Fifth Sunday of Eastertide (A)
(Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7; 1st. Letter of St. Peter 2:4-9; Gospel of St. John 14:1-12)
With the Gospel passage we have just heard we are introduced into what might be called the ‘Holy of holies of the New Testament’. These intimate words after the Last Supper which Jesus had so ‘eagerly desired to eat with His disciples’ contain what is, in effect, the last manifestation of His deeply sympathetic understanding of and Personal concern for those whom the Father had specially given to Him, and whom He had long cherished and come to love so dearly, before Himself being given up to death – a death He not only freely accepted but also most lovingly embraced, ‘entering willingly into His Passion’, as the second Eucharistic Prayer puts it.
Jesus had already gathered the Apostles round Him for their Paschal meal in the course of which He told them – to His great distress and theirs – that one of them would betray Him; whereupon they were left anxiously wondering who it could be since Jesus did not publicly name Judas Iscariot. The atmosphere in the room was depressed even tense, but Judas then went out -- apparently on a mission confided to him, but in fact into the night and for the powers of darkness -- whereupon the general sense of threat and despondency among the Apostles was lifted and they were free again to respond to Jesus’ words of exultation:
Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. (John 13:31)
This stark transition from recent depression and foreboding to present joy and expectation affected Peter most of all, for when Jesus went on to say:
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come’,
Peter could not accept the thought of any such limitation to his zeal for and attachment to Jesus:
Master, why can’t I follow You? I will lay down my life for You!
Jesus therefore had to warn him that, despite his present feelings, he would soon deny Him three times.
Jesus, however, having just intoned ‘Gloria’ to God did not want to leave His disciples in any atmosphere of depression due to their own emotional instability, and so He hastened to sustain, strengthen, and confirm them in their Gospel faith by encouraging and advising them how to attain to that peace and joy which awaited them in heaven, however much the threatening clouds might gather around them here on earth and against Himself at this decisive moment:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
He says the same to His Catholic people today, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled!’ Difficulties will inevitably arise, for the devil is at work in the world, and in our own weak, sinfully-inclined hearts and minds; which, of course, also means, at work in His Church, and even, most sadly, among those specially consecrated to the glory of His Name. Nonetheless, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled!’ Have faith in God (He is Lord and Master of all), have faith also in Me (for I have promised to be with you in My Church until the end of time).
People of God, it is a sign of true love for Jesus (‘true love’ because it may be totally unnoticed by men) when we refuse to allow our hearts to be weighed down, our minds absorbed in or worried by, the cares of this world. Such trials will inevitably arise in our lives at times, but if we really want to trust God, if we truly aspire to love Jesus, we must not ‘let our hearts be troubled’ in such ways; for yielding ourselves to them, under whatever guise they may present themselves to us, ultimately promotes but one thing: deeper self-solicitude and hidden self-love.
As Jesus continued speaking to His disciples, opening His Sacred Heart to them more and more, He added:
If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you also may be.
How the Apostles longed to be with Jesus!! How gladly they had given up everything in order to be with Him in His public ministry! And here Jesus tells all who -- together with the Apostles -- long for that supreme blessedness of ‘being with Him’, that ultimately it cannot be achieved by our own efforts; we can only be truly and fully ‘one with Him’ by His coming to us and our allowing Him to take charge of our lives.
I will come back again and take you to Myself.
Not that Jesus will do everything, of course, because He has come down to us that we might rise to life in Him and learn to work with Him and by His Spirit for the Father’s glory and mankind’s salvation; and so He immediately calls on them to prepare themselves:
Where I am going you know the way.
The way, that is, already proclaimed by the Good News of the Gospel, the way along which all those who believe in God must walk towards their Father’s heavenly home. Let the Apostles prepare themselves to start immediately with both confidence and humility, sure in the knowledge that they will ultimately reach their destination if they walk in the company of Jesus. That is why Jesus will return: to take them with Himself along the Way which is Himself.
To make that journey with Jesus, however, we still need guidance lest we stray away from the right path, and stamina lest we fail to hold fast to the end of the road. And so it is as the eternal light of Truth and font of Life that Jesus offers His disciples such guidance and stamina, saying:
I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
At that moment Philip came up with a question that no doubt astonished his fellow Apostles -- how could Philip have asked such a question in their name and at such a time! -- and Jesus Himself:
Master, show us the Father and that will be enough for us!
This both astonished Jesus and it hurt Him!
Have I been with you for so long a time, and you still do not know Me, Philip?
That question, I say, hurt Jesus because it showed that Philip was not fully content to be with Jesus; it showed that he did not, as yet, really love Jesus enough, and consequently did not truly know Him either. Philip, wanted certainty for himself, the relative certainty of sight rather than the obscurity of faith. He wanted to be secure, safe at the destination; not always walking ’blind’ with Jesus, having to trust Jesus totally, and all along the way. Philip was not yet content to be with Jesus in faith; he wanted what he thought was more, what was better: to see the Father with his own eyes. How foolish!! What eyes could better see the Father than Jesus eyes!
It was clear-- embarrassingly clear even to his fellow Apostles and, of course, painfully clear for Jesus – that He, Jesus, was not yet, Philip’s all; there was so much of Philip not yet given to Jesus, so much of Philip still wanting for Philip!
And how many of us, likewise, want to see results and get more for ourselves! We want to see ourselves – and perhaps we want to be seen by others -- doing things for God, things that show to others and prove to ourselves how much we deserve a place in heaven, rather than trusting in the goodness of God to give freely to all who love Him more than they could desire, rather than living a life of total FAITH in Jesus: seeking to know and love Him with all our hearts and in Him the Father, to the total disregard and forgetting of self.
People of God, let us look to Jesus ever more and more, let us learn of Him, love Him, live for Him … all this by trusting Him.
St. Francis is reported (Ivan Gobry) to have said, ‘The Order and the life of Friars Minor are like a little flock that the Son of God requested of His heavenly Father saying, “Father, I would like You to form and give Me a new and humble people, different from all those that have gone before … a people that will be content to possess Me alone.”’