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Death and Love

Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop

First Reading: 1 John 3:11-21

Beloved:
This is the message you have heard from the beginning:
we should love one another,
unlike Cain who belonged to the Evil One
and slaughtered his brother.
Why did he slaughter him?
Because his own works were evil,
and those of his brother righteous.
Do not be amazed, then, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.
We know that we have passed from death to life
because we love our brothers.
Whoever does not love remains in death.
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer,
and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.
The way we came to know love
was that he laid down his life for us;
so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
If someone who has worldly means
sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion,
how can the love of God remain in him?
Children, let us love not in word or speech
but in deed and truth.

Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn,
for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 100:1B-2, 3, 4, 5

R. (2a) Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him; bless his name.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
The LORD is good:
the LORD, whose kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.

Gospel: John 1:43-51

Jesus decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip.
And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.
Philip found Nathanael and told him,
“We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law,
and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”
But Nathanael said to him,
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him,
“Here is a true child of Israel.
There is no duplicity in him.”
Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael answered him,
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Do you believe
because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than this.”
And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will see the sky opened and the angels of God
ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

NAB

As soon as that second sibling makes his presence known—whether in utero or by tiny photo from the adoption agency—a mother’s prayers beg that her children will be friends. More than friends, she wants them to be each other’s fiercest advocates, greatest allies, most compassionate consolers. At the first sign that the first one is unhappy over the mere existence of the second, she starts to worry that somehow she’s stirred up sibling angst. If they are great, grand friends until they are teenagers and, quite suddenly, without warning, they begin to act as if they are mortal enemies, she really wonders about Cain and Abel.

Cain hates Abel. He is so overcome with envy of his brother that he kills him. When Saint John recounts the story in the First Reading, he is very clear: you don’t have to actually murder your brother to kill him; you just have to fail to love him well. There is no middle ground here. We are all called to lay down our lives for our brothers (or sisters or neighbors or bosses or teachers). The people we encounter in our daily rounds are our brothers. Very few of us will be called to a dying martyrdom. All of us are called to a living martyrdom, a lifetime of tender sacrifice for one another.

Though it is unlikely we will be called to our deaths for Jesus, we will most certainly be called out of our beds at an uncomfortable hour to meet the needs of another. We will be called from our complacency to speak up for justice. We will be called by another’s hunger to fill a belly. We will be called upon in a myriad of ways to die to ourselves and be the hands and feet of our Savior. Sometimes, we will force ourselves to do the right thing and say the kind thing, only because we love God and do not want to offend Him. Sometimes, we will feel like a six-year-old who wants to hit his little brother over the head with a giant Jenga block, but we will refrain.

In those moments, we ask God into our hearts and let Him reside there. We can be confident that He knows the struggle and He knows we’ll fall, but He is merciful and He is good and He will empower us to live more and more like Him.

He is calling you to reconcile with your brother (or sister). You know the one. Go! Do that.

Elizabeth Foss is a wife, the mother of nine, and a grandmother. She finds the cacophony of big family imperfection to be the perfect place to learn to walk in the unforced rhythms of grace. You can learn more about her here

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