6th Sunday of Easter – 21st May 2017

Leaving space for the rose-breath to fill

Scripture Reading – John 17:1-11

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:

‘Father, the hour has come:
glorify your Son
so that your Son may glorify you;
and, through the power over all mankind that you have given him,
let him give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him.
And eternal life is this:
to know you,
the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
I have glorified you on earth
and finished the work that you gave me to do.
Now, Father, it is time for you to glorify me
with that glory I had with you
before ever the world was.
I have made your name known
to the men you took from the world to give me.
They were yours and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now at last they know
that all you have given me comes indeed from you;
for I have given them the teaching you gave to me,
and they have truly accepted this, that I came from you,
and have believed that it was you who sent me.
I pray for them;
I am not praying for the world
but for those you have given me,
because they belong to you:
all I have is yours
and all you have is mine,
and in them I am glorified.
I am not in the world any longer,
but they are in the world,
and I am coming to you.’

Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“Leaving space for the rose-breath to fill “

by Rosemary O’Connor

In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus talks to his disciples about his returning to his Father and how they can remain connected with him. He says “if you love me you will keep my commandments”; he is referring here to the disciples remaining in communion with him. He tells them that the Father will send another Advocate who will remain with them forever – this he tells them is the Spirit of truth. John Shea refers to the sense of shared mission and internal dwelling which makes the Spirit the continuing interior presence of Jesus.

Jesus goes on to say that he will not leave the disciples orphaned; although he will leave them they will always remain connected to him and to the Father through the Spirit. John Shea describes it as Jesus leaving them in one way but remaining with them in another way. If we look at this from a wordly perspective we see Jesus’s death as the loss of his physical presence and therefore the loss of him. Jesus does not want us to see things from a wordly perspective. He says ‘In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live”. Jesus is inviting us to connect with him at a spiritual level deep within ourselves. We connect with him though his presence within us – that is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When we follow Jesus’s direction to love others we are connecting with his presence – the Holy Spirit within them.

Recognising Jesus in others isn’t always easy, but it is necessary for us to live out the Gospel. Mother Teresa, now St Teresa of Calcutta said “Whenever I meet someone in need, it is really Jesus in his most distressing disguise.”

In her autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” St. Thérèse of Lisieux writes about one particular nun who got under her skin, saying the woman irritated her no matter what she said or did.

St. Thérèse wrote “As I did not want to give way to my natural dislike for her, I told myself that charity should not only be a matter of feeling but should show itself in deeds. So I set myself to do for this sister just what I should have done for someone I loved most dearly,” Every time she met this nun, she prayed for her. She did things for her day after day, and when she thought she might say something unpleasant about her, she smiled instead.

St. Thérèse wrote “And after all this she asked me one day with a beaming face, ‘Sister Thérèse, will you please tell me what attracts you so much to me? You give me such a charming smile whenever we meet,’” St. Thérèse concluded “Ah! It was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul who attracted me, Jesus who makes the bitterest things sweet!”

Pope Francis advises us to “be guided by the Holy Spirit, allow him to speak to our hearts and he will tell us this: that God is love, he’s always waiting for us, he is a Father who loves us like a real Dad and only the Holy Spirit can tell our hearts this.”

Key to helping us recognise Jesus in others is prayer – taking time to replenish our souls and connect with the Holy Spirit at work within and amongst us. We need to leave room for the Spirit to work with us. William Butler Yeats talks about leaving “a little space for the rose-breath to fill”. We need to leave space in our lives where we are open to the movement of the Spirit within us. Let us be open to the mystery.

Pope Francis asks us:
“Are we open to the Holy Spirit, do I pray to him to enlighten me, to make me more sensitive to the things of God? And this is a prayer we need to pray every day: Holy Spirit may my heart be open to the Word of God, may my heart be open to good, may my heart be open to the beauty of God, every day.”

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

To console the disciples during his absence, Jesus promises the Counsellor, the Spirit whom the world will never receive. The emptiness left by Jesus will be filled by his Spirit. The absence of the Risen One should not be a reason for nostalgia in the hearts of his disciples because the Counsellor, the defence advocate, who will make Christ known, will remain with them. They should not feel sad that Jesus is far away from them, when they still have the Spirit of Jesus with them. Whoever possesses the Spirit can dare to love the one whose absence he feels. The measure of love is not the intensity of our affection but our radical obedience. Anyone who feels sad about the absence of his Lord has a duty to fulfil his will. Jesus did not leave his disciples abandoned, and neither did he leave them unemployed. Whoever possesses the Spirit in his heart keeps his hands busy in obedience and his heart filled with fraternal love.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The sense of abandonment felt by the community in which John lived must have been profound and unexpected, even though Jesus had prepared them for his departure. Our text is part of the long farewell discourse (Jn 13, 1-17,26) in which Jesus anticipated the difficulties his disciples would experience and helped them to overcome them. His going will make new presences possible. Jesus promises his disciples a presence equivalent to his own (Jn 14, 12-14), the presence of the Counsellor (Jn 14,15-17), and his own new presence (Jn 14,18-21). It is significant that the text begins and ends with the same motif – love for Jesus (Jn 14, 15.21) which is shown by doing his will (Jn 14, 15.21.23.24). There is a slight but important difference: at the beginning Jesus addresses his disciples “if you love me …” At the end he thinks of all who keep his commandments for love of him (“anybody who loves me”).  Love for the absent Lord is to be seen in obedience to his will and not in feeling sad over his departure. The community without Jesus is the place where his command is to be fulfilled: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14, 15).

Obedience to Jesus ensures his intercession with the Father and the sending of the Counsellor or Advocate (Jn 14, 16).  The mission of this Counsellor is identical to that of Jesus. In fact, he represents Jesus in his absence, and for as long as he is absent, until the end of time. He will be present in those who love Jesus and will remain with them (14, 16.17). His role is to guarantee the truth among believers, as the first Counsellor already did (14, 17; 1,14; 14,16; 15,26; 16,13). This Spirit of truth does not belong to the world, but remains in the community, with the result that the Spirit is not known or received by the world. The Advocate of Jesus separates and distinguishes believers from the world. He does not act in worldly space but only where Christ is loved and his will is done.

The absence of Jesus does not make the disciples desolate but brings about a new presence of Jesus among them. As well as promising a new advocate, Jesus also promises that he will return (Jn 14, 18). Jesus will disappear from the world, but not from the eyes of his disciples because he lives and will live in those who believe (Jn 14, 19). This coming of Jesus to his community will not be the final coming which will be for all to see (1Thess. 4, 16-17; Mk 13,24-26; Lk 17,22-24) but it will be no less effective. The disciples are not abandoned. This is how John explains to his community the Paschal experience of the first witnesses: the presence of the Risen Lord continues in the community to this day.

Anyone who wishes can be obedient and so enjoy the love of the Father and of the Son. Love which obeys the will of Jesus ensures the love of the Father and the definitive revelation of Jesus (Jn 14, 21). The Father is no longer unknown and he loves those who obey. In this way the author has succeeded in expressing theologically what the Christian experiences in his daily life, namely that the Christian community loves the Lord because it does his will and in turn feels loved by the Father. “Now he loves us so that we may believe and keep the precepts of faith. Then he will love us so that we will see and receive this vision as a reward for faith. We also love now, believing what we will see then, and then we will love seeing what we now believe.” (St Augustine).

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

The Gospel reminds us today of the promises Jesus made to his disciples before finally leaving them.  He prepared them for a new era in which they would have to face new challenges and assume new tasks, without the constant support of his presence and his advice. Jesus knew very well that his disciples would feel abandoned in a hostile world, still weak in fidelity and alone with their fears. Foreseeing their difficulty, Jesus consoles the disciples he was about to leave, promising to send them his Spirit. He would not, therefore, leave them abandoned. He would no longer be with them in body as he had been until now, but he would be available to them spiritually in a new and permanent way.

This promise of Jesus extends also to us today. Unlike the first disciples, we have not known Jesus in the flesh, but, like them, we have received the promise of his Spirit, as long as we continue to follow him.  He follows us, consoling us in our hearts. It is true that today, at a distance of two thousand years and without having enjoyed the direct presence of Jesus, it is difficult for us to feel as they did when they lost him. But it is also true that, like the disciples who lost him, we too feel abandoned. The absence of Jesus in our world is a weight upon us.  The promises of Jesus, therefore, interest us. When we hear them today they are our new ‘gospel’, the real good news.

Jesus does not abandon his disciples totally when he departs from them, as he assures us in his first word of consolation. He leaves them a task which is to love him by obeying him, and to follow him without possessing him. “If you love me you will keep my commandments” Jesus knew that the greatest danger facing the disciples was that they would think that, since he was no longer by their side, they did not have to continue to obey him. Jesus wants those who experience his presence less to love him more. Doing his will even though we perceive him absent from our lives, and obeying his will precisely when we do not feel him near, is the way to make him present and active until his return.

We often take refuge in the apparent distance of Jesus from our world – and from the world of our heart – and we forget to do his will. We make his absence an excuse for our disobedience, and in doing so, we enlarge the emptiness in our lives. If we really loved him we would live as God commands. It would not matter much to us that we do not feel him close to us. If we really loved him, we would make his will the norm of our existence until he comes and imprints his will in our hearts. It is a poor way of loving the one whose absence we feel if we forget to do what pleases him or if we disobey him just because he is absent. The proof that we love him in his absence is that we do his will. If the will of Jesus is the norm of our lives, we will not feel abandoned and left alone. If we do not have him with us, then, at least, we have those whom he has sent.  If we cannot love him in person, we can still love his will.

But Jesus does not leave us only with obligations. He promised to obtain for us from God a unique Counsellor, his own Spirit, the same Spirit that animated him throughout the whole of his life, while he lived with his disciples, and fills him with life now that he is with God. He gives him to us to intercede for us. If we lose by not having Jesus in visible form at our side or in our hearts, we can console ourselves that we already possess his Spirit. We ought to ask ourselves why we continue to feel abandoned by God when we have the very spirit of Jesus. The disciple whom Jesus leaves for a little while in the world, has a defence advocate who accompanies him always. But the disciple will have this advocate only if he does not abandon himself to the world, allowing it to become master of his heart and his will.

If we grow tired of obeying Jesus and loving him in his absence, he will not be able to send us his Spirit to defend us. The world, which is in reality the absence of God and ignorance of his will, cannot receive the Spirit of Jesus. If we decide to live according to the preferences and norms of the world and to obey its customs and laws, we deprive ourselves of Jesus and his Spirit. Is that not exactly what is happening to the majority of Christians? We live lamenting the absence of God, not realizing that we have received his Spirit. If this world is our homeland, God will not be our home. Until we put Christ and his will at the centre of our lives, we will not receive his Spirit and we will continue to feel abandoned.

Jesus has promised consolation and has promised the Consoler to whoever does his will. Rather than asking ourselves, then, why we do not succeed in living as true Christians even though Jesus has consoled us, we ought to ask ourselves if, in reality, we observe his will.

The one who is faithful to God becomes trustful. The one who does not doubt the promise of Jesus does not fall into the temptation of feeling abandoned. If we do not want to lose God, we must put him at the centre of our lives. When his will becomes our rule of life, we will feel loved by God. When we do the will of Jesus, we will feel loved by him. We believers are responsible for removing God from the world when we live without giving him our attention and our obedience. If we do not want him in our hearts, we exclude him from our world. And if we feel alone and neglected by him, it is because we have abandoned him and neglected to do his will.

We should not forget the third promise of Jesus that he will return. His disappearance is temporary, his leaving us only for a time. Those who bear with his absence and live according to his will, possess his Spirit and know that they are defended by him. They will feel comforted by his imminent return. “I will not leave you orphans. I will come back to you.” One way to regain joy is to wait for him without doubting his return, even though we still do not have him close to us.  As Christians today, we have many things at our disposal, but we live with little hope. We accumulate goods that will perish and try to fill our lives with them. We do not want to lack anything, but we are still not able to live in hope. And yet, for one who is waiting for the Lord, all that he has counts for little and cannot fill the emptiness in his life. The goods we possess are not bad, nor are persons or things, but we must not make them our definitive desire, lest we lose out on what is most important. Living in hope means knowing that our beloved Lord is still to come, and that what we are waiting for is far better than what we already possess.

Pray the text. Desire God’s will: What do I say to God?

You have gone from our world, Lord Jesus, and we feel abandoned. Your absence pains us as much as our loneliness. Do not allow us to make our home in a world where you are not present. Do not let us feel at home until you are present.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for teaching me how to live without you but without losing you, how to be without you and not feel abandoned. Thank you for giving me your will when you deny me your presence! Thank you for letting me know that I love you when I do your will. I want to do your will so that I may feel your presence in my life. I know that I love you and this is enough for me to bear your absence from my world.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for leaving me protected and consoled, for being so concerned for me that you gave me your Spirit.  The Spirit, who gave you life after death and restored you to the Father, now defends me from death and will give me one day the joy of your presence. The same Spirit speaks to me of you when I feel your absence. Thank you, Lord! You are wonderful indeed!

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for promising that you will return, that you cannot remain without me. The news of your return fills my loneliness with hope, and makes it easier to bear your absence. Knowing that you will come fills me with longing for you. I am preparing already for your coming and this frees me from feeling lonely. I thank you with all my heart that you have decided that, since you do not yet have me with you, for this very reason you will return for me.

PRAYER

Almighty God,
give us the grace of an attentive love
to celebrate these days of joy
devoted to the honour of the Risen Lord.
Teach us to hold fast in our actions
to the mystery we recall in worship.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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LeavingSpaceForTheRoseBreathToFill