Gospel Reflection – 6th Sunday of Easter – Peace I bequeath you
In the opening prayer of today’s Mass we ask God to help us celebrate our joy in the resurrection of the Lord. The Gospel reading today (John 14: 23-29) sparkles with reasons for Christian joy. It is set in the uplifting conversation of Jesus with his disciples after the last supper. The disciples were confused and numbed when Jesus was telling them that he was going away, but he consoled them with some wonderful promises.
Allow yourself to be loved
The first consolation of Jesus reminds us of how much God loves us. Many people know of God’s love with their brains but not in their hearts. Do yourself a favour and get a copy of the booklet of Pope Francis called Rejoice and be Glad. He tells us, “Do not be afraid to set your hearts higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself to be guided by the Holy Spirit” (Paragraph 34).
Why does Francis ask us to allow ourselves to be loved and liberated by God? I suggest that we are inclined to take ourselves too seriously and do not take God seriously enough. We think that we have to merit God’s love. We do not deserve love. We need to be liberated from the chains of unworthiness, guilt and fear.
Here is a story I came across recently in a book called The Jesus Prayer by Frederica Mathewes Green. It happened when Romania was under the brutal rule of atheistic Communism. A priest named Fr. Iscu was arrested and imprisoned. He was beaten so much by one of the prison officers that his injuries eventually brought him to the point of death. In the meantime, the prison officer fell out of favour and he too was tortured to the point of death. Providence intervened and it happened that both were hospitalised in the same ward. The Communist now filled the ward with his cries that he was not ready to die because of all the people he had murdered. Fr. Iscu recognised him and asked others to help him totter to the bedside of the wailing man. He embraced his murderer and told him that he loved him. “If I who am a sinner can love you so much, imagine how much Christ, who died to set us free, loves you. He wishes you to be saved even more than you wish to be saved.” He explained how he might confess how sorry he was now for all the tortures he had inflicted. The guilty man found the words with tears of repentance and the priest pronounced the forgiveness of God. Both of them died that night. It happened to be Christmas Eve, a night when Christ was born in the heart of a Communist murderer. He allowed himself to be loved and liberated.
God wishes to set up home in us
Jesus continues his conversation with the disciples. “Everyone who loves me, will keep my word, and my Father will love them and we shall come and make our home with them.” This is called the divine indwelling, which many regard as the best kept secret in Christianity.
Saint Augustine wrote a poetic description of his conversion to God. “Late have I loved you, O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you. You were within and I was in the external world and sought you there and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely creatures which you had made. You were with me and I was not with you.” Augustine moved from the things of the external world to the presence of God within. So, if you think that you are a million miles from God, guess who moved! Contemplative prayer begins when we grow in awareness of God’s presence in us. Some call it Christian mindfulness, being more attentive to God dwelling within us.
The role of the Holy Spirit
Jesus continues to strengthen the disciples, speaking of the Holy Spirit. I grew up in the days when the Holy Spirit, then given the scary name Holy Ghost, was seriously forgotten. It is one of the seeds of hope for the Church today that the role of the Holy Spirit is more appreciated. Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit as the Advocate. This is a Latin name, meaning the One-called-to-your-side as your friend, your support, your inspiration, your guide. Advocate is an exact Latin translation of Paraclete in Greek. Jesus knew that his disciples were confused so he promised that the Holy Spirit would be with them and within them to remind them all that he had taught them.
The gift of God’s peace
Having spoken about the unconditional, unmerited love of God, then about the divine indwelling and the support of the Holy Spirit, Jesus summed it all up as peace. Not any kind of peace but that same strength in serenity of mind and heart which Jesus showed on the very eve of his painful passion and death. “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give.” His peace is an inner strength drawn from the belief that God is always with us. Not only with us but within us.
Jesus continues his conversation with the disciples. “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid … Trust in God still and trust in me.”
God is knocking on the door of your heart, longing to set up home within you. Be not afraid. Allow yourself to be loved and liberated.
Without the Holy Spirit:
God is far away, Christ stays in the past, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is simply an organization, authority a matter of domination, mission a matter of propaganda, liturgy no more than a rigid ritual, and Christian living a slave morality.
But with the Holy Spirit:
The Cosmos is resurrected and groans with the birth-pangs of the Kingdom, the risen Christ is here, the Gospel is the power of life, the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity, authority is a liberating service, mission is a new Pentecost, the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation, human action is deified.
(Reflection of a bishop of the Eastern rite)