(Readings of the Holy Mass – Sixth Sunday of Easter)
Jesus makes a promise. He says: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” He says this in the context of preparation. He is preparing the disciples for his return to the Father but also for the coming of the Holy Spirit whom He refers to, in this passage, as the Paraclete (translated in the Lectionary as “Advocate”).
The Spirit will dwell in and among the disciples, the Church, and so Jesus remains with them, with us. We celebrate his return to the Father at the Ascension next Thursday and ten days later we celebrate Pentecost.
Jesus remains “present” to us always. He does so because He and the Father love us. God wants to be part of our lives.
Jesus speaks of one aspect of this love in today’s gospel passage which is closely associated with His presence through the Spirit. This aspect is the keeping of His commandments, chief of which is the command to love.
He says: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Keeping Christ as the center of our lives fills us with awareness – that we are loved, that we are never alone. The First Letter of Peter gives us some exhortations which help to keep Christ as the center.
First, he says: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” This is an intentional thought. Jesus is Lord. We acknowledge Him as Lord “in our hearts,” when we pray – in all the many forms prayer takes.
We also acclaim Him as Lord when we make decisions based on Him who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
We acclaim Him as Lord when we keep His commandments.
We acclaim Him Lord when we value Him above all else.
The emphasis that is given here is that the profession of Christ as Lord takes place, first, “in your hearts.” It is an internal acknowledgement which brings with it commitment, the commitment to Him who loves.
Second, he writes: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” Here the author exhorts us to proclaim.
Living a life of hope will naturally draw questions. Living in a world where there are so many forces that try to rob one of hope (war, broken relationships, racism, hate, poverty, economic fragility, drugs, abuse, violence, killing of the innocent, etc.) that when people encounter a person of hope, they want to know the reason for that hope.
Peter is saying – give them the reason, it is meant to be shared. Before he speaks of that “reason,” he first gives some advice on how to do so. This is important for they also help to keep our focus on Christ Jesus.
Third, Peter says to offer the explanation with “gentleness and reverence.” Jesus went about preaching and teaching, healing and forgiving, proclaiming and inviting. He did so as a Good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and leads them with compassion and love. Jesus was gentile so when speaking of our “hope” we do so with gentleness.
The call for reverence is perhaps two fold. First reverence of that which we speak for it is holy, and of God. Second reverence for the person to whom we speak for they are made in the image and likeness of God.
Jesus offered Himself because He loves them, the same way that he loves us. So our engagement of the person asking the question will require not only respect but also “reverence.”
Fourth, the final exhortation is to keep a clear conscience. Striving for a clear conscience again entails keeping Christ at the center of our lives. He is the Light that dispels darkness.
Our conscience helps us make decisions, choosing good and avoiding evil. Sometimes those decisions are obvious but challenging. Sometimes they may not be so obvious and may require a lot of deliberation. Regardless, Jesus is present to us in His Spirit, to help form our conscience and to lead us forward.
At the end of this final exhortation Peter speaks of the fortitude it brings so that one can remain faithful in the battles that inevitably occur with evil. He says: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of god, than for doing evil.” In other words, sometimes choosing good over evil will bring on suffering. This is the path to take despite the suffering. The suffering will last only for a time; the good for eternity.
Peter now returns to the “reason for our hope.” That “reason” is Christ Jesus. Most specifically Jesus Christ, “put to death in the flesh…brought to life in the Spirit.” Jesus, risen from the dead, is the reason for our hope. He is alive. There is no force, no power, nothing whatsoever can take away life from Him who is the Lord of Life. He is risen and He is our hope. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, says it eloquently in these words:
What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,* nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-35,37-39)
Jesus promises “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” He comes to us in the Spirit and abides with us in love. We live in Him in love and he fills us with hope. This is indeed good news worthy of sharing.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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