MAY 23, 2006, TUESDAY OF THE 6TH WEEK OF EASTER: ACTS 16:22-34; JOHN 16:5-11
IT IS MUCH BETTER FOR YOU THAT I GO. IF I FAIL TO GO THE PARACLETE WILL NEVER COME TO YOU. St. John has Jesus pronounce these words the night on which he was to be taken prisoner and put to death. The situation in which the apostles found themselves was a highly dangerous one and they knew it. But while the Lord was among them, they felt protected. Not surprisingly it proved no easy matter for Jesus to convince his apostles that it was to their advantage that he should leave them. His presence was a source of reassurance and gave them courage. They needed both badly. The leaders of their own people, were seeking to put Jesus to death; they rejected all that he stood for, and were bent on eliminating his influence. It was dangerous to be a follower of Christ and they knew in advance their own weakness in the face of such danger. The event showed that their self-doubt and fears were not groundless. Just a few hours later they were to flee to safety as the Lord was taken into custody.
The consolation that Jesus promises is the gift of his Holy Spirit. He does not explain why he must die and leave them before the Spirit will come and take up their cause. It is a mystery hidden in the mind of the Father that only after the suffering and death of his Son will the Lord feel free to send the Paraclete to them and through them to all those who will believe in him as the Lord of glory and their Savior. For now, he acknowledges that the powers of evil to all appearances have the upper hand, but once he returns to the Father he will send his Spirit who will serve as a Paraclete, that is their defender and consoler. He will vindicate Jesus’ trust and by providing them with the insight of faith, make it clear to his followers how mistaken is the world’s way of judging and acting. Our Lord does not say that the Paraclete will convince the world; rather, many will continue in their unbelief. It is the believers, those who become his followers by accepting his words with faith, who will be convinced that world is grievously mistaken and subject to God’s judgment for its faithlessness. This conviction will be the fruit of the Spirit’s presence, and will prove a source of faith and consolation.
The first reading today shows precisely how completely this promise of our Lord was realized after Pentecost, once Jesus had returned to the Father through his resurrection and ascension. Paul and Silas , confronted with the world’s hostility and refusal of belief, far from fainting away in fear, bore courageous witness to the Gospel. Thrown in prison, flogged mercilessly, their reaction was to sing God’s praises in jail and thus continued their witness before the other prisoners. The fruit of their faith was the conversion of the jailer and his family followed by their liberation.
The world, in the long interval since the days of the apostles, has not changed much as regards the refusal of faith. As our Lord predicted, his followers will encounter misunderstanding, rejection and even hatred. The last century saw the Church oppressed and persecuted in many countries, so that millions suffered for the faith. Now in our day the technological and science culture is propagating a message of unbelief in the very existence of God and of the immortal human spirit. By falsely appropriating the findings of physics and biology in the service of a materialist prejudice numerous scientists are deliberately striving to undermine faith. Their philosophy is a repetition of the materialism already taught in antiquity before the time of Christ. The author of the book of Wisdom confronted the same rejection of faith in God and disbelief in the immortality of the human spirit and condemned their teaching.
The godless ... say to themselves with their misguided reasoning: ... By chance we came to birth and after this life we shall be as if we had never been. The breath in our nostrils is a puff of smoke, reason a spark from the beating of our hearts; put this out and our body turns to ashes, and the spirit melts away like empty air. ... This is the way they reason but they are misled, their malice makes them blind. They do not know the hidden thins of God ... yet God did make man imperishable, he made him in the image of his own nature. (Wisdom 2:passim)
Only by the gift of faith, made possible by receiving the Holy Spirit, can we penetrate into the true meaning of our life and of the created universe. The full meaning of creation becomes clear only in light of Jesus’ resurrection. And that light with the force it imparts is transmitted only by the gift of the Paraclete. This is the message of today’s Gospel for our times. May we be strengthened in this faith as we hear these words of our Savior and participate in this Eucharistic communion with the risen Savior.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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