Spirituality of the Readings
Closer Than Ever
In Sunday's liturgy, Jesus says, “If you loved me you would rejoice.”
Imagine this: your best friend is leaving town, the one you had counted on for any trouble you just needed to share. There is no way to change his/her going, it is virtually certain.
What do you do with your sorrow?
In the reading, Jesus was leaving.
He told Mary Magdalene he must go to the Father. He had plunged into death and he swam to shore, but nevertheless could not stay on in this world.
We sorrow, big time.
Sunday, this is the story of the Gospel. The crucifixion had taken him away from us, and now his ascension will make his absence completely final. We, along with the apostles, do not want to lose him one more time! We are aghast that our friend is going away.
Think of the experience of a funeral. You may be truly glad that your beloved no longer has the pains and shortages of this life. But you do not get your own burden lifted, you get more added to it. He or she is gone.
Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, I am going away and I will come back to you.” Going away but coming back? What kind of sense does this make?
(1) Start with the pre-Jesus world. God the Father had been with the people for all ages. The First Testament tells this over and over.
But God the Father stayed unknowable in very important ways. He told Moses that he, God, would pass by the mouth of a cave where Moses was, and …
… when my glory passes I will set you in the cleft of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face may not be seen. (Exodus 33: 22)
To see God directly would destroy a human being.
(2) To close this gap, God decided to tell us everything about himself in a way we could understand. He speaks out his very self using a Word that left nothing unsaid. Jesus was that Word, spoken in the large language called humanity. Now God can be known because we can know Jesus.
(3) Jesus dies, resurrects and ascends to the Father from whom he came. Are we abandoned?
Just as the Father had done, Jesus actually spoke out his very self in a further Word that left nothing of himself unsaid. That Word is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the full reality of a human being called Jesus, who is already the very interior reality of God. We are to be closer to Jesus and to the Father even than the apostles were!
If you and I say yes to this Spirit, we will know that Jesus is with us, just as sheep know the voice of their shepherd. In knowing Jesus, we will know the presence of the Father. We will find him in the Mass, in the Great Sacrament of Baptism, in prayer, in the people around us. We will be side by side with the closest possible presence of the God of love.
So we needn’t sorrow. Nice as it might have seemed to experience Jesus in his physical company, we now have a much closer relation to him in the here and now.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University