Going beyond ourselves
A reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
by Paul Jarzembowski
Every month I served in Catholic parish ministry, I would gather with three colleagues for a standing lunch appointment that I never wanted to miss. They were the associate pastors of the neighbouring Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Methodist churches. The four of us would sit around the table at a local restaurant in town, pause for a moment of prayer, and share our stories, concerns, and ministry ideas.
Now that I work at the national level, I make a point to meet regularly with peer colleagues from other countries’ episcopal conferences: from Australia, Uganda, Germany, Ireland, England, and Canada, to name a few. Thanks to digital technology, we gather by way of video conferencing (though finding the ideal time of day to connect is always a feat of strategic planning). We pause for prayer and share our stories, ministerial concerns, and best practices.
These connections have been life-giving experiences for me. Whether ecumenically or globally, my colleagues and I all share a mutual faith in Jesus Christ, even though we have our ministerial, cultural, or denominational differences. Even so, our common roots bind us all together.
When reflecting on Saint Peter’s words to the Roman, Cornelius, in the first reading this Sunday, these relationships came to the forefront of my mind and heart. To the early Church, the apostle said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). In his own day, Saint Peter was navigating the intersection of Jewish and Gentile populations coming together as the Christian community expanded from its origins in Galilee and Judea to the ends of the earth. Now twenty centuries beyond that starting point, we navigate other terrains, while also faced with increased polarization, cultural and racial reckoning, and individualization further amplified by physical distancing, isolation, and global pandemic.
Perhaps now more than ever, we need to be called by the Lord to a sense of renewed solidarity despite the obstacles that face us today. Too often, though, in trying times, our temptation is to narrow our focus to our own concerns. We get so busy with our specific realities (work, church, country, political party, etc.) that we forget the bond that we share beyond our physical, national, or spiritual borders.
Recognizing this struggle, Saint John provides us with a way through the distinctions and differences: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:7-8). It sounds almost too simple. Yet Jesus further expands on this understanding, revealing a profound directive on exactly what love really means, as heard in the Gospel this Sunday: “Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:12-13).
Love for others, according to Christ, is self-sacrificial. It looks beyond our limited, narrow scope to see the shared and common humanity in others’ eyes, regardless of who they are or from where they come. To put aside our own concerns and make time to listen to someone very different from us might seem like a waste of time or we might benignly say, “Once I get things under control here, I will look to others.” And yet, this is not what our Lord asks of us.
Rather, he compels us to sacrifice ourselves and devote (not waste) time being present for others, most especially those who are farthest from us: those of other cultures and races; those of other generations; those who have different lived experiences; those from other nations; those of other faith traditions; and even with those who have no religious affiliation whatsoever.
God shows no partiality, according to Saint Peter, and neither should we when we look to our relationships with others. For me, the most life-giving encounters are often with those with whom I have the least in common or whose lived experiences are unique from my own. May we all put into practice the greatest commandment that Jesus gave us: love and sacrifice everything for one another, most especially for those beyond ourselves and beyond our borders.
The readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B, are
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
1 John 4:7-10
Paul Jarzembowski has worked for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) since 2013, serving as the lead staff for youth and young adult ministries within its Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and coordinating the United States’ engagement in World Youth Day. Originally from the Chicago area, Paul received his graduate degree from Loyola University Chicago, where he also served as adjunct faculty in the Institute of Pastoral Studies. Paul has consulted with, spoken to, and accompanied pastoral leaders in the Untied States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe, including the Holy See. Paul and his wife, Sarah, live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., USA.