Anyone who loves Jesus will occasionally think “How wonderful it must have been to actually see Him, hear Him speak, experience His Presence and Personality!” What a privilege: incomparable and unrepeatable! Such a person might then go on to wonder: “What difference might it have made to my life if, indeed, I could have known the Jesus Who walked and talked in Palestine; Who taught, smiled on, and blessed His Apostles, disciples, and the thronging crowds; Who looked on the poor and needy with an immediate and personal sympathy, giving evidence of a patient understanding deeper than any possible words of exhortation or explanation. Oh, to have known Him thus! Had that been my lot, might I not have turned out immeasurably better than I find myself today?”
Let us, however, recall these words of Jesus to His sorrowing disciples who were distressed at the thought of losing Him (John 16:7):
But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.
God’s blessings are now bestowed on us in the name of Jesus by the Advocate, the Spirit of Jesus, through the mediation of Jesus’ Sacramental Body and Blood, and these two aspects we need to look a little closer at in order to appreciate them more.
Had we personally heard and seen Jesus Himself here on earth, we would have been looking upon Him as One other than ourselves, looking outside ourselves to Another. Moreover, we would have been listening to Him with ears that do not always hear accurately, looking at Him through eyes that often see only what we expect or want to see and are conversely, at times slow to notice or appreciate the unexpected or the unwelcome. And then, having seen and heard in our own way that which others might have seen and heard somewhat differently, we frequently recall only that which -- for some perhaps unknown reason – particularly stirred our personal sensitivity, and so fixed itself in our memory. It is a fact that we can rarely, if at all, remember all that actually happened; and police will tell us how difficult it can be at times in the search for objective facts to reconcile different, even mutually contradictory, eye- witness accounts.
If our remembering and reporting of all that might have happened could prove so difficult, what about our understanding of those events? We can misunderstand what others do, even when we know them intimately …. How would we -- sinners as we know ourselves to be -- have understood aright what Jesus in His infinite wisdom and 'caritas'-as-distinct-from-emotional love chose to do and say to us and in our hearing?
In the days of His public ministry Jesus – though devoutly accompanied and attended to by the company of the disciples and Apostles we have learned to admire so much -- was nevertheless led on several occasions to reproach them for their slowness of understanding and the weakness of their flesh. Had we been with them, we might have watched and admired Him in His work, but surely we ourselves would frequently -- probably more frequently than the Apostles -- have been found unable to rightly appreciate the significance of His words and actions, nor would we have been either more committed and courageous than they so as to be able to disregard the fear that originally held them back from confessing His Name, or so as to stay our feet from leaving Jesus’ side and running with them, each and every one of us, on our own way.
Now, however, Jesus has given us His own Spirit, to be with us in Mother Church to the end of time and we know more of Jesus’ words than did His disciples of old because the Spirit has brought, and is constantly bringing, to the Church’s mind all that Jesus said and did, intended for us and wanted of us, as He so gently but yet irresistibly guides her into all truth about Jesus’ saving work. And in our individual lives, too, through all the changing circumstances of our daily routines, no matter what the joys or sorrows, difficulties or trials, the Spirit of Jesus is in us, with us, and for us: speaking to and communing with our spirit, comforting and supporting us, moving and guiding, inspiring and sustaining us, whereby we are enlightened to appreciate what Jesus does for us, and also empowered to work with and for Jesus, making full use of the blessings He has left us in His Church.
All this is what was shown when Our Lord ascended to heaven. The disciples were left gazing after Him, whereupon they were admonished by angels saying:
Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven. (Acts 1:11)
“Why stand gazing up into the sky?” Admiring indeed, but not involved. That was our situation at the beginning when we were thinking about how wonderful it would have been if we had been able to see, hear and follow Jesus on His saving mission. The present and enduring fact is that now we are not just watching, we are involved; we have been given riches beyond any of our imaginings, riches meant to enable us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” as St. Paul said. We are no longer like children innocent of any responsibility, just watching, waiting, wondering and wishing; but rather we are now called upon by the Spirit of Jesus -- working within the Church and in each one of us -- to actualize, bring about, what Jesus planned, suffered, and died for, by bringing forth acceptable fruit in our lives and growing to full personal maturity in Christ, having a part with Him in His sufferings for the salvation of mankind, and thereby hoping to attain to a share in the glory of His Resurrection, under the guidance and in the power of His Spirit within us.
In order that we may be able to fulfil this our glorious calling, and to grow continually in union with Jesus, we have been given His own Most Precious Body and Blood in Holy Mother Church, so that, receiving Him from her we might be filled ever anew with, purified and perfected by, His Most Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is indeed given to each of us at our Baptism. However, the Spirit is a Divine Person to Whom we must learn to respond; He is not a thing we irrevocably possess; and our awareness of a developing presence of the Spirit within us and for us is dependent upon the sensitivity and sincerity of our response to His initiatives in our lives. And therein lies the difficulty, for it is difficult to respond to One Who is invisible and intangible.
To help us in that respect the Spirit Himself, our Advocate and Helper, puts the presence of Jesus in Mother Church before our eyes; for, just as Jesus lived for the glory of His Father, so the Spirit too, lives and works in us, not for Himself but for the glory of Jesus. He knows we can more easily recall, love, and appreciate the human figure of Jesus Who, though Himself no longer with us visibly, is nevertheless indelibly etched on our minds and hearts through His shared humanity with us: in the memories of Him enshrined in the Scriptures and in the traditions and practices of Mother Church. Above all else, however, the Spirit insists that we never forget that Jesus left us one supreme and sublimely perfect memorial of Himself -- His Self-sacrifice to the Father and Self-communion to us -- in Holy Mass:
Then Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of Me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which will be shed for you. (Luke 22:19-20)
In our Holy Communion, Jesus is present to us as He promised: He is present in His glorious body under the appearances of bread and wine because He comes offering us life, eternal life. Indeed, He even offers us a share, a place, in His glory by the Gift of the Spirit Who raised Him from the dead:
If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit that dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)
In this way our continued growth in understanding of, love for, and likeness to, Jesus can know no limits until we are, finally, one with Him in all things for the Father. Jesus, on earth, was necessarily leading His disciples from the outside; now, however, by the Gift of His Spirit – ever renewed and refreshed in us by our communion with Him in His Eucharistic sacrifice and sacrament -- Jesus wills to make us, by His Spirit, perfectly one with Himself in love for and service of His Father, Who Himself comes to us and wills to abide with us, that thus He might make us His own truly and fully adopted children and show Himself to be our most truly sublime and loving Father.