Scripture Readings: Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2, 22-29; Book of Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; Gospel According to Saint John 14:23-29
The holy season of Easter, Paschaltide as it is also called, continues in these Sundays and weekdays. In the monastery we are reminded each day at this time that “Christ is risen from the tomb.” This is our conviction and reason for rejoicing. Does that mean that we monks only think or talk about the Resurrection of Christ at this time of year? Wouldn’t that be nice; but we are human like everyone else and so need regular reminders that we are redeemed in Jesus Christ.
Returning regularly to church in the monastery throughout each day and meditating on God’s Word in common and in solitude are helpful for a life that is hopefully, though slowly and gradually, rooted in God’s love. That is our desire and what we hope for all followers of Christ as well.
This Sunday’s Gospel text comes from words of Jesus during the Last Supper regarding the eventual return of Jesus to his Father in heaven. Christ came from the Father as God’s ambassador with the mission to reveal God’s love and care for the human race. It is God’s desire that all be redeemed in the blood of the Lamb of God, who is Christ, Second person of the Blessed Trinity.
The return of Jesus to the Father entails for the followers of Jesus a separation. A separation, though, that also places them in a special relationship to God and commissioned to continue the work of Christ in the world. We alive today are inheritors of the same work by the lives we live, the words we speak. “Proclaim the Gospel with your life,” followers of Jesus have been told from of old and right to the present. As another phrase, attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi expresses it, “Always proclaim the Gospel, and if you must, use words.” In other words, actions speak louder than words, as nuns of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus taught me and thousands of other children since the 1800’s.
Even with the return of Jesus to the Father at the Ascension, followers of Christ must not be distressed at the prospect of separation from the Master. Christ in fact is present in a new way and also the way to the Father’s house. What matters most is faith in Christ who came from God and returned to God and who never leaves the flock untended. God is always a Good Shepherd, as we reflected on last Sunday.
As for the first followers of Jesus, so for us, faith in Christ, risen, ascended, yet present, is for all a guarantee of communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our love for the Holy Trinity must prove itself especially by faithfulness to the mission Jesus entrusted to his followers, namely, love for one another as Jesus has loved us!
For this great task we have the promise from Christ of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, invisible, but nonetheless actively at work in our lives.
Does all this imply some sort of back-breaking work or distressing efforts on our part? Not really, but simply being faithful to our call, whatever it may be, as a parent, a single person, one who is young or not so young, and tending to the thousand and one opportunities every day to show love, concern, mercy, care and diligence for those who enter our lives.
This was a big emphasis of Blessed (soon to be Saint) Teresa of Calcutta, who used to say something to the effect of: don’t worry about running to India or other parts of the world to tend the sick poor (though some are in fact called to do this), but carry out what you are called to do every day wherever that may be, in humility of heart and joyfully, because it is the same Lord who is accompanying our efforts to do good and who is served by our loving deeds.
The Holy Spirit has always been understood in our Catholic tradition as the teacher and guide not only in matters doctrine which Christ and the Church have set forth, but also in situations that followers of Christ will encounter in life and for which they will need light and strength. The Holy Spirit is promised by Jesus to assist us in the bigger and wider work of the apostolate, of proclaiming the Good News, that is, the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
Hopefully we find in the words of Jesus at the Last Supper much food for thought and encouragement in our inevitably less than perfect or idyllic lives. Yes, this something true for monks as well!
Jesus puts the matter in terms of, “Let your hearts not be distressed.” In addition, Jesus says, “Peace to you, Shalom.” How easy to forget that promise and get bogged down in the daily round of life. The Lord is near to lift us up and in fact lift us on high, to share in God’s warm and eternal embrace.
Whenever we go through difficult times, and presumably all of us do at one time or another, the awareness and sense of Christ’s promise of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit should have a definite meaning in our lives. Belonging to Christ does not mean the absence of problems, setbacks, tragedies or death, but having the assurance and comfort of Christ within us and beside us in whatever we undergo.
I have always loved the famous “Breastplate Prayer,” attributed Saint Patrick, which concludes with the words:
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”
As in the history of the Church, so also in our personal lives, it is important to be aware of and recount the mission and work that the Holy Spirit has played down through the ages and to our own days. God does not leave the little flock, of which we are a part, untended!
For this we should never cease to give thanks to God. Blessed Sunday and week ahead and whatever it brings.
Prior Christian Leisy, OSB
Monastery of Christ in the Desert
Abiquiu, New Mexico