Weekly Homilies

Simple Gifts (John 15:9-17)

May 05, 2024 Fr. Mark Suslenko Season 7 Episode 17

Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and this is Episode 17 of Season 7 for the Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 5, 2024. Our Gospel reading is from John, Chapter 15, verses 9-17.

Jesus said to his disciples: "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, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.

"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”

The Gospel of the Lord 

“Simple Gifts,” by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut

God is love.  That's where it all begins with the divine essence of who God is.  It is that which is at the basis of Jesus teaching his commandment to love God, to love our neighbor,  and to love ourselves.  When we hear those words,  we're attracted to them, and they intrigue us because,  in a very real sense, they connect the dots of our lives.  They connect our relationships, they ground us, and they give us a point of reference for understanding our lives, our relationship with one another, and, indeed, our creator God who is responsible for all life.  And that direction is a welcome thing.  And Jesus says, if you participate in that love of God,  it strengthens these bonds and we become friends.  And Jesus says, "I call you friends."  So you're not just one among many, but you're a friend and you are able to relish in that very intimate relationship with me.  It really gives us a sense of identity and a sense of purpose to be loved.  

But then he says,  remain in me. Remain in me.  And as you hear that piece of the commandment,  one may begin to wonder, well, how do I remain in Jesus? What does it mean to remain in Jesus?  To remain in his love?  Well, if somebody walked into the church, somebody who I knew and trusted,  and they said, "Father,  I would like you to remain here."  Now, if I really trusted this person and what they said, and I knew they wouldn't steer me wrong, I would have no problem taking that advice and remaining here with the understanding that they're asking me to do this for some greater good that I don't really realize at the moment,  and so I choose to remain here.  So, Jesus asked us to remain here.  But the tendency sometimes is to walk over here and to leave there,  because we get a little bit nervous. We get restless.  We wonder if maybe over here is better than here,  or we go the other way and we walk to another place and we leave where we've been asked to stay.  Jesus says, remain here.  

Well, how do we remain in the love of God? How do we remain in the love of God? And then how do we know we're being successful doing so?  So, first of all, how do we do this? How do we stay in God's love and not wander,  and how do we know whether we're being successful?  

St. Bernard of Clairvaux instructed his monks, a very wise man, and he said the way to really participate in God's love is to surrender our wills to God. So, to do God's will is the way we remain in God's love; to not do our own will but to surrender ourselves to God's will.  Well, what really is God's will? It's a tough thing to get a handle on because we want to make it a thing.  You know, God wants me to do this over that, or God wants me over here versus there. God's will is more about the condition of our souls and our hearts.  To do God's will means that I am willing to be and act like God; to be and act like God, not by myself, not like myself to be and act like God.  Because God's love exists in my soul and my heart. We're all created in the image and likeness of God. So, to do God's will is to be and act like God.  So, I choose to turn away from what I consider to be important and put my sights on what God sees as important and what is of best benefit for all of us as brothers and sisters. Focus off of myself and on the reality of God and what benefits all of my brothers and sisters. 

So, turning from my will to doing God's will is how we remain rooted in God's love. But here's the problem. As human beings, we struggle with duplicity and we wander.  We wander.  And we come over to this other place, and we left where we've been asked to remain.  Because we think, for some reason, we can do it better.  And so we start entertaining our own desires, our own passions.  And then we wander back and we find ourselves back to where we are supposed to be again. And we go back and forth between our own wills and God's will. That's why that very simple prayer, the "Our Father," sets us straight every time we say it if we do it with sincerity: thy will be done. In other words, help me conform myself to you. So I can be an act as you are and act.  

Pope Bernard says if we do this, the way we're gonna know whether we're being successful or not is by how we live our lives.  And what we're gonna see as evidence of staying rooted in Christ and rooted in his love is we're going to live more simply, simply.  Because when we turn our attention from our own agendas and we put our focus on God and others, then what we see as important no longer is.  We don't need it as much because we realize that the matter of the heart and soul is really what is important.  

You know, we live with this paradox. As Christians, you must give up your life in order to gain it.  You must give up your will and do God's will in order to find true happiness.  And when we realize that, in doing so, we actually find ourselves happier, leaving our anxieties, leaving our preoccupations, leaving our frustrations and focusing more on who God is and our neighbor, this self-emptying brings us to a better place, and we detach ourselves from those things that tether us.  But it takes an active choice. So, if I really wanna remain here in God's love,  then I have to actively choose to do so. I have to pull myself back. I have to consistently turn, and I have to make choices to live more simply because, let's face it, we all live with a lot of excess.  I can do this. You can do this. Go home today. Open a closet that's there in front of you.  We have a lot of stuff and we accumulate a lot of stuff.  Sometimes not because we actually need it, but because we want it,  and when the want goes away there, it stays,,  and it accumulates and we feel overly attached to it. Either we're afraid to let it go for some reason because it's associated with some form of security, or we're afraid to change and venture out without it.  So we have to actively choose to purge our lives of stuff,  unnecessary stuff. God doesn't say you can't have anything,  but we can certainly have what we need.  

As we purge ourselves of our stuff, we also become more aware when we live simple lives of just how much we waste,  how much we waste. Food: how much food is thrown away.  Stop and consider that.  It's an enormous amount.  Sometimes we just buy too much. We don't think clearly enough about it. We stock up and stock up and stock up,. And then the next thing you know, we're throwing out, throwing out, throwing up because it all goes bad.  Waste is a huge problem in our culture. 

To live more simply means to live more consciously of what we're doing, how we're approaching life, what we're choosing.  You know, just because we live in a country, when we turn a faucet on and the water flows freely, it doesn't mean that we can let it flow and flow and flow and flow and waste it because there's corners in the world where they turn that faucet on and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, or there's no faucet at all.  We're all in one boat here as God's family; our brothers' and sisters' concerns are our concerns, and the word solidarity is important. 

To live more simply means there's no more need for competition. It's not about me doing better than you or me having more than you, or me being more successful than you. It's about how can we all manage life together more successfully. How can I help you be successful? How can you help me be successful?  A person who is more simply has that vision of life where it's not just about them, but about all.  No need for competition. No need for excessive wealth. No need for excessive power. All those things go away when we turn our attention from our will and put it onto God's will,  it changes the whole ball of wax. 

To live more simply means that I pray more simply the "Our Father," a simple prayer that puts us in proper disposition to God and reminds us, if we pray it with sincerity, of whose will really matters: not mine, but God's.  It brings us back to this place and allows us to remember where we're asked to remain.  To pour out our hearts to God when life gets difficult and it's sad, and we're  upset, and we're struggling to let God in on what's happening within us,  a simple, heartfelt prayer of outreach to our creator.  And then to remember that we have this beautiful resource of being able to rest in God's love, to refresh ourselves, to develop that radical trust, that regardless of what happens, it's all going to be okay. It will be okay. I don't have to control it.  I don't have to control it.  The one who embraces simplicity realizes all these things and they have a life that's open to the life of another, is open to the life of God to flow in and through them.  

Many years ago, I discovered this hymn, and I'm sure you've heard it yourselves. It's called Simple Gifts.  It's a Shaker, Quaker hymn,  Simple Gifts, and I always just thought it was a hymn. I really paid it no mind until some time ago. I started looking at the lyrics and reflecting on them and really discovered that it's a very powerful hymn because it really does focus and center us. It humbles us because it asks us to put ourself in proper station to realize who we are and to realize that even though it's difficult to turn  that it's in turning that we really find what we're looking for.  It's in turning that we find ourselves living in a valley of love and delight,  which is really all we really want to find that path to peace,  not by doing our will, but by doing God's will.  And so, I'll leave you with a smile this morning:  


 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free. 'Tis the gift to be just where we ought to be.  And when we come around, it'll be just right. We'll be in the valley of love and delight.  When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend, we shant be ashamed. To turn, turn will be our delight, 'til turning turning we come around right. 


Father Mark Suslenko is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community at www.isidoreandmaria.org. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.