6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 15:1–2, 22–29; Revelation 21:10–14, 22–23; John 14:23–29
Marion and the moth God sometimes withdraws from us so that we may draw closer to him.
Four-year-old Marion West shouted and jumped for joy each noon when her mother came home from work on her lunch break.
Her mother would pick her up at the neighbor’s. They’d hurry home, eat lunch, and play together. But Marion would become hysterical when her mother left again after lunch.
One day her mother stopped coming home for lunch. Marion was saddened. She wondered why her mother stopped coming. She wondered why her mother stopped eating and playing with her. She wondered if her mother still loved her as much as she once did.
Years later Marion learned that her mother still came home each noon. She sat at the kitchen window, eating her lunch and watching Marion play in the neighbor’s yard.
All the while she longed to be with Marion. She longed to hold her close, especially when she cried. But it was for Marion’s good that she didn’t.
Eventually Marion adjusted to her mother’s absence and grew up in a healthy way.
Looking back on it now, Marion sees why her mother stopped coming. It was for her own good, for her own growth and development.
That story has something in common with today’s gospel. For in today’s gospel, Jesus says in effect to his disciples:
“Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am leaving, but I will come back to you.’ The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you.”
In other words, Jesus is saying to his disciples that it’s time for him to leave them for a while. It’s time for them to begin a new phase in their spiritual growth. It’s time for them to grow and develop in a new way.
What is true of four-year-old Marion and what is true of the disciples of Jesus is also true of us.
There come times in our lives when God seems to abandon us. There come times in our lives when God seems to leave us for a while.
Take our prayer, for example. Perhaps there was a time when we experienced deep peace from prayer. But now we seem to draw little from it.
Or take our faith. Perhaps there was a time when our faith was strong enough to move mountains. But now it can hardly move a molehill.
Or take our religious commitment. Perhaps we once derived great satisfaction from working in Marriage Encounter, in RCIA, or as a eucharistic minister. Now we derive very little joy from it. It’s as though God has abandoned us. We begin to wonder if God still loves us as much as he once did, just as little Marion began to wonder about her mother’s love.
The truth is that God loves us very much. He loves us as much as he always did.
He still longs to hold us close. But God knows that it’s for our own good that he doesn’t.
God knows it’s time for us to begin a new phase in our spiritual growth, just as little Marion did and just as the disciples of Jesus did.
For example, it’s time for us to realize that prayer can take place without feeling on our part. In fact, the best prayer often takes place when our heart seems to turn to stone and we have no feeling at all. For it is then that we truly pray with faith.
It’s time for us to realize that faith is not a feeling. It’s a commitment. It’s a surrender of ourselves to God. It’s saying yes to God, even though we don’t sense or feel his presence, just as little Marion didn’t sense or feel her mother’s presence.
Finally, it’s time for us to realize that the motive for our religious involvement does not come, primarily, from the satisfaction we get from it.
We get involved because Jesus asked us to. We get involved because Jesus taught us to. We get involved because Jesus himself did. Acertain man was a collector of moths. One day, while walking in a park, he saw the cocoon of a rare moth hanging from a tree twig. He clipped the twig and took the cocoon home.
A few days later he saw movement inside the cocoon, but the moth didn’t emerge. The next day he saw movement again, but again nothing happened. When it happened a third time, the man took a knife and slit the cocoon.
The moth crawled out. But to the moth collector’s dismay, it was undeveloped and soon died. Later a biologist friend explained why. He said that nature has arranged it in such a way that a moth must struggle to escape its cocoon. It’s this struggle that causes it to develop and makes it strong enough to survive.
When the moth collector tried to make it easy for the moth, he destroyed its chances to grow and develop.
Something like that happens with us. God programs struggle into our lives. It’s his way of helping us grow spiritually.
God arranged things so that at certain points in our prayer life we must struggle. He arranged things so that at certain points in our faith life we must struggle. He arranged things so that at certain points in our spiritual life we must struggle.
And all the while we are struggling, God is close at hand,just as Marion’s mother was close at hand when little Marion was struggling.
God knows that it’s for our own good that we struggle for a while. For it’s through this kind of struggle that we grow and develop spiritually into mature Christians.
Let’s close with a familiar poem that we’ve used on other occasions. It sums up what we have been trying to say.
For ev’ry pain we must bear, For ev’ry burden, ev’ry care, There’s a reason.
For ev’ry grief that bows the head, For ev’ry teardrop that is shed, There’s a reason.
For ev’ry hurt, for ev’ry plight, For ev’ry lonely, pain-racked night, There’s a reason.
But if we trust God, as we should, It will turn out for our good. He knows the reason. Author unknown
Series II 6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 15:1–2, 22–29; Revelation 21:10–14, 22–23; John 14:23–29
God’s ways are not our ways If we seem to be experiencing spiritual difficulty, it is simply because God is working in a new way in our lives.
In 1974, several of President Nixon’s White House advisors were sentenced to prison for their role in the Watergate scandal. One of these advisors was Charles Colson.
Shortly before he was convicted and sentenced to prison, Colson underwent a remarkable religious conversion.He turned his life over to Jesus completely.
One Monday morning, while in prison, Colson was sitting in his cell wondering why God had let him be buried in prison, especially in the light of his subsequent repentance and conversion. He couldn’t imagine any good coming from being locked up behind bars. He felt abandoned by God.
He opened his Bible and read a passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, which recalled how Jesus came into our world and lived among us as a brother. Suddenly a thought crossed Colson’s mind.
Was not his prison situation similar to Jesus’ situation in our world? God had sent Jesus into the world to live among us as a brother and to lead us to salvation.
Colson wondered if it could be possible that God had a similar plan for him. Could it be that God had permitted him to be sentenced to prison so that he might live among the prisoners as a brother and lead them to salvation?
“Out of these startling thoughts,’’ Colson said later, “came the beginning of a revelation’’: that God was calling him to prison ministry.
After his release from prison, Colson founded a program called Prison Fellowship. It is now nationwide and involves Bible-study seminars that are attended by over 25,000 prisoners in over 500 of our nation’s prisons.
It also provides material and spiritual assistance to the families of prisoners.
Finally, it provides counseling for prisoners and families of prisoners during the difficult days that often occur after a prisoner returns home.
The story of Charles Colson and his prison ministry illustrates an important point that Jesus makes with his disciples in today’s gospel reading.
His disciples were “worried’’ and “afraid’’ when they heard that Jesus was going to leave them for a while. They found it impossible to imagine life without Jesus at their side.
They found it impossible to imagine how any good could come from Jesus’ departure from their midst. Why was Jesus letting this tragedy happen to them, especially just after they had committed their lives to him?
Jesus was saying that he would not leave them without help, but would send the Holy Spirit to guide them.
And that’s what happened. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and helped them to do new and exciting things that they never dreamed of doing without Jesus walking at their side.
There’s an important lesson to be learned from the story of Colson’s imprisonment and from the story of Jesus’ departure from his disciples. It is this:
There comes a time in all of our lives when Jesus seems to abandon us. There comes a time in our lives when God seems to leave us to struggle alone.
Take prayer, for example. Perhaps there was a time in our lives when we derived peace and joy from prayer. But now we seem to derive little peace or joy from it.
Or take our faith. Perhaps there was a time when our faith was strong enough to move mountains. But now it can hardly move a molehill.
Or take our religious involvement. Perhaps there was a time when we derived great joy and satisfaction from doing what is right: working for the poor, working for the Church, volunteering for service projects. Now we derive little joy or satisfaction from doing these things. It’s as though God has abandoned us. We wonder why God has done this to us. We can’t imagine any good coming from the tragic situation that we now find ourselves in.
The truth is that God has not abandoned us, but has merely withdrawn temporarily. God knows that it is time for us to move to a new level of spiritual growth.
God is working in our lives in a new way just as God did in Colson’s life and in the lives of the disciples.
For example, God wants to teach us that real prayer can take place even when we don’t feel that anything is happening as we pray.
Actually, our best prayer often takes place when our hearts turn to stone and we feel nothing at all. For it is then that we pray with true faith.
God also wants to teach us that faith is not a feeling. Rather it is a commitment. It is a surrendering of ourselves to God. It is saying yes to God, simply because God is God.
Finally, God wants to teach us that the motive for religious involvement for helping our brothers and sisters is not the satisfaction and joy it gives us.
Rather, the motive for our involvement is Jesus himself. We get involved because Jesus asks us to. We get involved because Jesus taught us to. We get involved because Jesus got involved.
And so if, like Charles Colson, we find ourselves wondering why Jesus has abandoned us, or if, like the disciples, we find ourselves wondering why Jesus has departed from us, it is simply because Jesus wants to lead us to a new level of spiritual growth. He wants us to begin growing in ways that we never suspected to be possible. He wants to give us a new and more profound appreciation of prayer, of our faith, and of our motive for becoming involved in helping others.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, help us realize that everything that happens to us happens for a reason. Help us realize that every sorrow or setback we experience can be transformed into a blessing, if we but trust in you. Help us realize that if we trust you, all things even tragedies will work out for our good.
Series III 6th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 15:1–2, 22–29; Revelation 21:10–14, 22–23; John 14:23–29
Promise of the Spirit The Spirit will help us and remain with us forever.
Jesus said,]“I am going to the Father . . . and he will give you another Helper.” John 14:12, 16
One of the most popular songs at church weddings is Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” The melody of this beautiful song came to Schubert while he was hiking with a friend in the beautiful mountains of Austria.
Rivaling the popularity of “Ave Maria,” at least in classical circles, is Schubert’s Eighth Symphony, also known as “The Unfinished Symphony.”
Someone compared “The Unfinished Symphony” to Christianity. While we aren’t sure why Schubert didn’t finish it, we are sure why Jesus left Christianity unfinished.
It was because it would extend thousands of years into the future. And so the task of completing it would have to fall to his followers. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that his Father will send them the Holy Spirit to help them complete it. The kind of help the Holy Spirit gives us is usually spelled out in terms of the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. So let’s take a closer look at these three remarkable gifts of the Holy Spirit.
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on the moon. That flight was preceded by a whole series of preparatory flights.
One of these flights was Gemini 4, which took place four years earlier. It was manned by astronauts Ed White and Jim McDivitt.
That was the flight on which Ed White made his famous 20-minute walk outside the space capsule.
When Gemini 4 returned to earth, a reporter interviewed White. One of the questions he asked was about the personal items he took on the flight.
White, a Protestant, explained that one item he took was a Saint Christopher medal given the astronauts by Pope John XXIII.
He took it, he said, to express his faith in himself, in Jim, and especially in God, adding, “Faith was the most important thing Jim and I had going for us.”
Faith is a supernatural virtue or power given to us in Baptism by the Holy Spirit.
It empowers us to believe in God and God’s revelation to us, especially in Scripture.
After the interview with Ed White, someone pointed out that the Gemini 4 journey from earth to outer space is not unlike our own spiritual journey from earthly life to eternal life in heaven.
The most important thing we’ve got going for us on that journey is our faith in God and God’s word. Without that faith, we would be doomed.
That brings us to the second spiritual power or virtue that the Holy Spirit gives us in Baptism. It is the gift of hope.
Perhaps the simplest way to understand the supernatural virtue of hope is to recall that deep down in every human heart there is a hunger for eternal happiness.
The virtue of hope may be described as the unshakable assurance that this hunger will be satisfied not by our own power but by the power of the Holy Spirit. An anonymous poet described the virtue of hope in this poetic way:
During the cold days of winter, the sun of hope keeps shining in my heart, assuring me that spring,with its lovely flowers, is on the way.
But hope is more than just an unshakable assurance about something in the distant future. It is also an unshakable assurance about something in the present.
Because of the gift of hope, we are able to live with greater peace and joy, right now, in the present. For this reason, said another poet:
Let us be like a bird as he sits on a frail branch singing. Although he feels the branch bending in the wind, he doesn’t stop singing,because he knows he has wings. Victor Hugo
That’s what hope does for us.
That brings us to the third great virtue given to us in Baptism by the Holy Spirit: the gift of charity, or love.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek, which uses three different words to refer to love. They used the word eros, to refer to sexual love; philia, to refer to friendship love; and agape, to refer to Christian love.
English Bibles often translate agape as “charity,” to stress the fact that it is a supernatural power given in Baptism by the Holy Spirit.
It is this virtue that empowers us to love God and neighbor the way Jesus taught us to love them. In other words, if we use this gift the way Jesus taught us to use it, it has the power to transform ourselves and our world. Consider an example.
Jerome K. Jerome wrote a play entitled The Passing of the Third Floor Back. In it, a stranger comes to a rooming house filled with riffraff and misfits.
In some versions of the play, these misfits and riffraff have signs hanging around their necks, listing their defect: “cheat,” “liar,” etc.
As the play progresses, the signs disappear one by one, indicating the person has changed.
Then one day the rooming house is all abuzz with the news of the death, or “passing,” of the stranger who lived in a back room on the third floor.
The rest of the play deals with the residents of the rooming house telling one another how the stranger in the “third floor back” changed their lives by his love and kindness toward them.
Idon’t know if Jerome K. Jerome intended it, but the stranger in the “third floor back” is a beautiful image of Jesus.
He, too, came into a world of misfits. He, too, transformed them one by one by the love and kindness he showed them.
That brings us back to today’s Gospel and the words Jesus spoke to his disciples:
“[B]e glad that I am going to the Father. . . . [The Father] will give you another Helper [the Holy Spirit], who will stay with you forever.” John 14:28, 16
It is this Holy Spirit who calls us and empowers us to join Jesus in his noble work, transforming ourselves and our world into what God intended us to be when he created us.