A reflection on the readings for Sunday, May 29th, 2011: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17, Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20, 1 Pt 3:15-18, Jn 14:15-21
What great secret explains the amazing growth of the early Church against very daunting odds? Why did this new way of life spread so widely and rapidly, despite persecution, hardship and minimal resources? How did the first Christians back up their proclamation of Jesus as Lord with a transformed life of authenticity? A three-fold answer appears in this Sunday’s Scriptures: joy, hope and love.
The first reading speaks of the great joy in Samaria as the people experience the healing power of Christ, mediated through the ministry of Philip. The author seems to use the word “joy” on purpose here as the lingering effect of an encounter with the Lord. Pleasure can satisfy our senses for awhile; happiness radiates an existential fulfillment in embracing the purpose of life. Joy pulls us beyond this world into the realm of the Holy Spirit. When we know the unconditional love of God to the depth of our being, when we encounter the gracious mercy of Jesus in the aftermath of serious sin, when the Lord is so real in the sacraments that we are surprised, we know joy. To pursue joy as an end in itself is ultimately fruitless because the focus is still on self-fulfillment. Joy seems to come, rather, as the by-product of a life offered up and given away in radical imitation of Christ’s oblation of self in the Paschal Mystery.
In the second reading, Peter exhorts his listeners to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” Apparently, then as now, hope can perplex, challenge and disturb. In the face of harsh suffering, unrelenting illness or a sudden death, a superficial optimism quickly crumbles. Hope is made of sturdier stuff because its very foundation is the power and love of the Lord breaking into the swirl of human events. When life forces us to face the mystery of evil or the weight of human weakness, hope can seem foolish, naïve or even insensitive in the midst of so much darkness and pain. But, hope is all the Church has ever had. We dare to believe our faith to be true, Jesus’ promises to be real and the kingdom of heaven our final home. No one can prove any of these things, but hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ allows a Christian to look death in the face and sing, because God will win out in the end.
The Gospel of John this Sunday speaks of love as an “abiding,” the Son in the Father, we believers in the Son and the Son in us. In love, we come to share in the very life of God who has taken up his dwelling in the depths of our being. Thus, the Christian religion is first and foremost a love relationship, not a moral code or a belief system. How we act and what we believe flow from who we have become in this new divine life.
In his treatise on the Trinity, St. Hilary explains this divine indwelling. “Jesus is in the Father by reason of his divine nature, we are in him by reason of his human birth, and he is in us through the mystery of the sacraments.” When we rest in this Trinitarian Life, who is both within us and beyond us, we understand the true nature of Love, the Love that empties itself out for our conversion and salvation.
With the vivid memories of Jesus’ earthly ministry in their minds, the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection in their hearts and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the apostles went forth with a fresh boldness to evangelize the world. So convicted were they of the transforming nature of the Gospel message that they literally dedicated the rest of their lives to proclaiming Jesus to everyone they encountered. The truth of their words was confirmed by the joy, hope and love that radiated from their communal life and their individual witness.
We may be tempted to think that things are different now, that the Church is 2000 years old and burdened with the weight of history, no longer fresh and new. But what are two millennia in the eyes of God? Wasn’t it just last week that Mary Magdalene ran down the path to breathlessly tell the astonished apostles that the tomb was empty? Wasn’t it just the day before yesterday that the apostles burst forth from the Upper Room on Pentecost Day to speak of a world suddenly redeemed and different? Recently a colleague was commenting on the blessings and challenges of ministry in the Church today. She offered, “What is the point of doing any of this if we are not radiating joy, hope and love as we do it?” I could not agree more!
1. What robs you of joy and hope? How can you change that?
2. If we truly believe the Trinity dwells within us, what does that conviction demand of us?
3. Think of a person whose joy and hope has bettered your life. How can you pass on the gift?
(originally published in the May 26th, 2011 Milwaukee Catholic Herald)