Sunday, May 9, 2010
Memory, Presence, & Hope In the Midst of Fear
25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate,* the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe." (John 14:22-29)
The context of the Gospel is that it takes place on the eve of the crucifixion. Jesus springs two things on the Apostles:
1) he’s leaving; and 2) they can’t follow him. Understandably, their reaction is shock/sadness/fear. Jesus reassures them that “The Father will send the Holy Spirit to help you remember what I’ve told you”; that “I leave my peace with you”; and he urges them “Don’t be troubled or afraid.” I wonder, really, how convinced they were at hearing that.
And what is the context of your life and mine? At the present moment, it amounts to a whole litany: economic problems,
people out of work, an almost endless war in the Middle East, churches in conflict everywhere, political infighting and nastiness over immigration, health reform, the broken financial system, a catastrophic oil spill with almost apocalytic implications for the Gulf Coast region, bombs in NYC. Within this real-life context, the Church sets before us this passage from John's Gospel. How are you and I to respond to it? How do we bridge the gap between the trustworthiness of Jesus' words and our honest feelings of being overwhelmed by the powers of confusion and chaos?
In the Gospel passage, Jesus himself recommends memory, presence, and hope. He promises that the Father will send the Spirit of Love to teach and "to remind you of all that I have said to you...". This is anamnesis, remembrance, memory. He further assures us that he is "going away", but also "coming to you" again, that "we [i.e., the Father and Jesus] will come...and make our home with [you']..." -- presence. Finally, Jesus extends to us his "Peace" and a reason not to be "troubled" or "afraid", viz., that through his telling us of his "going away" we may grow deeper in faith: "that...you may believe". Our trust in Jesus' assurance is, in the words of Thomas Merton, our "personal communion with Christ at the center and heart of all reality", and that is the basis for hope. In resurrection hope we're always on the road to Emmaus as pilgrims. "We follow Him, we find Him...and then He must vanish and we must go along without Him at our side. Why? Because He is even closer than that. He is ourself." (Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love) "The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God." (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)