Sunday, May 12, 2024

Of Persons, Places & Presence

7th Sunday in Easter (B)

Readings: Acts 1: 15-17, 20-26; Psalm 102 (103): 1-2, 11-12, 19-20; 1 John 4: 11-16; John 17: 11-19

Picture: By Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

My dear friends, have you ever noticed how certain events in our lives have the power to turn a person into a place? What do I mean? Consider, for example, what happens in the early days of a romance… or when a baby is born… or when a loved one falls seriously ill. In each of these situations, doesn’t a certain person become the centre of attention for someone else? The partners in the romance for each other… the new baby for its parents… the sick person for the caregiver. It’s as if each of these persons becomes a place around which the life of the other keeps revolving. So that even when physically absent, the person still remains somehow present. If not at the top of the mind, then surely close to the heart. We might say that certain events in our lives have the mysterious power to connect persons, places and presence. And don’t the events we celebrate at Easter have a similar effect in the life of Jesus?

Somewhat like how the birth of a baby attracts its parents’ continuing presence to it, even when they may be physically absent, so too does the Lord’s Life, Death and Resurrection cause him to remain present to all those for whom he gave his life. So that, even though he is no longer with us in the same physical way that he was with his early disciples, we believe he hasn’t left us. As the opening prayer reminded us earlier, before his Ascension, Jesus had promised to be abidingly present among us, even until the end of the world. This is what we dare to believe: that God’s love for us is so strong and so enduring, that even now, centuries after his Ascension, even in this chaotic and uncertain world in which we live, Christ remains somehow present to us. Our challenge is to find ways to translate this belief into experience. How do we remain present to Jesus, who is always present to us? What can we do to let the person of Christ be the privileged place around which our lives revolve? These are questions our scriptures help us to ponder today.

One striking feature of the first reading is how the fate of Judas is described in terms of a change of place. Peter says that Judas abandoned his ministry and apostolate to go to his proper place. He left one spiritual place to go to another. And we know that this change of place was also a failure to remain present to a person. Judas betrayed and deserted the Lord. In contrast, the one prerequisite for Judas’ successor is that he must have been with us the whole time that the Lord Jesus was travelling round with us. He must have remained in place, faithfully present to the person of Jesus. To remain present to the Lord, so that he becomes the place around which our whole life revolves. This was difficult enough for the disciples before the Lord’s Ascension, when they could still see and hear and touch him. What more now, when we can’t? How are we to remain present to Jesus, to allow our lives to revolve around him, when he is no longer physically with us?

The second reading provides a first response by telling us that God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him. Even if Jesus is no longer physically with us, we can continue to experience his abiding presence, by allowing his love for us to draw us to live in love. By loving God, loving others, and loving even ourselves. Which sounds simple enough, but is by no means easy. Not only is it difficult to put love into practice, at times it’s hard even to know what love requires in a given situation. For example, when a spouse, or a close family member, or a boss makes certain demands of us, does love require us to always give in? Or could there be certain situations where the loving response might well be to say no? And, if so, then how do we recognise such situations? What would Jesus do?

To properly respond to questions like these, at least one thing is indispensable. We have to be able and willing to accept and act according to the truth. Even when it may be inconvenient or costly for us to do so. Isn’t this why, in the gospel, Jesus not only consecrates himself, he also asks his Father to consecrate us in the truth? To strive to live both in love and in truth. This is how we experience the Lord’s abiding presence to us. And this has important social implications. As the late Pope Benedict XVI taught, to live in love and truth is also to work for justice and the common good. For I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them… (CV, 6). And (t)he more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them (CV, 7).

Sisters and brothers, like the beginnings of a romance, and the birth of a baby, the Lord’s Dying and Rising has power to keep us in the Lord’s presence. What shall we do to submit ourselves more fully to this life-sustaining power today? 

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