“Only the good die young.” ~ Billy Joel
“We receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him,” explains the Apostle John in the opening words of today’s 1st Reading (1 John 3:22-4:6). He goes on explain the importance of believing in Jesus, the Son of God, and loving one another in a way that emulates God’s love for us.
Captured in this simple but profound and yes challenging phrasing is the quintessential Catholic theological treatise, the pathway to life everlasting: total belief in and commitment to Jesus the Son of God and loving each other as Jesus loved and continues to love us. That’s it. Beyond these two commandments we need nothing else.
Without these two commandments, we can do nothing. With them, we can do everything. A symbiotic relationship begins to form in relation to the fulfillment of our desires when we align our lives with these these two great commandments; after all, faith and love are always in harmony with God’s plan for us. Our prayers will be “heard” because they will forever be rooted in our aspiration to be closer to God by way of love, commitment and service.
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, a woman who Archbishop Francis Patrick Kendrick said “Did more for the Church in America than all of us bishops together.” Mother Seton was the first native born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church. She established the 1st American Catholic Orphanage and founded the American Parish School System. Today also marks the 200th Anniversary of her passing into eternal life. “God has given me a great deal to do,” she once said, in what may very well be the early odds-on favorite for the 2021 understatement of the year. “And I have always, and hope always, to prefer His will to every wish of my own.”
Early this morning, the world lost a man whose life was predicated on Saint John’s aforementioned theological treatise and Mother Seton’s desire to do God’s will while serving others. John Burns was a friend and role model who was part of the nucleus of my Parish, Saint Michael the Archangel in Woodstock, Georgia. He will remain so despite having entered into heavenly glory and the radiant splendor of the Kingdom ruled by the man he adored, Jesus Christ.
Known for his slow and easy Southern drawl and acerbic wit, John was ubiquitous at Saint Michael’s, attending Daily Mass adorned in his trademark University of Georgia Bulldogs attire, sometimes with a bag of golf clubs nestled in the back seat of his Coke-Can Red Mustang Convertible, angling for a quick 18 after the final blessing should the weather oblige. He would make banana bread for his fellow Parishioners, this I would find out after the passing of my father, which, coincidentally enough, will be three years to the day tomorrow. It was excellent. He volunteered and served at every Parish Blood Drive and Lenten Fish Fry. He would habitually check in with the elderly and widowed of our Parish Community in the parking lot after Mass in order to see if he could lend a hand with any home improvement projects or repairs. He was blessed with the “handy gene” and was quick to display an unrelenting generosity in sharing it.
John was on the mend from bladder cancer which, coupled with his preexisting heart condition, left him in much residual pain over the course of his lengthy and arduous recuperation. During this stretch he dropped a considerable amount of weight from his already lean frame and would slowly limp as he made his way towards the altar for Holy Communion, the Sacrament that would galvanize and fuel him on a daily basis. Last week, in what would be the last time I’d see him ~ at Walmart after Mass, where I would seemingly run into him at least 2-3 times a week ~ we engaged in our usual banter at the checkout line. I looked into his shopping cart and sarcastically remarked “I think you need a few more bananas” (there were upwards of 45-50 in the cart) to which he quickly commented about my loud shirt, flashy diamond ring and “Yankee accent” before explaining that he was making banana bread for the entire hospital staff that took care of him during his bout with cancer. Who does that? Shouldn’t he be on Facebook bemoaning his fate while fishing for sympathy and pity? A child of the light does that.
In tomorrow’s 1st Reading, also appropriately taken from John’s 1st Epistle (1 John 4:7-10), we are reminded to “love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” John knew God, this we know because his knowledge of the Father was made manifest in the way he loved and cared for his neighbor. I can’t help but think of another popular passage from John’s 1st Epistle, one which will be read this coming Friday at Mass wherein John states “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:19). If this is true ~ and it is ~ John Burns stands in the company of a select handful of the most honest men that I have ever known.
Nowhere is God’s love for us more evident, other than the cross of course, than in the people He so lovingly and meticulously places in our lives. Those who knew John were blessed, and we have been called to insure that his legacy lives on. We do so by emulating his generosity, his sense of humor, his love of Jesus and his love of neighbor.
I leave you with another quote from the great Elizabeth Ann Seton, one which captures the essence of John’s life as well as the life that we are called to live as members of Christ’s mystical body (Romans 12:5,1 Corinthians 12:12–27, etc).
“Live simply . . . so that others may simply live.”