May 17, 2007 – Thursday of the 6th week of Easter
Acts 18, 1-8; John 16, 16-20
Whitland Abbey, Wales
H o m i l y
This short text from John’s Gospel is taken from the long series of discourses of Jesus to his disciples during the Last Supper. Jesus tells them that in a short time they will no longer see him, and then a short time later they will see him again. To understand what He means, it is worth noting that just before that he had promised to send them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who would lead them to the complete truth. Therefore this Gospel assigned by the Lectionary for the Thursday of the sixth week of Easter can be considered well adapted for this Mass of the Holy Spirit celebrated at the beginning of our Regular Visitation.
A Regular Visitation is a moment in the life of a community when we look at our lived experience in order to discern God’s presence and action in our community life, and when we also try to discern how we could correspond more and more to His grace. For this we need truth. And Jesus does not say to his disciples that the Spirit will reveal truth to them. He rather says that the Spirit will lead them to the whole truth. So, if we pray the Holy Spirit, when we have an important decision to make or when we begin an important community exercise, we should not expect the Spirit to “tell” us what we should do – through some internal inspiration or external signs. We should rather ask the Spirit to lead us to the Truth by purifying our hearts.
In the few verses we just read, there is a sense of urgency. Within a short time you will lose sight of me, but soon after that you shall see me again. The disciples say explicitly that they do not know what He is talking about. Of course they put this in connection with what he just told them about his going to His Father, but what puzzles them is this “short time” : "What does he mean by this 'short time'? they say.
In comparison with eternity, our life here on earth is very short, even if we have the grace of living to an old age. Although or “dwelling place” is in heaven, and we make every effort to dwell there through our contemplative prayer, we are still here on earth where we have only a short time to reach truth, to reach the whole truth. The Spirit, whom Jesus sent us, is always there to guide us on our journey towards truth. But we are the ones who have to travel that journey. Let us ask the Lord to lead us to a total truth about ourselves, about our sisters/brothers, about our community and obviously, about Him. Jesus does not simply call us to “say” the truth (which, obviously, is important), but to “do” the truth. Let’s try to do so, all of us together during this Visitation.
Acts 18, 9-18; John 16, 20-23
Whitland Abbey, Wales
H O M I L Y
The Bible is the Word of God transmitted to us in human words. Each book has a human author who shares with us his experience of God, in his own human words, according to his own preoccupations and in his own style. Likewise, the history of the beginnings of the Church that we find in the Act of the Apostles is the human history of a little group of people who lived out their Christian faith in their own human life -- most of the time a rather normal human life. During the last few weeks, the first reading at Mass gave us an idea of the human relationships and at times the human tensions within the early Church. We saw how Barnabas, at the beginning of the predication in Antioch, went to fetch Paul in Tarsus, a move that certainly influenced dramatically the history of the Church for ever. They worked together for a while and then Paul separated from Barnabas and recruited Silas. In yesterday’s first reading we saw Paul arriving in Athens, looking for a place where to stay and for a job to earn his bread. In today’s reading we see his difficulties with the Jews of Athens, and his first difficulties with the Roman courts, which, for this time end rather well for him.
That reminds us that, still today, it is not through extraordinary events or through huge, visible demonstrations or events that the Church can be built, but through the daily, ordinary life of each Christian. It is through our own lived experience, with our success and our failures, through our communion and also our tensions, that our community and our Church is built and grows.
In today’s Gospel, which gives us another little segment of Jesus’ talk to his disciples during the Last Supper, He speaks to them about their personal and collective growth, using, as He often does, images of the most important elements and moments of human life – joy and sorrow, pain and consolation, birth and death. He had already told Nicodemus, at the beginning of his public life, that unless someone is born again, he cannot enter Life. And here he reminds us that any birth implies pain. To experience grief in our life is a normal human experience; but we know that pain can be transformed into real joy. Suffering is also a normal human experience, but we know that it is part of bringing new life to the world. Each time we really grow, a new human being is born and therefore we can – and we must – rejoice, because a new human being has been born.
I would like to draw your attention to just one other expression used by Jesus. He tells his disciples : “You are sad for a time, but I shall see you again and your hearts will rejoice”. Throughout the Bible we find a longing desire to see the face of God. But, in the end, it is not man who sees God but it is God who looks at man. There are several examples of this in the New Testament – Jesus looking at Zacchaeus who had climbed in a tree to see him; Jesus looking at the adulterous woman without any condemnation but with a call to grow; Jesus looking at the young rich man and also calling him to grow, but respecting his freedom. Here Jesus does not say, as we would expect : “you shall see me again and your hearts will rejoice”. No, he rather says : “I shall see you again and your hearts will rejoice”.
So, let’s not be too preoccupied with our own “contemplative activities”, with our own desire and efforts to see God, but let’s rather become more and more aware that Jesus looks at us. And when He looks at us, he loves us and calls us to conversion and to growth.
Acts 18, 23-28; Jn 16, 23-28
Whitland Abbey, Wales
H O M I L Y
The readings from the Acts of the Apostles that we have as first reading at the Mass during this Easter Season are not simply nice narratives giving us an idea on how the Church developed during the first Christian generation. They also tell us about the nature of the Church. It shows us that there were many ways of becoming a Christian.
Of course, there was the large body of men and women who had been Jesus’ disciples during his life and had maintained their faith in Him after his death and resurrection. All of these, and not only the Apostles and the first deacons, transmitted their faith to others through their life and their words. Then, there was Paul, who personally met Jesus on the road to Damascus. In today’s reading we see another way of becoming a Christian. A Jew named Apollos, who came from Egypt, where there was the largest Jewish diaspora at the time of Christ (more or less one million Jews, according to modern historians), was a man full of fervour and an authority on Scripture. He had heard of Jesus, perhaps coming to Jerusalem for the Passover, and had come to the conclusion that he was the Christ. Although he had not received any formation from the Apostles or another missionary, he spoke and taught accurately about Jesus. Paul and the other Christians of Ephesus welcomed his preaching.
That makes it very clear that what makes someone a Christian is essentially to believe in Christ. The Church is the communion between all those who believe in Christ. Jesus did not establish any new organisation. He did not found a new organisation called the Church. He called his disciples, that is, all those who received his message, to be united by bounds of love, and to show that love to all their neighbours. The Church, according to Vatican II, is basically a mystery, that is, a sacrament: the visible manifestation of God’s love for us and his salvation, through the sign of people sharing in the same love, the same faith and the same hope. This is why a local church is not simply an administrative subdivision of the universal Church. On the contrary, every time and every place there are a handful of Christians expressing their common faith, love and hope in Jesus Christ, there is a visible manifestation and a realization of the whole mystery of the Church. There is the Church. The Universal Church is formed by the communion between those local churches.
Of course, the Church being composed of human beings, and therefore being human, needed to give itself some form of organisation. According to local circumstances, a structure was developed throughout the centuries: dioceses, archdiocese, parishes, patriarchates, the Roman curia, various ministries, old and new, etc. We may be very happy with that structure, or we may be aspiring to a great simplification of it. All this is secondary. The essential reality is that what makes us a Christian is not the fact of belonging to that structure but of having a personal faith in Jesus Christ and of sharing that faith with others in love and hope.
Then we can, as Jesus invites us to do in today’s Gospel, pray in His name. This is what we do in this Eucharist, expression our faith in communion with one another and with all those, all over the world, who have placed their faith in Christ.