Friday, May 27, 2022

"Is Jesus Coming or Going?" A Meditation

Some years ago (while I was still active as a teacher professor) I was blessed to have as a "spiritual father" an old Cistercian monk at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville. Father Edward (Memory Eternal, Rest in Peace) had been Abbot of the community during the challenging years of the 1960s and 70s, and within his profound disposition of joy, simplicity and humility you could glimpse the fruits of immense interior sufferings patiently endured.

I mention Father Edward not only in gratitude for all the help he gave me in my own difficulties, coming through the door of the cloister and meeting with me in the guest parlor (thank God for him!) - but also because the penance he always gave me after every confession was to read prayerfully chapters 14, 15, and 16 in the Gospel of John.

In these present days near the end of the Easter Season, as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we ponder these texts in the liturgy. It's understandable if we feel as clueless as the disciples, and yet we listen because we know that He loves us and He will never abandon us. If He "goes," it is to draw us with Him through the Holy Spirit into the glory of the Father, to draw us into participation in the Eternal Love who is the Trinity, into a life that is our destiny but that has already begun even as we journey upon this earth.

The revelation of the Mystery of God through Jesus Christ can seem like a bunch of irreconcilable paradoxes if we receive it only as words that we measure by the limits of our own ways of thinking. But in fact, this revelation is addressed to us by a man with a human face, a man whose humanity has been taken by the Eternal Son of the Father to be His own, so that He can dwell with us, redeem us, give us eternal life. His is a human face that looks upon us with love.

Risen from the dead, Jesus has begun the transfiguration of all that is truly human, and all of creation. He "ascends" and yet remains with us because He has won the victory in this world. The world "belongs" to Him. The Holy Spirit will vivify the concrete center from which His victory extends through human history, bringing His disciples together as the Church that will endure through all time with real links to His humanity in the events by which He saves us (the apostolic succession, the teaching, the sacraments, the witness of the saints).

He goes to the Father, the man Jesus who is the Father's Son and our brother! He sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts, so that we might recognize that He is still "with" us, loving us, drawing us to the glory that has already conquered the world; so that together in the Church we might see His face in every circumstance and every human reality, wherein He looks upon us with love and asks us (begs us) as He did Peter after the resurrection along the Sea of Galilee: "Do you love me?"

How humbling and strange is it that He still wants my love. He is always appealing to me; He who is the One I have betrayed so often, the One I ignore most of the time, the One I close my heart to as I seek my own will and shrink to the measure of my momentary urges, desires, fears, covetousness, anger: the One I even regard as my enemy and meet with violence. He looks upon me with love and still asks, "Do you love me?"

At this moment, I could just look exclusively at myself: all the stumbling, bumbling, pompousness, self-indulgence, self-inflated egocentrism, hypocrisy, flabby mediocrity, all the "running away when things get tough" - I know too that I don't have any power from my own self that can guarantee that I will ever be anything more than this mess, this human wreckage. 

Yet, Lord, whenever you ask me, "Do you love me?" the Holy Spirit comes, stirring the depths of my heart. I know what I want to say, what I was born to say: "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!

Yes, Lord. I don't know where this journey is taking me and I am often afraid and feel totally incompetent, but I believe in your love for me, and that you are with me, and that you will give me the strength to endure whatever comes (and joy too, far richer than any temporary thrills that we all try to conjure up without you, that always leave us disappointed). Yes, Lord, I love you and I trust in you. If I run off again, deny you, and do something stupid, please come find me! But, even better, never let me be separated from you, and grant that I might always love you.

And so, in these days, we hear the words of Jesus once again as He speaks to us in the Gospel of John:
"Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. 
"When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. 
"On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

“I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father. On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God. 

"I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father."

His disciples said, "Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God." Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. 

"I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world."

~John 16:20-33