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!” At such times it would be easy also to think that those who did actually see, hear, and experience His Personal presence, were privileged far beyond all subsequent generations, and to wonder what difference it might have made to me in my own life if I had known the Jesus Who walked and talked in Palestine, Who taught and guided His disciples, blessed, and at times admonished, the following crowds, Who looked on the poor and needy with Personal sympathy and an understanding deeper than words. Oh, to have seen Him thus! Surely nothing could compare with that, and I myself might have been so much better for it!
Let us now, however, recall these words of Jesus to His disciples distressed at the thought of losing Him:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7)
It was for our good that He was going away, Jesus said; what, then, about our longing to have been actually present among His disciples as they followed their Master around?
The fact is that we do not always value the blessings we have: we tend to take for granted what is commonly to hand and overestimate absent blessings. Now, the blessings which are ours today and which Jesus gave us in place of His earthly presence, are the Holy Spirit, the Sacred Scriptures, and the Eucharist Sacrifice and Blessed Sacrament in Mother Church, and we need to look much more closely at them in order to appreciate them more.
Had we heard and seen Jesus Himself, we would have been looking upon One other than ourselves, looking outside ourselves to Another. Moreover, we would have been listening to Him with ears and eyes that – at times due to our lack of attention, admittedly -- do not always hear clearly, and often see only a very general picture; with ears and eyes, moreover, that hand over their data (so to speak) to a memory we have made our own over years and which may have become prone to overlook the unexpected, forget what was not easily understood, and even reject emotionally unwanted items.
Then, having thus seen, heard and recalled in our own way that which others have seen and heard somewhat differently in their own way, it is not difficult to appreciate how hard it can be at times for researchers to reconcile eye-witness accounts in their search for objective facts. It would have been indeed a wonderful blessing to personally hear and see Jesus on earth, but let us not fail to appreciate what He has bestowed on us who have the fulness of faith in the Church.
He has given us His own Spirit, to be Guide and Guard for us all in Mother Church, and in our individual lives as Comforter and Strength through all the circumstances of our daily lives, no matter what the joys or sorrows, the difficulties or trials. We can now know more of Jesus’ words than did those disciples of old because the Spirit has brought, and is constantly bringing, to the Church’s mind all that Jesus said and did, all that He intended to be for us and now wants of us.
In fact, the real difference between then and now is that then it was Jesus Who was preparing for our salvation, now it is we who have to respond to and co-operate with the Spirit He had given us that we might work out our salvation on the basis of the teaching Jesus left us, all the while aspiring with Him to the Father Who originally called us to Jesus, and Whom – Jesus assures us – is sublime beyond all measure in Fatherly Goodness and Love.
Then, in company with His disciples, we would have watched and admired Jesus in His work but we would not have realised just how much that work was for love of us, for our saving and exaltation; neither would we have been able, as the disciples themselves proved unable, to reject the fear that originally closed their mouths from confessing His Name and turned their feet to leave Him alone and go each on their own way.
Now, however, we are enlightened by His Spirit to understand much more clearly the Love that drove Jesus to sacrifice Himself for us, and to learn from the original disciples initially poor example; with the result that recognizing more readily the devil’s snares, we can now -- empowered by that same Spirit – give our all to working with and for Jesus, and using to the full the plenitude of blessings He has left us.
All this is what was shown when Our Lord ascended to heaven and left the disciples gazing after Him:
"Men of Galilee," (the angels) said, "why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11)
“Why stand gazing up into the sky?” Admiring indeed, but not involved. That is what we were doing at the beginning thinking about how wonderful it would have been if …
Now we are not just watching, we are involved, having been given riches beyond all our imaginings, riches given to enable us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” as St. Paul said. We are now no longer children who, innocent of any responsibility, watch, wait, and wish; but rather we are called by the Spirit of Jesus at work within the Church and in each one of us, to actualize what Jesus planned, suffered and died for, by bringing forth acceptable fruit in our lives and growing to full maturity in Christ, sharing with Him in His work and sufferings for the salvation of mankind, thereby attaining to a share in His Resurrection under the guidance, and in the power of, His Spirit within us.
The Spirit was indeed given to each of us at our Baptism. However, the Spirit is a Divine Person to Whom we must respond; He is not a thing we can irrevocably possess; and the presence of the Spirit to us, His activity and effect in our lives, is dependent upon our response to His initiatives in our minds and hearts. To enable us to respond to the Spirit Who is invisible we have been given the sacramental presence of Jesus in our midst, in Mother Church:
And Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My Body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Likewise, He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My Blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:19-20)
Dear People of God, we must never forget that Jesus, though now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, is still one with us bodily: He has taken to heaven -- in His own Person -- our body and blood, the body and blood He received from His mother Mary, our sister, and that Body and Blood was glorified at His Ascension. Because of that abiding bodily oneness with us Jesus is able – through His own glorious Body and Blood becoming sacramentally present to us – to confer His Spirit upon us by our reception of Holy Communion in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
In our Holy Communion, Jesus is present to us as He promised – under the appearances of nourishment, bread and wine -- He comes, however, offering us nourishment for eternal life, indeed, a share in His glory. He bestows His Spirit on us in Holy Communion because we – earthly flesh and blood though we be – can be adapted (so to speak most un-theologically) for life with Him in heaven by our embracing the rule of that most Holy Spirit in our lives here and now. In that way our continued growth in understanding of, love for, and likeness to, Jesus may know no limits until we are totally one with Him for the Father. On earth, Jesus was necessarily leading His disciples from the outside; now, through His Spirit, Whose presence in us is refreshed and renewed in unfailing abundance through our loving reception of the Eucharist, He wills to make us ever more intimately one with Himself -- He in us and we in Him by the Spirit -- so that we might be loved by the Father as His adopted children, and He might show Himself to be for us the most true Father, loving and good beyond all imagining.