5/14/23 Homily: To Love and Serve
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
Some of you may have watched the recent coronation of King Charles III. During the ritual, there was a beautiful moment, in which a child ceremoniously approached the king, and spoke the words, “Your majesty, as children of the kingdom of God, we welcome you in the name of the King of kings,” to which the king responded, “In his Name, and after his example, I come not to be served, but to serve”. It was a very Christian ceremony.
Amidst the grandeur, that brief exchange spoke belief in that link between authority and service. When his son, Prince William, later remarked on the coronation, he echoed that sentiment, saying, “For all that celebrations are magnificent, at the heart of the pageantry is a simple message: service.”
That’s the belief. A Christian monarch receives from God his or her authority, in order to serve; to carry out a mission that also comes from God. We saw a modern expression of this with the coronation, but it’s an ancient notion made definitive by Christ and his disciples.
Throughout Easter, we’ve recalled the events surrounding the first princes of the Church: namely, the apostles. The apostles had received from Jesus his Godly authority. But that authority didn’t exist for its own sake. It was given so that the apostles could advance the kingdom of God on earth.
But the kingdom which the apostles would proclaim was unlike any other. It was a kingdom where the first shall be last, and the last shall be first, where the greatest must be the least, and the greatest of all must be the servant of all.
It is the kingdom which has this as its unmistakable banner [gesturing to the Crucifix], where we see Godly authority and service invariably intertwined. But this symbol of our faith also reminds us of something, without which both authority and service would remain fruitless.
In our gospel today, our Lord tells of that which gives service, force, and which gives authority its true direction: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”
There is no greater authority in the world than the Holy Spirit, the Advocate sent by the Father in Christ. The Holy Spirit judges justly, reveals, convicts, consecrates, purifies, guides, give life, and so much more. Jesus gave his apostles this living authority—the Holy Spirit—because they keep his commandments. They serve him, and in serving him serve others, with an obedience fueled by love.
Authority, service, and love must go together. Like a three-legged stool, all must be present or the whole thing topples. Without service, authority is dormant and expressionless. Without authority, love is powerless. And without love, authority is tyrannical.
Even in human matters, we have a sense of this. Those in our military exercise great authority in service to our country—it’s called military service for that reason. And the greater the authority, the greater the service demanded of him or her. “To whom much is given, much is required,” says the Lord (cf. Lk. 12:48b). And without love for one’s country—without patriotism—that person is no more than a mercenary.
To use the example of today. Today, we celebrate Mothers’ Day. A mother carries much authority over the family. In union with her husband, she makes binding decisions in service to her household. She’s not a tyrant, because the driving force behind that authority and service is love. She loves her family. She loves her home. It’s meaningless without love. A loveless home is terrible indeed.
In the eyes of our Lord, love and service are often synonymous. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he said. And he commanded his disciples to cast out demons, cure the sick, raise the dead, forgive sins, baptize the nations, proclaim the kingdom of God, and so many more acts of service. At the Last Supper, he also gave them other commandments. “I give you a new commandment,” he said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” That link between love and service couldn’t be more clear.
There is, of course, that particular commandment that brings us here today: Do this in memory of me [gesturing to the altar].
Earlier, I quoted from Prince William: “At the heart of the pageantry is a simple message: service.” Ultimately, however, all human pageantry pales in comparison with the heavenly celebration, of which the Mass is a microcosm.
And at the heart of liturgy [gesturing again to the altar]is also a simple message: love. In the Mass, however the pageantry unfolds, whether in the marble halls of the eternal city, or here amidst glass and concrete, that message of love resounds without ceasing: God’s love for you and me; and our response of love to God in Christ.
La Vierge, l'enfant Jésus et Saint Jean Baptiste, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, c. 1881, painting, [Public domain]