In the sixth week of Easter, we continue to ponder with hope the promise of sharing life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our reading from the Book of Revelation takes us to heaven, to the eternal Kingdom where we shall dwell with the Trinity. John speaks of it as “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,” gleaming with the splendor of God. He goes on to describe its twelve gates on which were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. On its foundation stones were inscribed the names of the twelve Apostles of Jesus. The reading reassures us of God’s promise to his faithful ones, renewing our hope to this day.
The measure of our love for Jesus is manifested by our keeping his word. To “keep his word” is to trust in his love for us; it is to allow him to reign in us, moving us to love one another. To avail ourselves of his grace, we ponder his word so that we can keep his word. In the Scriptures we ponder each day, the Lord speaks personally to us, and we encounter his loving presence. Today he is telling us that the Holy Spirit is the power that enables us to live by his word. “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
It is no secret that it is difficult for us to remain present to the Spirit’s presence dwelling within us. We forget about the word. We get distracted by our physical needs, by the concerns we have for others, and at times, by our own emotional turmoil. At times it can feel like the Lord has left us or that we have lost him. His closing words in today’s Gospel are a reassurance to us. He leaves us his peace and he promises to come back to us. He already has returned to us and remains with us always through the Holy Spirit. In fact he never leaves us. It is we who leave him when we choose the path of sin; and when we return to him, he is awaiting us, like the father of the prodigal son.
How quickly we can forget that our relationship with the Lord is one of love. Because of our fallen nature, we easily reduce his friendship to, “What do I have to do?” Something similar can happen in our most intimate human relationship, marriage. After the honeymoon phase of the first years of marriage, many couples struggle with their relationship. It can break down to little more than “what are my obligations?” and “what are my spouse’s obligations?” Both in our relationship with God and with each other, we too easily substitute rules for love, basing our relationships more on justice than on mercy.
The same confusion came up in the early Church, as described in today’s reading from Acts. The Jewish converts to Christianity assumed that they and the non-Jewish converts were still obliged to follow the Mosaic Law. They treated the Christian faith as something added to the demands of the Law, more things that one had to do and had to avoid. It took the Council of Jerusalem to resolve the issue – and not without heated debate! The beautiful account of how matters were resolved gives witness to the action of the Holy Spirit and the communal grace of discernment in the Church. The Apostles can confidently say, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…”
When we welcome the guidance of the Spirit, who dwells in us and speaks through the Magisterium of the Church, the peace of Christ reigns in our hearts. Our personal and social agendas, our fixation on rules rather than on love, our modern-day “cult of self-worship,” lead only to hearts that are troubled and afraid. The Spirit draws our hearts to the way of Jesus Christ who is the “lamp” shining on the holy city, filling us all with his glory. The Spirit sends us forth as missionary disciples, to shine his light on all and lead them to his welcoming embrace.
Do I trust that the Holy Spirit who lives within me will teach the ways of God? Do I sometimes live two lives, one with God, the other still connected to worldly things? Do I base my relationship more on justice or mercy?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.