“You Are Somebody…” (John 15)
(Homily at the Farewell Mass for the departing members of the 2015/16 Vincentian Mission Corps, St. Louis)
Jesus confides in His disciples today, “I have told you this, that your joy may be complete.” Or to put it another way: “I want to raise your happiness up to its highest notch, bring your well-being to the max. And to do that, I tell you this….”
To follow up on Jesus’ statement, we can ask the question, what is it that someone could tell you that would bring your happiness to that max, that would “make your joy complete?” What is it that someone could say to you that would fulfill you? Or again, what news coming to you would give you a sense that you were somebody, that you had substance, that you really counted and you were worth it?
There are a lot of answers out there in our culture. For instance. If someone were to come up and tell me I was a success, I’d feel complete. If a committee were to give me an award for being the most accomplished in my field, that would fill me up. If I were to make the Fortune 500 list of the 10 richest people in the US, I think that’s what would make me feel that I was somebody of substance. If I came out on top of whatever it is, that would do it too.
(And here that famous scene with Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront comes to mind. He had thrown away his boxing career in a gambling fix. He sits there brooding, “If I didn’t drop that fight, I coulda’ been a contenda.’ I coulda’ been somebody.” Translation: If I were told I was champ, I could have gotten this sense of myself as worthy, valuable, “somebody.”)
So, again the question: what is it that you’d want to hear that would give you this sense of the worth and dignity and even preciousness of your own self?
Back to Jesus and what He says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” In effect, “This is what I have told you to make your joy complete, to give you the deepest sense of how good and worthy you are. Simply, I love you. And, I love you just as The Father loves me.” Still further, “What I want you to do is ‘remain in my love’. Stay in that place where you’re aware of the fact not only that I and the Father love you – but also take in the truth that you yourselves are plain old loveable.”
As one writer put it, “What everybody really wants – is to be loved. What gives you the deepest sense of your substance and worth is not success or fame but the awareness that you’re being loved.” And Jesus is saying, “It’s in that place of being loved (and then loving others) that I want you to remain. As a matter of fact, that’s just where I am with my Father.”
What’s all this got to do with this year that you Vincentian Volunteers are just finishing up? As I think you know, lots and lots.
Answer number one: What did you (taking no little risk) come to do in the company of these people, this Vincentian inspired group?
Well for one, you wanted to give this message of Jesus to others, to communicate to other people in one way or other that they had worth, dignity. Or in language close to this text, to tell them that they had some loveableness (“So I also love you”). Especially to communicate it to different people whom the culture tends not to notice, tends not to give many accolades to, tends to shunt off to the edges.
You came along to say with your service and your own self, “You’re worth it. You’ve got something very good in you. You are somebody.” Maybe it’s this last which catches it best. To that child in school, that street person, that handicapped man or woman, that person who’s poor, those individuals who in a hundred subtle ways are being told that they are a nobody, you’ve been trying to say (in both word but especially in deed) that, as a matter of fact, you are a somebody. And not just by what you’ve been saying or the service you’ve been giving, but most of all in the way you’ve been treating people have you been getting across Jesus’ (saving) message: “You are worth it, you are loveable.” You’ve been giving forth your own version of, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”
And wasn’t all this loving service Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac coming back again onto this earth, here in St. Louis, through you — and through all those others you’ve seen out there “serving the poor in Jesus’ name.”
But there’s something else going on here too.
After a while, not right away and not every day, did you catch a sense of someone shining that regard and message back at you? That is, were there times when you caught little glimpses of thankfulness and saw sparks of gratitude coming through the eyes of the ones you were with? Times when you watched-them-watching-you with appreciation, when their faces gave off some kind of message back to you that, “you’re good, you’re worth it, you’re somebody?” Or in the language of the Gospel, when in some little way or other, a person communicated to you those precious, life-giving words, “So also, I love you. You are loved.”
So, what are we celebrating here? Well, many things. A good ending, a task accomplished, a year well spent, people helped, the beginning of the next chapter in your lives.
But most of all, we’re celebrating what Jesus today calls “remaining – remaining in my love.” Remaining in kind of a zone where love circles around and refreshes and vitalizes and brings people to their best selves. In your service, in your living together in a faith community, in your giving of your very own selves, you’ve been trying to live inside that circle, that saving circle of the love between the Father and the Son who’s other name we know as The Holy Spirit. And in the process, hopefully you’ve been able to hear a little more loudly the words of life that Jesus speaks to all of us today, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”
And then there are The Lord’s ringing follow-up words sending you out from here into the rest of your lives, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you…”
That’s what makes nobodies, into somebodies.