In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” Too often we think of our faith journey in the opposite way. We think that if we keep God’s word, with the help of his grace, then we will eventually come to dwell with him in Heaven. But Jesus is telling us here that, in truth, the work and the initiative is God’s. He wills to be united with us. He comes to us if we open ourselves to him. Jesus gives us a similar word in Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” Again we see that it is God who comes to us, who wants to make his home with us, if we will but open ourselves to him and allow him to enter.
How do we allow God to enter our hearts and our lives? Jesus tells us: by keeping his word. And his word is the very word of the Father, as he says, “The word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.”
What does it mean, then, for us to “keep his word”? It means for us to make the word of Jesus, the word of the Father, the greatest treasure in our lives. It means for us to read his word, to take it in and ponder it faithfully, day after day, striving to understand it as best we can, and to put it into practice. It means for us to treasure his word above every other “word” which we hear in the world, always giving priority to what the Lord tells us, making his word the guiding light for our lives. Pope Francis in this week’s Spiritual Reflection says that keeping God’s word “is a matter of freeing oneself from worldly bonds represented by our views, our strategies, our objectives that often burden the journey of faith, and placing ourselves in docile listening to the Word of the Lord.”
Jesus tells us in the Gospel that he does not leave us to ponder his word by ourselves. He sends us the Holy Spirit: “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.” Pope Francis describes the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives in this way: “The Holy Spirit’s task is to remind, that is, to enable full understanding and to induce us to concretely implement Jesus’ teachings.… Day by day, he teaches us the logic of the Gospel, the logic of welcoming love, by ‘teaching us all things’ and reminding us ‘of all the Lord has said to us.’”
As Catholics, we recognize that God’s word is given to us not only in the Scriptures, but also in the Tradition of the Church, and in the teaching of the Pope and the bishops, who have been anointed for this task in an unbroken line going back to Peter and the Apostles. Thus we see in the second reading that the holy city of Jerusalem, symbolic of the place where God dwells with his people, is built upon a foundation inscribed with the names of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.” The light of the city is Christ himself, which shows us that, in his word, we have all the “light” which we need to see how to come to God and live with him. By keeping Christ’s word, given to us in Scriptures and in the Church, we open ourselves to the action of God as he comes to dwell with us and leads us home to live with him in his “holy city.”
In the first reading we see a practical example of the Church discerning how God’s word applies in a particular situation. Some members of the early Church were convinced that new Gentile converts to Christianity would need to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law, while others, including Paul, believed that this was not necessary. Therefore the “apostles and elders” gathered together to pray and discuss the situation. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they determined that it was not necessary for Gentile converts to follow Mosaic practice. As they put it, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities …”
We see, then, that God wants to “dwell” with us in a very real way. The Holy Spirit is given to us to guide us and teach us how to understand and keep God’s word in all the situations which we face throughout the day. We see how critical is our daily pondering of the word, along with making every effort to learn and follow the teachings of the Church. By keeping and treasuring God’s word, we make a place for him to come and live with us, so that he can draw us home to himself.
Following the lead of Pope Francis, let us look to Mary as our model and guide in keeping God’s word: “May she who, with humble and courageous faith, fully cooperated with the Holy Spirit for the incarnation of the Son of God, help us too to allow ourselves to be taught and guided by the Paraclete, so that we may welcome the Word of God and witness to it with our lives.”
What prevents me from opening my heart to the Spirit? How do I make the word of God the guiding light and the treasure of my life? In what ways has the Holy Spirit reminded me of all that the Lord has revealed to me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.