily of the Minister General at the Meeting with Presidents of Conferences
Homily of the Minister General at the Conclusion of the Meeting
Br. Michael A. Perry, ofm
May 24, 2019
It is written in the Gospel of John: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…”
My dear brother Ministers and Presidents of the Conferences, brothers of our local fraternity, the starting point of discipleship in the community of Jesus, the church, and in the fraternity of Francis is nothing other than the calling that we have received from the Lord Jesus. This calling expresses itself first and foremost in the community of the beloved disciples – or, at least what should be the community of the beloved disciples, the Church. As we know, sin and human limitations do not always allow this to be realized, even within the Order, except in those regions of the Order you represent and where everything is going so well, without any difficulties!
The grace of our vocational calling is, however, not some diffuse, spiritual force, the likes of which is spoken about by Yoda in Star Wars. Jesus’s vision of grace is relational. Grace operates between two or more people who have found themselves drawn together for a common purpose, a common mission, a shared identity that gives shape to all thought and action. We all would do well to remind one another about this fundamental truth: common calling; common purpose; common mission.
This fundamental relational nature of the calling we have received from birth and confirmed through baptism and religious profession is driven home forcefully in today’s Gospel where we hear Jesus call his beloved disciples to leave a mentality of slavery, a mercantile manner of dealing with one another that focuses on turning one another into objects from whom we can extract something. Pope Francis has spoken to this matter on any number of occasions, and most forcefully in his Encyclical on integral ecology, Laudato si’. We know all too well the consequences of relationships that are based on seeking only to gain something from others without being willing to pay the price for being in relationship, in friendship with another person, or for that matter with God. Yes, we sometimes even reduce our relationship with God to a form of transaction. We promise God we will do such and such IF God will do such and such for us.
The Gospel text we have before us today calls, challenges us to leave this slave mentality and to enter into an entirely new type of relationship with God. ‘I no longer call you slaves. I call you friends!” To my mind, this is revolutionary! Perhaps it would have been more politically correct for Jesus to invite his disciples to become ‘brothers’. The designation “brothers” implies much less of a quality of exchange, and for that matter of responsibility, for the subject of our attention. When Jesus names those who come to follow him, who entrust their entire lives into his hands and into the hands of God, Abba, he is opening a new path for how we might relate to him, how we might relate to God.
As a consequence of the calling to friendship with God we have received from Jesus, the nature of our relationship with one another, with ourselves, and with the entire created universe changes. The type of friendship envisioned and actually put into practice by Jesus implies undertaking the way of poverty, humility, minority, and solidarity. It involves following the say long walk to freedom as the Abraham and Sarah, as Moses and Miriam, as Mary, Joseph, and also as Jesus. Ultimately, discipleship in Jesus will lead us to suffering and death, the price for entering into friendship with Jesus and allowing this friendship to open us to friendship with all of God’s people, and most especially with those who are poor, oppressed, and excluded in whatever way imaginable. But just as we saw in the life of Jesus, suffering and death do not have the final word. Love, reconciliation, peace, and joy, the ‘fruits’ of which St. John speaks, are what will ‘last’ if we are faithful to our calling, faithful to living in an abiding friendship with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit.
Perhaps this is the deeper message that the Gospel offers to us as we read the signs of the times, as we enter into a deeper dialogue with the world, the Church, and with one another in our fraternities, our Provinces/Custodies/Conferences, that which the process of the Plenary Council of the Order called us to embrace, a process that we hope might continue in a dynamic way until and throughout the General Chapter in 2021.
In his reflection on sexuality and chastity in religious life, Timothy Radcliffe writes: “To open oneself to love is extremely dangerous. There is a great probability that we will remain wounded. The last supper [in the Gospel of John] describes well the risks that result from loving. For this reason, Jesus died, because he loved” (cf. Amare nella liberta’, 2007, p. 16). My brothers, we have been called by a God who willingly handed over His Beloved Son out of an act of pure love, and not as repayment for paradise lost. God seeks our friendship, our hearts, and invites us to embrace a new vision, a new ethic, a new way of living the divine-human adventure that is present within us, within each of the friars of the Order. This is the vocation to which each of us is being called, a vocation defined by love, mercy, joy but also by suffering, pain, and death for the sake of the other.
May the power of God’s grace and friendship constantly stir within us an ardent desire to remain in this love always. And may we like Francis return always to the source of our ‘first love’, Jesus Christ who journeys with us each and every day of our lives.