God our Father has sent His Son to us not to condemn us but to show us that He loves us. He wants to save us, to save us by being joined into His Son and with His Son to return to Him, our Father in heaven. With that in mind, what is God telling us in His word for us on this 6th Sunday of Easter?
All of us have had to face moments of departure and loss. Was it when we were desperately in love and then the one we loved left us? Was it when we graduated from school and then suffered separation from our dear friends? Was it when a spouse or a child went off to war somewhere? Was it when we had to take a job in a city far away? For those leaving it is a wrenching experience. For those left behind it is equally wrenching, perhaps even more so. The moments and days approaching departure are filled with terrible anxiety. Our hearts are filled with fear and sorrow.
Such a time, experienced by Jesus’ closest friends, is presented to us in today’s Gospel account (Jn 14:23-29). The scene is set during the Last Supper. Jesus’ words are a part of His last discourse, the thoughts and words He was sharing with them immediately before His passion and impending agony and death. The tragedy was just about to occur and He was giving them His last words of love.
What was going through Jesus’ mind? I imagine He was feeling much like a parent feels when his or her child or children will be left on their own. They will have to fend for themselves. They will have to find protection and security using whatever devices they had learned while they were at home. So, too, while they were with Him, Jesus had protected them. Who would protect them now? Who would guard them, care for them, and provide for them?
The Church gives us this setting as she prepares us for another departure, namely the Ascension of Jesus – His going back to His Father in heaven, the event we will remember in next weekend’s liturgies. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” He tells them. He promises them God’s presence will be given them in a new way. The Holy Spirit will be with them to comfort them, empower them, and inspire them. They will, however, have to see God and experience God in a new way, in a spiritual way, in an inner way. God’s presence will no longer be tangible and visible to them, immediately available to them as a close friend embodied in a human body. The Jesus they had known was about to become Someone new and different for them.
There is no experience in life that is more frightening, sadder and more tragic than the experience of not belonging to anyone. To not belong to anyone is a terrible and terrifying thing for any one of us. We are, after all, made to belong. We are made in the image and likeness of God, the God whose very nature is three Divine Persons totally belonging to each other. To not belong, therefore, strikes at the very ground of our existence… our very reason for being. To be left alone is a fearsome thing. It directly contradicts the way God made us to live.
We are, however, not left alone. God has not left us, nor will He ever leave us. We have His powerful, loving, caring and life-giving presence for us in His Holy Spirit, the One who dwells in His Church. Today’s first reading taken from the Book of Acts (15:1-2; 22-29) gives us a glimpse into where we will find God after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. We find God in belonging, belonging in His Mystical Body the Church.
The urge to belong, the drive for community, grounds all of creation. I say “grounds” because everything is built upon God. We, precisely as persons, mirror God’s very own existence, namely the being of God that is found in the total and infinite union of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are, divine revelation tells us, made in the image and likeness of God. We are created to live in God’s very own way of living. Our existence and our lives are made for living in community, in communion and love with others.
The Church exists for that purpose. The Church exists not only to bring us into union with God through, with and in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, but the Church likewise exists to bring us into communion with each other. Holy Communion not only unites us with the risen Christ, it also unites us with each other in Christ’s very own life, the life He gave to share with us, the life in which we are, in Christ, taken back to our Father in heaven.
The Book of Acts is a book that’s all about that. It is in that communion, in that community or family of faith that we call the Church. It is in our Holy Communion that God comes to us in Christ and we return to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in His risen Christ.
The very life of the Church as it is expressed in its actions. The RCIA is all about community. The Church’s concern for family is all about that. Parish life is all about community. Catholic Charities is all about community. Catholic schools are all about community. The urge to belong, the drive for community, is deep within the very nature of the Church, the expression of the Mystical Body of the risen Christ.
The terrible thing about sin is that it isolates us. It tears apart the bonds of communion. It attacks belonging. It sets the individual self and the individual will over and against all others, including God. I cannot imagine a hell worse than having only my self to live with and love without anyone else to live for and to love. Hell, it seems to me, is to live forever in an infinite isolation, cut off from any sort of belonging. Sin is the diabolical opposite of living in communion with others and with God.
Perhaps this helps us realize why the main pastoral effort of the Church is that of forgiveness, to bring God’s healing and loving reconciliation and forgiveness to everyone, no matter how depraved, no matter how steeped in sin they may be. This, after all is said and done, was the chief ministry of Christ Jesus, the ministry of reconciliation. It was His first gift to us immediately after He rose from the dead.
His ascension into heaven must be seen in that light. In His resurrected and Spirit-filled humanity He has ascended into heaven in order that we, in Him, might return to our Father, the One who made us in the first place to belong to Him forever in love.
May you and I, all together, live in God’s love with each other. We do, after all, belong. That is why Jesus is here for you and for me in His Holy Communion.