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May 15, 2022: Fifth Sunday of Easter - Pastor’s Corner

“Lord give what you command and then command what you will.”

St. Augustine of Hippo

Mandates. Over the past few years, we been accustomed to a myriad of mandates. Masks mandates, mandates on social distancing and maximum indoor capacity, we live in a world where health mandates have become normative.  No matter your position on the legality and efficacy of mandates, when we use the word, it conjures the idea of compulsory compliance. A mandate suggests submission to authority with little or no personal freedom or control.

With this in mind, it is little wonder that there are folks who think that the Catholic faith is simply a list of mandates and rules which, if followed to the letter, make a person worthy of some future, if unverifiable benefit.  But this is not the Scriptural view of a mandate. When God gives Moses the Torah, the Ten Commandments are not simply rules to follow, but form the basis of a relationship which gives Jacob’s, aka Israel’s, decedents a real cultural identity. The Decem Mandata are not arbitrary divine dictates, but God’s gift of personal revelation which propose a path to human freedom and flourishing.  To this day, a Jewish person does not need to be “practicing” in order to have a strong connection to the culture formed by the mandates given on Mount Sinai.  In the Jewish experience, mandates are not simply informative but transformative.

In the Gospel this weekend, Jesus gives His disciples a new mandate.  Gathered together in anticipation for the Last Supper, Jesus prepares them for the sacred meal by washing their feet. (We reenact this powerful ritual in our annual washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday). Jesus then says: “I give you a new commandment (mandatum novum do vobis), love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus’s mandate to His apostles is neither arbitrary nor coercive. In fact, Jesus’s command reveals a new way by which we identify with God.  Jesus has call us to love by summoning the best of who we are.  For example, the Golden Rule calls us to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Likewise, in summarizing the whole of the Torah, Jesus calls us “to love God and neighbor as yourself.” In either case, our own human strength and virtue is the standard for love.  In this new commandment, Jesus makes Himself the standard of love.  Jesus raises the bar on how we are to love God and others. We are to love with God’s love.  This seems to be impossible and, as Jesus himself says: “without me you can do nothing.”

Yet in this mandate, Jesus gives us an example of how we can open ourselves up to God’s divine love in our life.  He takes on the task of foot washing, a chore that was reserved for slaves or other undesirables. By washing the dirty, worn feet of His followers, He calls us to live in service of each other. This ceremonial foot washing is but a shadow of what He will do in offering His life for us on the cross. When we live for others like Jesus, the divine love that created the world comes to life in us. 

In reflecting on this great mystery of the divine mandate, St. Augustine penned a beautiful, if incisive prayer which we make our own today: “Lord give what you command and then command what you will!”

~ Fr. Michael 


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