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Friday, 8 May 2020

5th Sunday of Eastertide Year A 2020

             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 very 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 somewhat tense, but Judas then went out -- apparently on a mission confided to him, but in fact into the night and under the powers of darkness -- whereupon the general sense of 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’,

He, 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!

Whereupon Jesus thought it necessary to warn him that, despite his present, and most sincere, feelings, he would soon deny Him three times.

However, Jesus -- having just intoned ‘Gloria’ to God in the highest -- did not want His private words to Peter to further dismay His disciples, and so He hastened to encourage and confirm them in their Gospel faith by advising them how to attain something of that peace and joy which awaited them in heaven, however much threatening clouds here on earth might gather around them 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 most manifestly hard at work in this sinful world around you, and indeed, he is at work, perhaps most seriously of all in Mother Church, provoking scandals even among those specially consecrated to the glory of God’s Name.

So, dear People of God, although the world is our dwelling-place it is most certainly no home for us today; and although Mother Church -- infallible in her teaching and unique in her plenitude of heavenly grace – needs the purifying support of your prayers and witness to the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus which she alone proclaims in its necessary integrity; and although, even in your very own loving hearts and faithful minds, the devil is ever trying to tempt and disturb you,  Jesus’ words of true wisdom offer you both human comfort and heavenly strength:

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  -- I say ‘true love’, because it is a virtue, a work of self-committal  and self-sacrifice for God, which is totally unappreciable to unbelievers -- when we refuse to allow our hearts to be weighed down, our minds wearied and worried, at the devil’s instigation, by the cares of this world. 

Jesus continued speaking to His disciples, opening His Sacred Heart to them and to us more and more, when 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. 

Here Jesus tells all who -- together with the Apostles -- long for that supreme blessedness of ‘being with Him’, that it cannot be achieved by our own efforts; ultimately, 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 came down among us that we might rise to newness of 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 the Apostles and on us to prepare ourselves:

           Where I am going you know the way.

The way, that is, already proclaimed by the Good News of the Gospel and the witness of the Apostles, the way along which all who believe in Jesus must walk towards the Father’s heavenly home.  Let us therefore prepare ourselves to start immediately with both confidence and humility, sure in the knowledge that we will ultimately reach our destination if we walk steadfastly on in company with Jesus.  That is why Jesus will return: to take us with Himself along the Way:

I will come back again and take you to Myself.  I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

At that moment, in our Gospel account, Philip came up with a question that no doubt astonished his fellow Apostles -- how could Philip have asked such a question at such a time and in their name! -- 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 that was because he did not, as Jesus said, truly know Him.  Whatever Philip wanted, it showed that Jesus was not, as yet, enough for him.  It would seem that he wanted the worldly certainty of sight rather than the obscurity of divine faith  and that meant that 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!!  Would the Father appear other, better, than Jesus appeared?

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!

In this respect there is a Franciscan tradition of special interest:

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.”’

Let us learn even from this, dear People of God: Jesus knows our ingratitude, our selfishness, and yet He will lead us, if we are of good-will, ever further on as He eventually led Philip to die for love of Him and the Gospel.

And how many of us -- as Catholic believers -- like Philip want to see something, have something for themselves, other than the ordinariness of life with and for Jesus, when we should be thinking how we can give best witness to our faith and best glory to God for His  great mercy and goodness to us, having given us the privilege and joy of being a Catholic Christian in today’s world where people are led wildly astray by their passions and ambitions, their fears and anxieties, their greed and selfishness.  That is, we all should be thinking and praying how we can best give thanks for the privilege of being a Catholic called to lead  a life of  steadfast faith and calm joy in and with Jesus, and give thereby a sure sign both of our confident hope in His promise of heaven to come, and of our desire to share ever more in His Spirit of love for His Father and for all men and women of good will.

Dear People of God,  Catholic companions and Christian friends in Jesus, that is our vocation in these terrible times of trial, overweening pride, and 'free range' search for love and pleasure: to give heartfelt thanks to God for offering us the great privilege of living a life of humble obedience and loving commitment to Jesus Christ, His Son and our Saviour and -- in the Spirit of Them both -- a life also of humble service and patient  companionship with and for all our fellows.