Note: I prepared two homilies for today. I’m not entirely sure why! I did not preach the first one at all; I preached the second one at the Vigil Mass; I preached neither at the 10am Mass!
Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 32(33):1-2,4-5,18-19; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
First Homily: Goodbye to goodbyes
I think there are very few who like goodbyes. The apostles were no different. The whole mood at the Last Supper was pervaded by that very fact: it was the Last. The drama with Judas had come to a head and he departs from the Supper without any goodbye. In the very act of instituting the Eucharist, Jesus heightens the sense of his end and, so, the separation anxiety of his friends. Even in washing their feet, he’s leaving them a legacy to imitate him after he has gone. And the whole evening concludes with his agony in Gethsemane and his treacherous arrest.
Fully aware of all this, and fully aware that his friends were hurting, he addresses them the words we have just heard in the Gospel. Every phrase is laden with meaning and with his deep love and affection for them. Saints have spent years of their lives meditating and drawing grace and strength from these words. It’s almost disrespectful, you could say, to try and break them open in a few minutes. But with the Lord’s permission, I will pick out one or two hints that might help us.
When the Son of God became man, it was to open a new era, the final era, in human history in which God and man would be separated no more. He came to reverse the expulsion from Eden and bring humanity back to paradise. The only way that could happen, however, was to get rid of two things which stood in the way of it. To destroy the disobedience of sin by the obedience of love unto death; and to take away the power of the Evil One over death by transforming death from being the end of life into being the beginning of a new life.
To accomplish that, Jesus had to die. He had to leave us in his physical body, once dead but then risen, and to return in that physical body to heaven. In doing that, he opened the way for us all to inherit paradise in the body. Out of his immense love and power, he nevertheless leaves his body behind in sacramental form in the Eucharist. Then, for all who believe and are baptised, He forms them through the Eucharist into his Mystical Body, the Church. When the baptised then die, their souls go to God, immediately or after the purification of purgatory, and their bodies await the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time.
This is what Jesus is saying to the apostles: don’t let the anxiety of my departure in the short term dash your hopes in the long term. I am going, through my passion, death and resurrection, to make it possible for you to come to the Father’s house. When your place is ready, that is, when I have finished preparing you on earth for heaven, I will come and take you at the hour of death to myself. And I will raise you up on the last day.
In the meantime, I am with you through the Holy Spirit, who makes me present in the Eucharist, in the Word of God, in the sacraments and in the Church. The Father and I work through the Spirit to work through you in the world and draw others to believe. We are working on you and in you to make you ready for heaven. You must work with us if that is to happen, because we will not force you. And so, with our help, you must let go of sin, you must believe and hope and love, you must pray and, yes, you must suffer in union with my Cross. You must bear witness to us in your marriages, homes, places of work, parishes and everywhere else. Your mission is to become holy by our grace and so to draw others to us.
For those who want it, there will never again be any final separation, but only short-term separations as generations are born, live and die. Then, one fine day, all that, too, will end and all of humanity who have opened their hearts to us will join us and you, in your risen bodies, in the eternal Jerusalem.
It is incumbent upon us to keep this grand vision which Christ in his love has given us firmly before our eyes, to ponder it and let it seep into our outlook and deepest convictions. Otherwise we can so easily get distracted by the earthly joys or sorrows which we encounter and give them an eternal importance which they simply don’t have. The grand vision of Christ keeps everything and everyone else in perspective. It is not heaven that separates us from one another but the earth if we cling to it as if it were heaven. Final union and communion with God and with all we love will not happen on this earth, but in the Father’s house. So, let us calm our sorrows and fears, let us also calm our enthusiasm and zest for what does not last for ever. Let us rather test them against the love and wisdom of Christ and say good riddance to them if they don’t measure up. Separation from evil is the only definitive goodbye we should desire so that our union with Christ for ever may be glorious and complete.
Second Homily: Pandemic of grace
Imagine a world where there were no more final goodbyes. That’s the world Christ has opened up for those who believe in him. The apostles have sore and anxious hearts in today’s Gospel. The One they love, and love so dearly, is going away. In their minds, they were not yet able to see his going, his death, as anything but the final goodbye. So, they are beside themselves with grief and loss.
And Jesus, always so warm and attentive in his compassion for these men he had chosen and loved, practically pours out his soul to reassure them that he’s only going so that he can come back. And this time for ever. He needs to sort out once and for all the twin cause of all pain and separation, sin and death. When these are neutralized, then there are no more lasting farewells. There’s only at worse an au revoir that won’t last very long.
And so, Jesus lays it on thick. I’m going to prepare a place for you in the Father’s house. I can only do that once I have died and risen. Then, I will come and take you to myself and just as I and the Father are one, you too will be one with us and in us. But even before you each die, and after I have ascended in my physical body back to the Father, I will still be with you and in you, and the Father will also be the same. And I will be with you in so many different ways. First, in the miracle of the Eucharist which I have left you. Then, in my Word. Then through the sacraments. By baptism I will join you to my mystical Body, the Church. And all these ways I will be with you will happen because I will send you my Holy Spirit.
If I might dare interpret Jesus further, he would then say: but listen, because all human beings are called together to be one people and become my bride, I will wait until the end of time before raising you all together in the body. And because I need you who believe in me to keep working throughout history until it ends to draw people to believe in me as well, then I am sending you out to tell everyone the Good News that we are all called to be one with God and never be separated again. But you won’t be on you own when you go out and risk your lives and livelihoods and reputations to witness to me. I will be with you through the Spirit and my Father will be with us, too. And through you we will perform ever greater works of grace and truth to awaken hearts to us, we who are the living God.
And even if you die in my love, you will not die for ever. No, I will raise you up on the last day. And even if all those good people who believe in me in simplicity of heart and in fidelity will die, some sooner, some later, some seemingly too soon, some in great suffering and some in their sleep: their deaths are precious in my eyes, they are in my hands as is the pain of those left behind with whom I weep; but it will be a pain only short-lived because soon they will be with me, too, and therefore with all those whom they love, thought they had lost and mourned.
And then, when history has run its course in each person’s life and in the life of humanity as a whole, I will call all of you who have loved me and believed in me and hoped in me to rise from the dead. And the joy of each will be the joy of all and the joy of all the joy of each. And there will be no more goodbyes, no more tears, no more pain or suffering or mourning, because I will make all things new. Death will be destroyed for ever. And you will be in me as I am in the Father and you will ask me no more questions because you will know the truth in its fullness and your hearts will be filled with utter fullness of God as you gaze upon our glory.
The wonderful thing is, my brothers and sisters, that Jesus would not be saying all this only to the apostles, but to each one of us. He is saying it now as we face our worries and fears heightened by the pandemic. While we cannot deny those fears and worries, nor must we deny this bigger picture, this eternal horizon which Christ has made possible for us by loving us to the bitter and atrocious end he endured for our sakes. Who knows, it may be one of the many possible blessings that we can reap from this trial that we place our worries and fears firmly in the context of the Cross and resurrection of the Lord. Our very fears can become seeds of eternity if we let them die in the soil of our faith and hope in Christ and allow his eternal love to transform them.
The world with no final goodbyes is not imaginary. It is already here, alive and active, awaiting our embrace. As this pandemic has unmasked many of our certainties to be nothing of the kind, then our very vulnerability becomes God’s opportunity to implant deep within us our true certainties, not made by our own hands, or dreamt up by our own minds, but given to us as free gifts by the eternal love of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
So, do not let you hearts be troubled or afraid. Trust in God. He is your only certainty and He wishes today, now as you listen, to pour out once more into the deepest recesses of your soul a life-giving pandemic of his grace, mercy and love. Don’t let Him pass by. Don’t say to him goodbye. Get infected by the Divine.