Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 16:22-34  +  John 16:5-11

“But if I go, I will send Him to you.”

In addition to their divinity, the divine Persons of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were both sent by God the Father into this world, filled as it is by sin and death.  Their missions differ, yet their missions converge as God’s Providential Will unfolds within salvation history.

Of course, before considering the Son’s and the Holy Spirit’s missions within salvation history, we ought to reflect on their work “in the beginning”.   God the Father created everything in the universe, visible and invisible, through His divine Word, and through the Power of the Holy Spirit.  The creation narratives in Genesis are more suggestive than telling.  Nonetheless, they point us towards contrasts that we ought to reflect upon as we approach Pentecost:  contrasts, that is, between God’s work of creation “in the beginning”, and God’s work of redemption in the fullness of time.

Perhaps the most significant contrast between the missions of the Son and Spirit in creation, and then again their missions in the work of redemption, is that in the latter they manifest themselves incarnately.  Their missions converge within the Mystical Body of Christ.  “In the beginning”, the Word remained the Word.  But in the fullness of time, “the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us”.  “In the beginning”, the Spirit hovered silently over the face of the deep.  But in the fullness of time, He is the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, animating that Body’s members, so that the Christ’s saving work is carried out “unto the end of the age.”

Easter 6-2

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 16:11-15  +  John 15:26—16:4

“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify to me.”

Today Jesus—still addressing us from the Cenacle, at the Last Supper—proclaims the coming of the Holy Spirit. We note from Jesus’ words that—as we profess in the Church’s Creed—the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the God the Father and God the Son.  Jesus Himself describes God the Holy Spirit as the One “whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father”.

In the Creed of the First Council of Constantinople (in A.D. 431), the first ecumenical council to describe at any length the nature of God the Holy Spirit, the council Fathers stated that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the Giver of Life [and] proceeds from the Father….”  This council did not state that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  The phrase “and the Son” (in Latin, filioque) was added by the Church to the Creed later.  Controversy continues to this day as to the propriety of this addition.

Christians of the West accept the dogma of the Holy Spirit’s procession from both the Father and the Son.  We see in the doctrine an expression of the closeness of the Father and the Son, while maintaining their distinction as divine Persons.  God the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son because the Holy Spirit is the Love of the Father and the Son both for each other (not merely the love of one for the other).  Saint Augustine explores the meaning of this great teaching in his very long, profound, and difficult work “On the Trinity” (De Trinitate).  Pray for the Holy Spirit to enter your life more fully, and towards this end, plan to begin a novena to God the Holy Spirit this Thursday.

Easter 6-1 Holy Spirit

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 16:1-10  +  John 15:18-21

“I have chosen you out of the world ….”

In this Easter season, we continue to hear in the First Reading about the flurry of apostolic activity that spread through the world following the first Christian Pentecost.  But what of Mary, the lowly Virgin, mother of the child who grew in this world in order to offer His life in sacrifice for our sins?  What about the mother of Him who is the Good News that the apostles spread throughout the world?  Where is Mary at Pentecost?

We might forget that she is the Mother of God, the Mother of Him through whom all things were made.  We might forget that she, too, was present in that upper room.  Why is she there?  She surely had no need to receive that fullness of the Holy Spirit who descended at Pentecost.  Her Pentecost—her Confirmation, so to speak—took place at the Annunciation.  At that moment, the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowed her who had been sinless from the moment of her conception in the womb of Saint Anne.

At the Annunciation of the Good News, God became man:  Christ’s Body began forming within Mary’s womb.  Here in the upper room at Pentecost, that same Holy Spirit descends again, to overshadow the apostles.  Here in the upper room, Christ had offered the first celebration of the Sacrifice of the Eucharist.  There the Church—the Body of Christ—was born, that the apostles might go forth into the world to preach the Gospel and offer their lives in sacrifice for Christ.

Easter 5-6 Mary Trinity

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 15:22-31  +  John 15:12-17

“This is my commandment:  love one another as I love you.”

Today’s Gospel passage is often proclaimed at Nuptial Masses.  It speaks to the reality of love.  It gives some concrete form to love.  This concreteness is necessary when one lives—as you and I do—in a culture which equates love with warm, fuzzy feelings.

Today’s Gospel passage was written by St. John the Evangelist, who in one of his epistles tells us that “God is love” [1 John 4:8].  Today John quotes Jesus so as to give shape to the definition of God as love.  In terms of the divine Person of Jesus, John quotes Christ Himself.  The evangelist explains that “no one has greater love than… to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  The setting of today’s Gospel passage is the Last Supper.  As He spoke these words, Jesus knew that He would give the ultimate example of such love the next day.

But the Church proclaims today’s Gospel passage during the midst of Easter.  The reason for this is that Christ doesn’t want His disciples simply to admire His sacrifice, but to enter into it.  To do what our Savior commands, we need the power of the Holy Spirit, whom the Father and Son will send at Pentecost.  In the Spirit of the Father and the Son, you can find the strength to love your neighbor as Jesus has loved you.

Easter 5-5 Trinity Botticelli

The Sixth Sunday of Easter [C]

The Sixth Sunday of Easter [C]
Acts 15:1-222-29  +  Revelation 21:10-14,22-23  +  John 14:23-29

“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit … will teach you everything ….”

This Sunday’s Gospel Reading is set at the Last Supper.  Yet Jesus speaks in veiled terms about His Ascension to the Father, which of course took place less than seven weeks after the Last Supper.  In Sunday’s Gospel Reading, we hear Jesus proclaim:  “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father”.  But how could we expect the apostles to rejoice over Jesus leaving them?

After His Resurrection, Jesus could have remained in Jerusalem instead of ascending to Heaven.  Through His divine power, Jesus could have kept His resurrected, glorified body from ever aging, so that even today, He would still be just 33 years old.  From Jerusalem He would be still ruling the earth, settling disputes, and working miracles to dispel hunger and disease.

“Would not that have been a better world?”, we might ask.  Why, instead, did Jesus ascend to the Father’s Right Hand in Heaven, and establish in His stead a Church whose members have been unfaithful to the Church’s mission in every century of her history?  The answer points our attention to the divine virtues of faith, hope and love.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summary of Theology, teaches that “Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, [by which] He withdrew… from us, was more profitable for us” because it can “increase our faith, which is of things unseen.”  The apostle Thomas stands as a contrast to such a life of faith.  Doubting Thomas would not believe until he saw the Risen Lord.  Jesus calls us, instead, to fit our lives to His words:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” [John 20:29].

Likewise, “Christ’s Ascension into Heaven… was more profitable for us” because it can “uplift our hope”.  We might like to imagine that the earth would be a perfect place had Jesus never ascended, remaining to guide us through this world.  But it’s not for this world that Jesus became incarnate by the Virgin Mary, was crucified and rose again.  Remember that while Jesus miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead, His intention was not for Lazarus to live on this earth forever.  Jesus didn’t give Lazarus eternal life, but a reprieve from death.

Third, “Christ’s Ascension into Heaven… was more profitable for us” because it can “direct the fervor of our charity to heavenly things.”  In other words, we need Heaven to focus all the many different forms that virtue can take.  Every virtue is to culminate in the virtue of charity, and all charity is to culminate in an eternal share in God’s life in Heaven.

But here below, each of the virtues often wanders alone, degenerating into its own end.  One of the great apologists of the 20th century, the English convert G. K. Chesterton, put it this way:

“The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good.  It is full of wild and wasted virtues.  …  The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad.  The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.  [And so, for example,] some scientists care for truth; [but] their truth is [without pity].  [Also,] some humanitarians only care for pity; [but] their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.”

In the 21st century also, we see the virtues isolated from each other.  For example, there are scientists who would like to clone human beings.  This search for truth is divorced from the need for ethics:  specifically, from the need to respect the unique dignity of human nature.  Also, there are strict federal laws in our nation protecting the eggs of certain birds that are endangered species.  Yet this desire to have compassion for an innocent unborn bird is divorced by many from the need to have compassion for an innocent unborn human being.

In each such example, a desire to pursue a good is divorced from the larger picture.  This leaves another, also needed virtue out in the cold.  Looking to God—the Maker of all creatures and the origin of all Truth—focuses human efforts to do good, and helps us neither to do bad, nor to do good inconsistently.  In our efforts to do good, we can grow in all the virtues, and open our selves more fully to the life of God the Most Holy Trinity.

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 15:7-21  +  John 15:9-11

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love ….”

The long discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper, recorded in chapters 13-17 of John, has several themes which Jesus touches upon over and over again.  Jesus weaves these themes together, as if his words on this solemn night formed a tapestry of the Good News.

Jesus’ words—“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love”focus our attention on two of these themes:  “my commandments” and “my love”. Sometimes in a culture that encourages us to base our actions on our feelings, and which defines love as nothing more than a feeling, “commandments” and “love” seem directly opposed.  Some say, in fact, that the person who truly loves does not need commandments:  in this case, we could understand Jesus saying, “If you remain in my love, you will keep my commandments.”  But Jesus here says the opposite.

Jesus claims in this verse that if you keep His commandments, you will remain in His love.  His commandments are a means to the end of His love.  This is not to say that the opposite is not also true.  But Jesus’ words today remind us of the importance of His commandments, and that all of His commandments are in fact nothing more than commands to love God fully, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 15:1-6  +  John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”

Jesus today proclaims a powerful metaphor.  He captures the relationships among the Vinegrower, the Vine, and the branches with their fruit.  This metaphor expresses powerfully the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.  Within this relationship we see our place as members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

John’s account of the Gospel is the most mystical and sublime of the four Gospel accounts.  Therefore it’s also the most difficult to reach into and meditate upon.  Today’s metaphor opens a window into the sacred Teaching of the Beloved Disciple.

Begin with a simple question:  What is God the Father like as a Vinegrower?  This is a very simple, earthly and earthy image.  If you know anyone who is a gardener (or even more specifically, a vintner), you can picture some of the qualities that this image evokes.  The tenderness, patience, perseverance, and dedication that flow from this image teach us about the Love of the Father for His Son, and for us who are members of His Son’s Body.

Easter 5-3

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 14:19-28  +  John 14:27-31

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

One of the blessings of the priesthood is ministering to someone laying on his deathbed.  It’s certainly true that there’s often grief—sometimes dramatic grief—on the faces of loved ones surrounding the dearly departing.  Yet it’s rare to see someone who is dying cry.

Why would this be?  It’s not likely that the dying person loves those surrounding him less than they love him.  But his focus is different than the focus of those around him.  Their focus in upon him:  or, more specifically, losing him.  His focus, on the other hand, is the mystery of death, and the many questions posed by that mystery:  “Where am I going?”  “What and whom will I see there?”  “What has my life up to now amounted to?”

In the face of all those questions that fill the mind and heart of a dying person, that person usually experiences one of two things:  either anguish, or peace.  No doubt, you can find many different people to give you many different definitions of peace.  But the peace of the Christian who is dying in Christ is one of Our Lord’s greatest gifts.  Of course, we don’t have to wait until our deathbed to experience this peace.

Jesus speaks about this peace today.  Helpfully, Jesus clarifies what this peace is not:  “not as the world gives do I give it to you.”  The peace that the world seeks is fleeting and based on compromise.  The peace of Jesus, on the contrary, does not need to engage in compromise because it consists in what is truly best for each and all.  As such, it is abiding, as we are called to abide in Christ, and as He wishes to abide within each of us.

Do we believe that this sort of peace is truly possible in this world?  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible to fix our lives on this gift, and to abide in it throughout our lives.  However, to do so takes a lot of cultivation of our souls through works of sacrifice and the virtues.  The goal of all this is formation in the natural and supernatural virtues, that within each of us, God’s grace can take root and flower abundantly.

Easter 5-2 Last Supper

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 14:5-18  +  John 14:21-26

“… He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus speaks about the role that the Holy Spirit will play in the lives of the disciples after Jesus’ Ascension.  Although Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Advocate”—a legal term sometimes translated “Counselor”—it’s in terms of teaching that Jesus here describes the Holy Spirit’s mission.  “The Advocate… will teach you everything”.

The Holy Spirit teaching Jesus’ disciples is important because not only individuals, but mankind itself, learns only gradually.  Indeed, mankind learns only gradually over the course of human history.

Jesus did not reveal all truth.  Why not?  Jesus didn’t choose not to reveal the fullness of truth because of some defect in His teaching ability.  Rather, He chose not to reveal all truth because of the limits of human nature.  Jesus is Himself “Truth”, and since He is God, Jesus is infinite Truth.  Therefore, for a finite creature such as a disciple, the learning process must be both continual and everlasting.

Yet every Christian disciple is also called to be a teacher, sharing in Jesus’ teaching mission.  We learn not merely to learn how to get ourselves to Heaven, but also to teach others the Way.  But among the many truths that we learn through the Power of the Holy Spirit, perhaps the most fundamental is simply to turn the whole of our lives over to God:  that is, the truth that in commending our spirit into the Hands of the Father, our lives grow in goodness and peace.

Easter 5-1 Holy Spirit