Sunday, May 27, 2012


Acts 2:1-11 / John 14:23-31

Wait till your father gets home! In the United States, at least, this is a powerful and final warning of a mother to her wayward children. Having exhausted her store of ways to bring uncooperative children in line, she reminds them that hers is not the final authority. To escape her correction is not to escape correction itself, and indeed one would be happier to receive correction at her gentler hand than the sterner, if yet altogether fair and just, correction of one's father. Having heard this warning — Wait till your father gets home! — few children would wish the father's swift return, much less call and pray for his coming to be soon. At the same time, the wait, the delay of his arrival can itself be terrible, sometimes even enough for a real change of heart, a transformation and repentance so that the mother can report to the father, when he comes, not of the disobedience and rebellion alone, but of the subsequent turning back to humility and uprightness.

Chances are, we do not have this experience in mind when we call upon the Holy Spirit and pray again and again, "Veni! Come!" For most of us, the Spirit is best, and indeed only, spoken of as comforter, as friend, as light, rest, coolness, and solace, a healer and giver of gifts. The Spirit's coming is, for us, anticipated with joy and wonder, without a shred of apprehension or doubt. However much God the Father may remind us of the fire, cloud, and thunder of Sinai, and however much even the gentle Son reminds us of the great and awful day when he will judge the nations, the Spirit evokes none of that, and so without hesitation we seek to hasten his coming.

Yet, among his titles which we extol today, which we sing throughout the Church of Rome in the glorious sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus is pater pauperum, Father of the poor. In our song, the words may pass swiftly and hardly be noticed, but in failing to take them into account we would be making a terrible mistake. After all, how certain are we that we have treated the poor in a way that the Holy Spirit, their father, would be pleased with us? Can we say without hesitation that the Father of the poor would find in our generosity and charity, in our fellowship and joy to be among the poor, a model which would incline him to claim us as one of his own? Or, perhaps we might find ourselves to have treated the poor callously, with disregard or avoidance, at best with benign condescension, at worst with outright contempt.

If this latter should be the case, how comfortable can we be when our mother, the Church, tells us that our Father, the pater pauperum, is coming home? How joyful ought we to be that she prays earnestly that he come, and come soon? Perhaps it would be better for us to be like those wise children who seek to amend their ways, to treat as fellow sons and daughters, indeed and privileged and especially loved children, the poor in our midst. Perhaps we might recall that the Spirit who would be our Comforter and Friend, who will heal in us whatever is broken or ill, warm the chillness of our hearts and cool the oppressive heat of our wanton desires, is not only coming, but is here even now, deep within the hearts of the baptized. We might do well to recall that the same Father of the poor who will hold us responsible for how we treat his children is at the same time the one who will make it possible for us to love and embrace the poor as we ought.

God the Spirit is not, after all, sent among us to be our judge, but rather as our Advocate. He it is who will defend our cause, not make the case against us. Will we, then, be his friends as well? Will we take him on as our Councillor and follow his advice? Will we open our hearts to the poor, and in so doing, find ourselves fitting dwelling places of the Spirit, already at work in us to make us fit for the Kingdom of God?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday after the Ascension

1 Peter 4:7-11 / John 15:26, 27; 16:1-4

To have experienced the desolation of the Lord's death, sharpened all the more by their own abandonment of him, to taste that unexpected and unparalleled joy in encountering the Lord risen from the Tomb, but then to have the Lord's visible presence once more taken away might be more than we could expect anyone to bear. The pain of loss can be hard enough, but we can at least find a way to live in and through it, if never beyond it. Yet, to have than pain relieved for a time, only to seem as though to reintroduce it by a new loss, might incline us to wonder at the good of the remedy itself. If the Lord is gone, why can we not simply learn to live with that loss? If the Lord is risen to life eternal, why can he not be with us as we was before?

What the disciples would come to see, what we, too, must come to see, is that the world from which Jesus has ascended is not less, but rather more abundantly full of his presence. While his visible presence is no longer available to us, we must admit that such a presence was the least accessible to most people, even those who lived when he walked the earth. In exchange for this seeming loss, we have received rather the fulness of the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, Who procedeth from the Father. This same Spirit, who gives abiding and life-transforming testimony to Jesus Christ, is also the same Spirit who, working and sanctifying the members of Christ's body, the Church, transforms each of us. He makes us, by his work, good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Chief among those ways the Spirit does both tasks, that is, to testify to Christ and to empower us as ministers of grace, is to work in us that Christ be sacramentally present among us — body, blood, soul, and divinity, which is to say the whole truth of Jesus Christ — in the Eucharist, and that we might fruitfully partake of that presence and so be drawn into deeper conformity and community with him.

This is why we ought to see the life of the Church not as a time of trial as we await for Christ to be among us again. Trials, of course, Christ assured us will come: yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth a service to God. Even so, these are not a kind of test, seeing how faithful we remain in the absence of Jesus Christ, ascended into heaven. Rather, we face these trials, even as we minister the manifold grace of God, as enjoying the fulness of Christ's personal presence, and as strengthened and empowered, indeed loved and befriended, by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and draws us closer to the Father by making us grow, day by day, more like the Son, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension of Christ, then, points us not beyond this world to a heaven apart and a future not yet realized. Instead, by his ascending into heaven, Christ has opened the way for the world to be even more filled with his holy presence, and for us, through the coming of the Paraclete, to give a more effective witness to the saving work he has done, and continues to do, in us.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Easter

James 1:22-27 / John 16:23-30

Much is made by theologians and attentive readers of the Scriptures of Jesus' use of parables. While some may exaggerate the role of parable in Jesus' teaching, there is no doubt that parables made up at least a notable portion of Jesus' public speech.  So, many of these same theologians go on to suggest that there is some intrinsic merit in a parable that cannot be accomplished by direct speech. That is, granting that Jesus is the consummate teacher, they hold that something crucial is gained through a kind of indirection, through the telling of a simple narrative or extended metaphor, something that the hearer would not have the occasion to learn had he been presented the same truths directly. Indeed, some might even want to insist that such truths can only be told in parables.

Jesus, however, presents just the opposite kind of conclusion. In his Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus tells them that the time for parables is coming to an end, and that the things he has up to that point presented in parables, he will now present plainly. Indeed, more to the point, what he intends to show plainly is no one other than the Father himself, suggesting that every parable was at best a veiled presentation of the Father.

What makes this claim striking is that we are left wondering why Jesus should refrain from speaking plainly in the first place. That is, if the mystery of the Father admits to a kind of plain, direct presentation, and if our joy is complete precisely in knowing the Father, then it is hard to see why Jesus should not want to speak plainly of the Father from the beginning.

Yet, this way of putting things is to confuse what Jesus is saying and what he aims to do for us now that he has risen from the dead and sent his Holy Spirit upon us. Jesus reminds his disciples that the Father's love for them is grounded precisely in their love for Jesus and their belief that he comes from the Father. While some who do not have saving faith may worry that this is an arbitrary limitation, and that Jesus should be open enough to share any life-fulfilling knowledge with all, regardless of their belief in him, this perspective is deeply confused. The fact is that the Father can only be known in the Son, since the Son is the perfect image of the Father. Any attempt to arrive at knowledge of the Father apart from the Son is, therefore, a lost cause even before it starts. Conversely, it is when we have come to know the Son, the Son who in his mercy has graciously revealed himself to us in our own human nature to draw us closer to him, that we can finally know the Father. That is, the move to plain speech about the Father is only possible for us to hear and to bear when we have been brought to understand the Son in the fulness of who he is.

This is also why mission, in the plain and ordinary sense of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is so central to our own happiness and the happiness of the world. As our joy is only complete in the knowledge of the Father, and the Father is known precisely in coming to know the Son, then it is our task and our joy to help the world come to know the Son, that in him the Father will be revealed plainly and without parable. On that glorious day, we will not simply believe in, but rather know immediately the Father's love for us, and in that love, will find the fulfillment of the deepest longings of our heart.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fourth Sunday after Easter

James 1:17-21 / John 16:5-14

Many of us struggle over finding the perfect gift for a friend. Every now and then the decision is easy, but often enough we find ourselves stumped. By why should that be? While we trust that anything given in love will be received with thanks, we worry that perhaps our gift does not make quite a perfect fit with our friend's personality and interests. Perhaps it would have been perfect a year before, but now he has changed. On the other hand, perhaps the gift is just perfect for now, but will find itself discarded in a short time, as our friend changes in unexpected and unforeseen ways. We want the gift to be both meaningful and lasting, but find this to be a rather tall order.

St James assures us, however, that every best gift and every perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of lights. Now, in one sense, this should be no surprise. Price is no limit for God. Moreover, God surely knows what it is that each one of us wants in our heart of hearts, what will indeed meet our deepest hopes and needs, and nothing so desired is outside of his power to provide. Yet, what if we should change? What if what answers our hopes and dreams here and now fails to do so in the future, or what is what we are given now will serve us well in time to come, but here and now is all too easily discarded? Can God, with Whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration, possibly meet the needs of those of us who are all too changeable, whose lives are deeply shaded with one alteration after another?

What St James wants to assure us here, and what Jesus assures us in the Gospel, is that, through being reborn in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, we have been begotten ... by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of His creature. We have been made partakers and friends in the Spirit of truth, so that by his work in us, even if in many ways there are many truths, many gifts that we cannot bear here and now, nonetheless he will teach us all truth. Said differently, we have been made, through the Easter mysteries we celebrate, part of the very mystery of God, and so every good gift that comes to us from God, comes to us not as something foreign and unknown. It does not come as something unexpected or unprepared. It comes to us, if we will receive it, as an echo and foretaste of the mystery into which we are being conformed and transformed every day.

This is why, in the end, the world cannot and will not be able to see our Christian joy as a source of delight. This is why, when all due apologetics have been made, the world will still reject us as unreasonable. This is even why we ourselves, until we have passed this vale of tears, will find some feature of the Gospel to be difficult to bear. It is because we are being transformed daily to be made like God himself and to share in his inner life forever. This is indeed the gift beyond all gifts, the perfect gift which comes from above. We can, in the Spirit sent to us by Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, receive it in joy, or we can turn away from it, and find our hopes forever obscured in the shadows of change. That is the offer, that this the gift of Easter, of the empty Tomb. Will we receive the gift we are offered this day?