6th Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020
Today’s gospel takes place during the last supper as Jesus prepares to face his death. Jesus knows that the end is near. His disciples sense from his words and gestures that storm clouds are gathering for their friend and mentor as well as for themselves. So, in anticipation of the events that were soon to unfold, Jesus reassures his disciples that they would not be left alone but that the Father would give them another Advocate – the Spirit of Truth – who would remain with them and within them forever. “I will not leave you orphans. … In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”
Jesus assures his disciples that his suffering and death – far from being the end of his story – would set the stage for God to perform his greatest act in raising Jesus to life and in pouring forth the Spirit upon the followers of his Son – thereby giving them – and all of us – a way forward in life with hope – despite the struggles, pain and suffering of this world.
A few years ago, I visited with a woman whom I’ve known for many years just prior to her son’s funeral Mass. He died quite unexpectedly in his 40’s. Sadly, this woman also buried her husband, her parents and her only other son as well. … I will never forget the words that she shared with me that day.
When I embraced her in the receiving line in the church, I was keenly aware of her loss and the inadequacy of anything that I might be able to share. She, however, with all of her grief and pain, offered these incredible words of faith. “God has taken back everything that he gave me. … But how can I ever be mad at God? … He’s carried me for all of these years and has never let me down.”
Pretty amazing words, aren’t they? And my friend still lives by those words today. … Could any of us offer those words in the face of such suffering and pain – and really mean them? I don’t know. … I do know one thing, however. This dear woman has been able to survive and express such hope – despite the weight of the crosses that she carries – because of her belief in the great mystery that lies at the heart of our faith: through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, we are born anew through Baptism and rise from our crosses and deaths to life and resurrection – yes, in the world to come but even now, on our journey of faith in this world.
My friends, I’d suggest that as we continue to face the health crisis that has enveloped our world and all of the grief, upheaval, loneliness and pain that it has wrought in our lives, it would be well for all of us to reflect upon the gift of our faith. For all that we profess, how does one make such an affirmation of faith and hope as that proclaimed by my friend? … How? … It depends upon where we look and how we understand God’s plan of salvation that we celebrate today.
If we believe that we’re owed a perfect life that’s stress free and filled with all sorts of pleasures and good health, we’ll likely be disappointed. The pandemic that we’re dealing with should convince us that life is far more precarious than we’d like to admit. … What’s more, my sisters and brothers, nowhere in the scriptures are we ever told that faith will assure us of life without a cross. … If, however, we are humble and wise enough to probe the miracle of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus, we’ll discover a pathway to hope and peace, regardless of how life unfolds around us.
Pope Benedict, years ago, offered these profound words that speak to the hope we all seek in life and that prompt us to be present here today. “Christian hope means to know about evil and yet to go to meet the future with confidence.” … Hope for the Christian – for me and you – does not emerge, then, from the absence of suffering and pain in our lives. Hope grows from a relationship with Jesus and our belief in the power of God at work within him.
But the Word of God also reminds us that Jesus’ gift of hope miraculously grows when we understand that it is not a gift meant to be preserved solely for ourselves. … In just a few days we’ll celebrate the Lord’s ascension into heaven and we will hear the final words of Jesus spoken to his disciples in St. Matthew’s gospel. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” … In short, God’s gift of life and salvation is received by the followers of Jesus only to be given away.
As Christians, then, we exist for a purpose: to proclaim the good news of Jesus! … We exist to proclaim love and respect for creation – especially that part of creation made in the image and likeness of God. … We exist to feed, clothe and heal the wounded and broken. … We exist to love, to forgive and to work for peace – in our families – among our friends – and in the world that God has given to us – even and especially during these days of pain and struggle.
Brothers and sisters, it’s certainly true that the crosses that find their way into our lives often get far more of our attention than the consolation and joy we also experience. May we pray today for the grace of God to open our eyes to the blessings that we’ve all been given through faith and so find our peace, even in the midst of these difficult days.