Monday, May 3, 2021

Jesus is the Way to the Father

May 3rd honors Saints Philip and James, two of the Twelve Apostles (this is the younger James - not the son of Zebedee - but "James the Less"). They are joined together in the Roman calendar because of the basilica that was built on the site of their relics (bones), which were brought to Rome and reinterred there in ancient times. The basilica today is called Santi Apostoli
In the liturgy for today's celebration, we read in the Gospel the second part of the introduction to the what have been called the "farewell discourses" of Jesus (John, chs 14, 15, and 16). These words are spoken only to the Lord's closest companions, as the setting indicates (it is on the way to Gethsemane, following the Last Supper). The discourse of John 14:1-14 can be seen as an identifiable "segment" within the teaching presented in these three chapters. Everyone would agree on the crucial significance of Jesus's words here.

In vv 1-6 it is Thomas who asks the decisive question (and we read this part of the gospel last Friday). Today, Philip the Apostle asks the question that permits Jesus to provoke the disciples (and us) once again with the stunning, mysterious, and in a sense "overwhelming" affirmation of who He is.

We bring our questioning hearts before the Lord every day, begging for the fullness of life. Jesus continually reminds us, "I am the way and the truth and the life." So often we are afraid in a world where God seems to be absent, but Jesus draws close to us through the sacraments and through His presence in the companionship we share as members of His Body, the Church, and He says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."

The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to seek Jesus, hope in Him, trust that His presence is sufficient for us no matter how difficult the circumstances we face. God has drawn close to us, walks with us, stays with us, and draws us into union with Himself.

The gift of God in answer to our hearts is Himself. He is so much more than we ever would have imagined; He is infinitely beyond any possibility we can grasp by our own power. But His compassion is boundless. His infinity is the infinity of Love. He has promised to give us whatever we need to attain the fullness of His joy which is our destiny.

When I was younger, I had a Cistercian monk from Holy Cross Abbey in Berryvilke, Virginia as my "spiritual father" (we lived closer to the monastery in those days). After confession, he always gave me as penance the task of prayerfully reading chapters 14, 15, and 16 of the Gospel of John. As you can imagine, that takes a bit longer than saying "three Hail Marys." But I think Father Edward (may he rest in Christ's peace) considered this reading to be more a joyful than a burdensome penance, and he was right.

We will hear most of these three chapters during the daily liturgy between now and Pentecost, as we prepare to welcome the Holy Spirit who opens our minds and leads us into the truth these words express. Especially during these precious days of the Easter Season, we will be greatly blessed by these Scriptures. Our attention to them will bear abundant fruit.

Here I represent John 14:1-14, the Gospel texts from last Friday and today's liturgy, the words spoken by Jesus to Saint Philip, Saint James, and the other Apostles:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“'Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house
there are many dwelling places.
If there were not, would I have told you
that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.'
Thomas said to him,
'Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?'
Jesus said to him,
'I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me
then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him 
and have seen him.'
Philip said to him,
'Master, show us the Father,
and that will be enough for us.'
Jesus said to him,
'Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, "Show us the Father?"
Do you not believe that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you
I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me 
is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me,
or else,
believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me
will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, 
I will do it.'"