7th Sunday of Easter - World Communications Sunday : Gospel John 17:20-26

Build communities . . . not divide them

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at St Joseph Church, Victoria Street, Singapore
on 8th May 2016

In today’s Gospel, as we celebrate the seventh Sunday of Easter, World Communications Sunday, and also “Mother’s Day”, we hear Jesus praying, “Father, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was You who sent Me, and that I have loved them as much as You love me.”  

In other words in today’s Gospel, Jesus prays passionately to His Father that all of us believers have a unity that witnesses to His Love, in our hearts and our homes, so that the whole world will be drawn to the Truth of the Good News of Salvation.  What can we say of this deep desire and divine dream of Jesus? 

I would like to begin with the story of a mother, who on one bright Sunday morning hurries into her son's bedroom and wakes him up. "Benson, it's Sunday. Time to get up! Time to get up and go to church! Get up!"  Benson mumbles from under the covers, "I don't want to go." "What do you mean you don't want to go?" says the mother. "That's silly. Now get up and get dressed and go to church!"  Benson then sits up on his bed and says, "No, I don't want to go.  I give you two reasons why I don't want to go." "First, I don't like them and second, they don't like me."  His mother replies, "Now, that's just plain nonsense. You've got to go to church and I give you two reasons why you must go.  First, you're now forty years old and, second, you're the pastor!"   

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us first specially thank our mothers for “giving us the best in life” and for helping us keep our faith, even though as in Benson, it is most challenging for them.  Let us also note that many of us here may be like Benson.  We may be hurting badly and furiously angry with people, including with people within our own family, at our work place, in the church or even with people we do not know like while we are driving or even parking our cars when coming for Mass. 

Benson is also a symbol of the tensions that extends globally to include people of different social and political ranks, races, religions, languages and cultures.  As Benson’s mother is urging him to “get real” with life, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is also reminding all believers to build bridges, whether in our homes or elsewhere, and be “completely one,” so that the world will know that the Love that we share, come from our Love for Jesus.  This is particularly essential in today’s complex, confusing and uncaring world of great contrasts between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the marginalised and the moderates and the radicalised.

I would next like to quote extensively on Pope Francis’ message, which is full of wisdom, on today’s celebration of “World Communications Sunday” begins by saying to us, “The Holy Year of Mercy invites all of us to reflect on the relationship between communication and mercy.  The Church, in union with Christ, the living incarnation of the Father of Mercies, is called to practise mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does. What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all.  Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing. If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity and divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.

Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable us to have (genuine and deep) encounters with each other and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people choose their words and actions with care, to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony.  Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples.
This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, and encourage expressions of hatred.  The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement that helps to build communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.

For this reason, I would like to invite all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities.  In every case, mercy is able to create a new kind of speech and dialogue.
Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope. I ask those with institutional and political responsibility . . . to have the courage to guide people towards processes of reconciliation. It is precisely such positive and creative boldness which offers real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:7-9)

Mercy can help mitigate life’s troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment. May our way of communicating help to overcome the mindset that neatly separates sinners from the righteous. We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts. It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice . . . The Gospel of John tells us that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). The truth is ultimately Christ himself, whose gentle Mercy is the yardstick for measuring the way we proclaim the truth and condemn injustice.  Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love (cf. Eph 4:15). Only words spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts.  Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, and would reinforce their sense of rejection and defensiveness.
Some feel that a vision of society rooted in mercy is hopelessly idealistic or excessively indulgent.  But let us try and recall our first experience of relationships, within our families. Our parents loved us and valued us for who we are more than for our abilities and achievements.  Parents naturally want the best for their children, but that love is never dependent on their meeting certain conditions. The family home is one place where we are always welcome (cf. Lk 15:11-32). I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.

For this to happen, we must first listen.  Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands, listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says.  It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice . . . Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication.  It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.  Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups.

The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another,engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks. I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, “may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination” (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). The internet can help us to be better citizens.  Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see, but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected; (especially the poor, the needy and those who are marginalised and suffering so much in today’s world).  The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.

Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”.  The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates.  In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.” 
If we are able to communicate effectively in this manner, then, my brothers and sisters we are helping Jesus fulfil His divine desire that He earnestly prayed for in today’s Gospel,“Father, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was You who sent Me, and that I have loved them as much as You love me.” 
(Ref.: www.Hwakwe Reflections (adapted) and Pope’s Message; Vatican, 24 January 2016).

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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