Spirituality of the Readings
Stay a While
At schools such as Saint Louis University, the students and their life-networks fly away at the end of each school year. The school misses them when the year ends—a presider at a recent mass admitted this—with beautiful poignancy. I can remember the same thing from my own college days, especially if I stayed on after the last day. Empty halls and rooms and broad, completely undisturbed yards of grass. Yes, we were all glad to have the year done, but at the same time, why were the buildings deserted, and where was the buzzing life of intermingling students?
I think this is a pointer to the hollowness that the disciples must have felt, and especially the women who had loved Jesus so much. The passion had been the worst part as we said last week. But what could ever fill the gaping emptiness of death?
Graduated college students find ways to cope with their new lives apart from each other, and besides, who wants to stay in school forever? But what sort of lives were Jesus’ followers to find after the very center of their lives had been pulled away?
Well, you say, there was the resurrection. Correct. But we have seen how confusing this was to the disciples. Doubting Thomas said, “I will not believe this unless I put my hands on him.” And Jesus' new presence did not last so very long, did it? There was this week’s “Ascension,” that emptied their lives again all over.
One way to look at it is to say that he had graduated from life into Life. Having tunneled through the tight passageway of death—as you and I will do one day—he had given everything he was and everything he possessed to the Father out of sheer love. Instead of there being nothing left there was now a humanity transformed, a divine human person who had opened himself all the way and was marked with the totality of love. He was on his way back to the dynamic, swirling, Trinitarian circle of love from which his humanity had issued in the first place. He had lingered after the Resurrection only in order to tell us about it, to comfort us, to ease the loss.
“Stay in Jerusalem until my Spirit comes to fill your heart,” Jesus said to his followers (Ascension, First Reading). They were going to be filled “with all humility and gentleness, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit” (Second Reading).
This immense act of humble love, the resurrection, was going to be poured into us and it would be called the Holy Spirit. Jesus would continue to be alive within the world after all, but in a different form: that of our own human bodies. Loss and absence were to be turned into real presence.
In the Eucharistic Prayer and in Communion we take his body and blood into our own body and blood. The Spirit helps us accept his life, death, and resurrection. These settle into us and into others around us. This real presence now abides forever in our midst, urging us, gently nudging us to say yes.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University