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
This Sunday’s Gospel passage comes from the Farewell Discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper, right before his betrayal, crucifixion and death occurred. Liturgically, we are still in the Easter Season, celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection, but we are also thinking about the Solemnity of the Ascension, soon to be celebrated, as well as the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, on Sunday, June 5th.
Jesus spoke to his disciples in the Last Supper Farewell Discourse about returning to the Father. The Lord had come to earth as the ambassador of the Father, with the mission of revealing God’s love for the human race, and bestowing the gift of salvation by rising from the dead. What Jesus taught and the works that he performed came from God, and Jesus would ultimately return to the Father at the Ascension.
Returning to the Father meant that there would be a separation for the Apostles from their Master. At the same time, the separation establishes the Apostles in a special relationship with the Father. They were commissioned to continue the work of Christ on earth.
We are inheritors of the Apostles work, being members of the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church, and so, “ambassadors for Christ,” to use the phrase of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans (chapter 5, verse 20). That means we are entrusted with announcing the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, by our words and deeds. It is a profound call and an obligation as Baptized believers.
Jesus desired that his Apostles not be distressed or worried, and promised to remain with them. Faith in Christ is the guarantee of belonging to God. Jesus asked of his disciples, and is asking of us as well, to demonstrate our love, by fidelity to the mission Jesus has entrusted to us. We are assisted in this by the action of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. Just as the Father gave his greatest gift by sending his only Son into the world, so now, when Jesus ascends to the Father, the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon the face of the earth.
God’s Holy Spirit comes to us as teacher and guide, not only regarding matters of doctrine, that is, in what to believe, but also as regarding situations of daily life, which require light and strength, in order to make concrete decisions. We hear of such in the First Reading of Mass this Sunday, from the Acts of the Apostles, about what should be required of non-Jews who wish to become Christians. The conclusion drawn is not to lay on converts any burdens beyond what is strictly necessary. In other words, Gentiles do not need to become Jews first, before being allowed to become Christians.
The words of Jesus at the Farewell Discourse during the Last Supper are intended as encouragement, concluding with a solemn farewell from the Lord: “Peace,” (in Hebrew, “Shalom”). This is not just a friendly salutation, but intended as a gift, something real and tangible, a state of the soul which cannot be compared with anything else. We might call it happiness, joy or satisfaction, but only if we understand it on a deeply spiritual level, as something that goes beyond feeling, and is a state of being, that only God can give.
The important point of this Sunday’s Gospel is that all who follow Christ must demonstrate their love for Christ by persevering in faith, hope and love, what we call the “Theological Virtues.”
Separation from the Lord, as when he ascended into Heaven, may be painful, but it does not mean being abandoned. The Master returns to the Father, which should fill the hearts of believers with peace, especially in the light of Jesus’ promise of sending the Holy Spirit whose other name is the Paraclete, that is, the Comforter, who leads us along the way to eternal union with the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. This is a possibility for all of us!
In this Second Reading at Mass this Sunday, from the Book of Revelation, we are given an inspiring and vivid vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, where the Church Triumphant, composed all who have passed from life to God’s Glory, are present with the Holy Trinity. It is another way of expressing that “God will be all in all,” as Saint Paul describes it in his First Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 15, verse 28), when our redemption will be fully accomplished.
A Blessed Sunday and week ahead, as we prepare for the Lord’s Ascension and then the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, fifty days after Easter Sunday.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB