6th. Sunday of Easter (C)
(Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Rev. 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29)
Today, dear People of God, let us give careful attention to these words of Our Lord:
Whoever loves Me will keep My word;
for they will help us deal with difficulties easily arising from life in modern society which can, at times, serve to weaken the confidence and lessen the commitment of some Catholics and Christians. Something of that sort happened at the very beginning of the Church as we heard in our first reading:
The Apostles and the elders (in Jerusalem) to the brothers of Gentile origin: “Greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, we have decided with one accord …” to set things right.
Sometimes, in our own days, well-intentioned but fragile believers are puzzled now, not by apparently-official Judaizers pushing observances of the Mosaic Law onto Christian neophytes, but by friends and reasonably well-known individuals who do not practice any religion and yet consider themselves ‘as good as any religious person’ because, as they assert, they live a good life, and seem to be accepted as such by others who say that it is not necessary to go to Church in order to live a ‘good’ life. Such encounters, such experiences, can generate vague feelings of insecurity, sow tiny seeds of anxiety and doubt, in remote corners of the hearts and minds of some believers; and should they, subsequently, encounter others who are more positively antagonistic towards religion, scornfully referring to the faithful as "church-goers" and deriding them with words such as “hypocrites" and other terms of disdain or even contempt, then, they can find themselves deprived of a measure of that peace, joy, and confidence which should normally accompany their practice of the faith.
Of course, upsets and doubts of that nature arise because such believers allow themselves to be far too easily impressed by appearances and popular opinions. Moreover, it is not infrequently the case that, despite their measure of devotion, these believers are not sufficiently aware of and alive to the implications of their faith, with the result that they have too few personal convictions and are, consequently, easily led to accept the world's criteria by the fact that they find themselves always needing to catch up, so to speak, with what others around them seem to be so confidently thinking, saying, and doing.
Now, all disciples of Jesus, can and should have sure faith and calm confidence in His teaching in Mother Church:
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid;
and that faith and confidence should, in turn, lead them to the clear awareness and firm conviction that only those approved by God, who love Jesus and obey His teaching, will be finally found and accepted as truly good, because goodness necessarily involves godliness, and men become such, not by safely following popular opinion and gaining worldly acceptance, nor even by striking out and winning worldly acclaim for themselves, but by the gift of God’s grace leading them, first of all, to a measure of love for and delight in the Person of Jesus, and then gradually forming them into an ever deeper and more authentic likeness of Him – ultimately their own divinely intended and unique likeness of Him (for true love of Jesus does not smother but enhances and confirms human personality) through persevering obedience to, and, if necessary, patient suffering for, His teaching.
My peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
So, the first thing to be aware of and put into practice is the fact that those words of Jesus tell us that we will most certainly have times when we have to fight for peace … not fight against others but against ourselves, our own faithlessness and weakness. Jesus gives us peace, we have to be prepared to fight to keep a firm grip on His gift!
Yet, how can those others, who don't acknowledge God or profess any faith, still seem at times to be so nice, so pleasant, and sometimes even so ‘good’?
In order to understand this apparent dilemma we must remember those other words of our Lord in today’s Gospel reading:
Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words; yet the word you hear is not Mine but that of the Father who sent Me.
To our eyes, those unbelievers who disturb us do not always appear to love evil; and if we have friendly acquaintances among them, we may be inclined to say that they generally seem to want what is good; and we can even find ourselves, at times, thinking them to be better than us. Nevertheless, those who do not accept Jesus' teaching do not love Him, and cannot love the Father, and consequently can be far different from what appears to our earthly eyes and weak spiritual understanding:
The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for that which is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15)
Ultimately, when confronted with Jesus and His Truth, the Truth He received from the Father Who is God and Lord of all creation, they -- as unbelievers -- prefer themselves and their own thoughts. They love themselves to such an extent that they are not only content, but even prefer, to follow their own idea of a good life rather than embrace Jesus' teaching. Indeed, they can have such a low idea of God that they imagine themselves to be in no need whatsoever of a Saviour, considering themselves ready to meet God -- if indeed He does exist -- standing up proudly in His presence, head held high and face to face! Yes, they are proud: not, indeed, manifestly before us in their observable behaviour, but before God in the hidden depths of their heart’s desires, and in the secret recesses of their minds and the hidden folds of their purposes, where they can be subject to pride in its most insidious and deadly form. Murderers and rapists, thieves and muggers can be, relatively easily, brought to see the evil of their ways, because such actions are patently ugly and inadmissible; but how difficult is it for non-religious people who see themselves as nice and good-living to accept and appreciate that they are in any need of a Saviour before God! The Scriptures and Our Lord, however, have no doubt about the situation of mankind without a Saviour:
No one is good but God alone! (Mark 18:19)
Nevertheless, on the human level the fact still remains, and we can still at times wonder, how irreligious people and indeed even evil people, can seem, at times, to be both charming and attractive.
For the answer to this, we must continue to ponder Our Lord's words, for we have much more to learn from Him that may seem strange to us if our patterns of thought have been over-influenced and mis-formed by commonly held opinions rather than Christian teaching.
Whoever loves Me will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Notice that pronoun "My". Today, people are very familiar with the supreme Christian prayer, taught by Jesus Himself, which goes: "Our Father, who art in heaven..." Many call that prayer the "Our Father", but that is not accurate enough, it should be called "The Lord's Prayer" because it was a prayer given by Jesus to His disciples, not to anyone and everyone. God does indeed love all His creation because He created and sustains it; and mankind -- the culmination of His creation -- is especially loved by God: they alone being made in His likeness. Now, it is just there that we come across the reason why we can, at times, find certain non-religious people so puzzlingly attractive: it is because we (as practicing Christians and Catholics) are able to see in them aspects of the rich endowment and subtle beauty of God’s crowning creation; and, indeed, the closer we ourselves are drawn to God the more such people can move us, at times, to appreciate what is before us, while also – alas – at the same time sorrowfully regretting what might have been.
Of those disciples who learn to love and obey His teaching, we are told that Jesus said,
My Father will love them.
Now, the Father loves such disciples because of their love for His only begotten, well-beloved Son, He loves them for Jesus’ sake, as His children in Jesus. And because of Jesus, the Father endows such disciples with a new and supernatural creation-beauty: a beauty given them as members of the Body of the Risen Christ sharing, even here on earth, in something of His Resurrection beauty and glory. Now, there is a world of difference between God's love for creation, between God’s love for mankind as the crown and culmination of natural creation, and the Father's love for His supernatural children, born of the Spirit, in Jesus His only-begotten and uniquely-beloved Son.
People of God: we can only hope to experience God in this new way, as our heavenly Father, if we prove our love for Jesus by obeying Him. Again, such an experience is not something we can grasp or achieve for ourselves, nor is it automatically given to all -- so to speak – ‘signed-up members of Jesus’ club’; it is a Personal gift from God the Father of Jesus, and it is given, as He wills, to those whose love and obedience binds them, by the Spirit, into an ever deeper longing and loving search for Jesus. Listen again to Our Lord's words:
Whoever loves Me will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
The one who lovingly obeys Jesus, Jesus' Father will love; and not only will Jesus' Father love him, but both He and Jesus will:
Come to him and make Our dwelling with him.
My dear people, our God is not cheap: His love is the supreme treasure of our lives, His greatest blessing and most gracious Gift; for when the Father and Son come to us, they bring also with them the Holy Spirit to be our very own Advocate, Counsellor, and Guide:
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and will remind you of all that I told you.
When He, the Spirit of Jesus, is present as divine Gift in our lives, guiding, comforting, strengthening, delighting, and inspiring us for Jesus' sake, then, indeed, we can begin to truly experience God’s presence to us, here and now, as the heavenly Father's love, as Jesus' companionship, and as the Spirit's own deep comfort and sure strength, calm peace and all-embracing joy.
Finally, Jesus goes on to say with clear authority that His ways are not like the ways of this world:
Not as the world gives do I give peace to you.
St. Paul, too, made this abundantly clear to his converts in Corinth:
The wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. (1 Corinthians 3:19)
As you heard in the first reading, the Christians at Antioch were troubled when they allowed the teaching of unauthorized preachers to influence them in their practice of the faith:
We (the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem) have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings, and disturbed your peace of mind.
That was, and still is, quite wrong, because it is the last thing Jesus wants for His disciples:
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
In order to experience the Easter fulfilment which Jesus has won for us, we have to allow the love of the Father, the teaching of Jesus, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit, to enlighten and begin to rule our whole life, as we heard in the second reading today:
The (holy) city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
People of God, you are called, destined, to become full-citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom; do not therefore look over-much at the world around you -- the world you are leaving behind -- but as one hymn puts it, "Walk, walk, in the light of the Lord", doing your very best to walk ever forward with a confidently firm step, a steadfast heart, and in the Spirit of pure Easter joy.