Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; First Letter of Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
The readings for this Sunday are taken from the final days of Jesus’ earthly sojourn as well as the first steps of the infant Church after the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord. The words of Jesus in the Gospel today are from the Last Supper Discourse, just after the Lord had washed the feet of his disciples. We re-enact this great sign of Jesus’ loving service at the Liturgy of Holy Thursday each year.
After the Last Supper, Jesus would be with his disciples only for a short time before facing betrayal, condemnation and crucifixion. Jesus knew he would need to offer strong encouragement to his disciples in the face of his coming passion and death, especially with the words, “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come back to you.” And furthermore, “You will see me as one who has life, and you will have life.”
Clearly Jesus was preparing his closest disciples to continue his mission, to preach the Good News of salvation to the ends of the earth and to cast out demons in his name. Jesus was completing his work on earth but not abandoning the flock entrusted to him. The going forth of Jesus was to bring salvation to all people by a bitter death leading to Resurrection from the dead. The words and deeds of Jesus encouraged his followers never to give up hope, but always walk with their Lord in confidence.
As his going forth drew near, Jesus promised the disciples that if they walked with him, he would always accompany them, be present to and with them, even if in a way different than they were used to. “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you,” Jesus assured his followers.
The way in which Jesus promised to be with his disciples would take two forms. First, Jesus would be with each follower in a particular and intimate way, as individuals. Secondly, Jesus would be with the disciples as a group, in their midst as he had promised in another place, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).
This assurance would find its deepest expression in the words Jesus spoke in this Sunday’s Gospel passage, “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father. I too will love him and reveal myself to him.”
To put into practice, or better said, to live with confidence, the words of Jesus, is the call of all who follow the Lord. This is what is meant by the spiritual life, that is, a life in Christ. It is a living communion with God, nourished by the reception of the sacraments of the Church and a relationship with God meant to deepen and grow throughout one’s life. Just as the body grows, develops and becomes stronger over time, from infancy to adulthood, so too the spiritual life is meant to grow, develop and become stronger, reaching its maturity at death and the passage to eternal life.
Furthermore, as the body is nourished each day with food and drink, so God desires us in our spiritual life to “taste and see the goodness of Lord” (Psalm 33:8), to be fed at the altar of the Eucharist, with the Body and the Blood of the Lord.
Catholics believe that what we receive at Holy Communion is not ordinary bread and wine, nor is it something symbolic, but really and truly the life-giving Body and Blood of the Redeemer, consecrated at the Mass. It is a great mystery, but one that we are called to firmly believe in, given to us first by the Lord himself at the Last Supper.
In addition to the Eucharist, we are nourished in our spiritual journey by a life of prayer. This means turning to God often with our thoughts and desires, as well as listening to God’s word in the silence of our hearts, attentive to our God, who is always present. A deep communion with the Lord takes place when we are still enough to know God’s presence and to place our trust in God.
Every follower of Christ is entrusted with actively continuing the mission of Christ on earth, to carry on with joy the works Christ began during his earthly sojourn. The fact of being baptized in the Church is not an automatic entitlement to salvation. Rather, Baptism is a commitment to live a life of loving service in Christ’s Church each day. The grace of God at work in our lives and our willing response to God’s grace makes our lives fruitful.
The friendship with God that we are given in Baptism is to be extended to others, so that they too may participate in the very life of God. We are especially fortified at the Sacrament of Confirmation for the work of spreading the Gospel message.
The first Christians were recognized and admired by others because of their love for one another. Our proclaiming the Gospel may entail great works, but in most cases it is simply living our lives well and being unashamed of our allegiance to Christ. Here we might think of an event from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, which I recount here from memory, rather than from a written text, so bear with me if I am changing the story a bit.
It seems that on one occasion the holy poor man and founder, Brother, later, Saint Francis of Assisi, encouraged his brothers to preach in the city. They did so, but basically went through the streets with their hoods up, their heads humbly lowered and speaking no words. When the brothers returned to their friary, one of them told Brother Francis that in fact they probably had not really preached, for they had spoken no words. The saint replied, “Do you think you have preached less by using no words but only example? In fact your example is a powerful form of preaching!”
We too, by good example and faithful lives, proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What we say and do, where we go, whom we go with, how we work, pray, play, use our time and all the rest, are forms of saying what we believe in. Each of these can be bold and powerful expressions of our convictions and aspirations for the Gospel and person of Jesus Christ. This is our apostolate and it is a tremendous one indeed.
The Holy Eucharist in a singular way draws us deeper into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ for the salvation of the human race.
May our willing and joyful participation in the Sacred Mysteries of our faith give us the courage to proclaim the Gospel with our lives, united to Christ, and thereby draw many others into the one Body of Christ.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB