A reflection by Fr. Dave Warren, S.F.M., for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. First Reading: Acts 15.1-2, 22-29; Second Reading: Revelations 21.10-14, 22-23; Gospel: John 14.23-29
I continue to be amazed at how often people use cell phones. I have a cell phone myself. I take it with me in the car in case my car breaks down and I have to call CAA. But I rarely make calls on it. I use my cell phone mostly as an alarm clock.
I see people talking on their cell phones while out walking, and even when they are crossing the street. I see people on their cell phones on the bus and on the train. I ask myself what it all means. Does it mean that people have a message that can’t wait? Or does it mean that people can’t bear to be alone with their own thoughts? Or does it simply mean that people want to connect with others?
There is no intimacy between persons without presence. But neither is there intimacy without absence. The cell phone service providers, of course, don’t want us to know this. They would have us believe that intimacy demands instant communication anytime and anywhere. It doesn’t. Intimacy demands a certain degree of absence.
Intimacy between persons is a rhythm of presence and absence. Married couples know this. They know that they need to spend time together, but they also need time apart. Friends also know this. Brothers and sisters know it, too. The branches all grow from the same trunk, but if you try to force them together, they will snap.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about absence and presence. Absence: “I am going away.” Presence: “I am coming to you” (John 14.28).
Jesus has gone away (John 14.28). We no longer know him in the flesh. We do not know Jesus as His contemporaries knew him. But we do know him in a different way. St. Paul says, “Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now” (II Corinthians 5.16). We know Jesus in the Spirit.
Jesus remains with us, the community of His disciples, as we journey through history, and as we encounter new questions and new problems.
The people of Palestine in the first century knew Jesus in the flesh. They heard Him speak to the realities of life in 1st century Palestine. Jesus speaks to us of the realities of life in 21st century Canada. Jesus remains with us, the community of His disciples, as we journey through history, and as we encounter new questions and new problems. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “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” (John 14.26).
We see the Advocate at work in today’s first reading. His disciples encounter a question that had not arisen during the earthly life of Jesus. During his ministry in Palestine, Jesus preached only to Jewish people. After his resurrection, Gentiles—that is to say, non-Jews—wanted to become his followers. The question arose: Would these Gentile converts have to follow the entire Jewish law including circumcision and kosher food? As we hear in today’s first reading, the leaders of the Church decided that Gentile converts did not have to follow the entire Jewish law.
And so it is as the Church journeys through history. The Advocate gives to the Church the mind of Jesus as we encounter issues which Jesus-in-the-flesh did not encounter, issues such as physician-assisted dying, new reproductive technologies, capitalism, nuclear weapons, and the ecological crisis. On these and other questions, the Advocate speaks through the Pope and the bishops and gives us the mind of Jesus for our own time and place.
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything” (John 14.26).
This doesn’t mean that the Advocate reveals to us new things. It means that the Advocate gives us new insights into the words of Jesus. We discover deeper meaning in the words of Jesus. We grow in our understanding of the words of Jesus.
For example, St. Paul accepted slavery as a fact of life. He advised Christian slaves to obey their masters and urged Christian masters to treat their slaves humanely. He accepted slavery as a social institution. Today we see slavery itself as contrary to the mind of Jesus.
The history of the Church is a history of remembering; it’s a history of remembering Jesus and what He did. That’s why we come together every Sunday. But the history of the Church is also a history of forgetting.
The Advocate reminds us of what we have forgotten. He reminds us through other people. The Advocate reminds us through Christians of other denominations. Quakers, for example, remind us of the teaching of Jesus on nonviolence. The Advocate reminds us through peoples of other faiths. Buddhists, for example, remind us of the need for detachment from passing things. The Advocate even reminds us through atheists. Marxists, for example, remind us that Christianity can be an unwitting accomplice of capitalism.
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything” (John 14.26). Jesus is out of sight. But we’re still in communication.