p. Luis CASASUS | President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, April 16, 2023 | Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:42-47; 1Pt 1: 3-9; Jn 20: 19-31.
On more than one occasion, when I returned to our residence in the Bronx in New York, some beggar or homeless person, often also a drug addict, would approach me to ask for a coin. If there were no others around, I would hand him 50 cents, but I would try to invite him to say an Our Father together, asking for the missionaries. In the midst of their initial astonishment, that was what they really thanked me for, with a smile of complicity.
Little anecdotes like the one above often lead me to think that the deepest mercy, the mercy that God the Father has for us and that we can also live, is characterized by remaining at the person’s side.
On this day, which St. John Paul II named Mercy Sunday, Jesus “placed himself in the midst of his disciples” and a week later repeated that action when Thomas was among them. This leads us consider the various forms of Christ’s presence. It is true that we cannot see the wounds of Christ as St. Thomas did, nor can we sit and watch him break bread like the disciples of Emmaus, but we should be aware of HOW he is with us, because the words we have quoted from the Gospel do not seem to be a “catch phrase” to encourage us…
Perhaps we can summarize the presence of Christ in what St. John Paul II wanted to transmit to the Church with this Mercy Sunday: if I have received the mercy of God, who has kept the flame of my faith, in spite of my lack of fidelity, then I must live the same mercy with my neighbor.
Some saints, not all, have reported their experiences of this companionship of Christ. For example, with her original and direct style, St. Teresa of Avila (Spain, 1515-1582) advised: Deal with him as with father and as with brother and as with lord and as with husband (Way of Perfection,1566).
The truth is that Christ promised to be with us: I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mt 28: 20). It is also true that we do not always recognize Him when he approaches us, as happened to the first disciples when they were on the boat after midnight and he approached them over the waves. In fact, Christ began his life in this world by being rejected at an inn by those who did not even imagine who He might be.
It is well known that St. John the Baptist did recognize Christ among all the others, and pointed him out so that his disciples could identify Him. In fact, it is a whole way of understanding our mission as aspiring apostles. While there are countless discussions about the existence of God, noting the presence and action of Jesus among us is a testimony that is hard to refuse.
A story is told about a rich newspaper publisher. He not only built a big company, but he also invested a fortune in great works of art. One day he read about some valuable pieces of art and decided that he must add them to his collection, so he sent his agent abroad to locate them and purchase them. Months passed before the agent finally returned and reported him that the items had at last been found…they were stored in his own warehouse. The rich man had purchased them years before.
Perhaps that is exactly what is happening to some of us Christians. We have all these wonderful resources in Christ and don’t even know it. We are running around looking for answers when we have all that we need in the personal indwelling presence of Jesus Christ.
The presence of Christ is manifested especially through the action of the Holy Spirit, whom He promised to send and does so permanently: My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working (Jn 5: 17). The best proof that we do not take full advantage of that presence is the continuous distractions of our thoughts, our desires and motivations, which are absorbed by the things of the world.
In the spiritual life, this first form of Christ’s presence, in our mind and in our will, bending them gently, without forcing anything, is called Mystical Recollection and Quietude. Let us not forget that an essential characteristic of this presence is its tenderness, its character of invitation, never obligation, which makes it vulnerable to our lack of sensitivity.
As Christ said, we are in the world, but do not belong to the world. In that vein, our Father and Founder encouraged us to look at the earth from heaven, which is a poetic and accurate way of saying that everything has the capacity to unite us to God, to make us walk with Christ, especially the presence of our neighbor. This is how we experience it, because the Holy Spirit puts in our heart the best possible intention for the one who is next to us; the difficulty is that this best intention, this authentically divine desire for the present moment, is literally eclipsed by a cloud of urgencies, needs, desires and obligations (not to mention passions) and we do not succeed, as the Psalm 116 says, to walk in the presence of the Lord.
One of the well-known examples of the importance of living “in the presence of someone” is that of the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who described how many people manage to survive the most tragic and painful situations by keeping in their hearts and memories the presence of loved ones, even if they were far away. That, he explained, is what gave meaning to their lives.
A few days ago, I read in the press the lament of a woman whose family had been decimated and whose house and all her possessions had been destroyed by an earthquake. She wondered aloud: Where is Jesus Christ when all these things happen? But her voice was not a complaint, it was a call, so that she could feel the comfort of Jesus’ presence, which she had already experienced on other occasions.
In any case, when speaking of the presence of Christ, our tendency is to consider Him as someone who “should be near” to help us, to instruct us, to comfort us. However, this is something that other religions also say about God. An essential new feature is that Christ reminds us of His presence in our neighbor so that we understand the value of any act of mercy: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Mt 25:40).
This explains the value of the small, modest actions we take on behalf of others. It also explains the value of acts of generosity that will never be thanked, nor perhaps perceived by others, such as the silent sacrifices of a mother for her child or the tears shed in solitude… so that no one suffers.
Jesus has said: Where two or three are gathered in my name I am with you. That is why during Mass the priest or deacon greets the congregation four times with the following words: The Lord be with you, at the beginning just after the Sign of the Cross, when we stand for the Gospel, at the introductory dialogue to the Eucharistic prayer and at the end before the blessing.
Undoubtedly, the presence of Christ is different and very specific when we are gathered in his name. For this reason, the Church exhorts us all to be vigilant so that this sacrament of love may be the center of the life of the People of God (Redemptor hominis, John Paul II). However, it is important to be aware of the signs of that presence.
In reality, the signs we are talking about now are GIVEN BY US, so the important thing is that we are consistent with them and that they are not empty, but an authentic response to the privileged form of divine presence in the Eucharist.
* In the first place, it is a community, often heterogeneous and sometimes made up of people who do not know each other and yet who visibly, by their presence alone, manifest their weakness and their need to draw closer to Christ.
* Secondly, by listening to the Word and receiving the Body of Christ, we confess our obedience to Christ’s desire to renew the mystery of his sacrifice. We unite ourselves to him in the depths of his desires, of his being.
* Finally, at the end of the celebration, we are all sent to proclaim the Good News in word and deed, in true peace.
Providence takes advantage of our social and communitarian nature to transform and console us when we are gathered together, as illustrated by this well-known story of a young man who one day asked a priest why he should bother coming to church. After all he believed in God. Why should he give up his Sunday mornings? They were sitting by an open fire. The priest didn’t reply but just took a live coal out of the fire with the fire tongs and put it on the hearth. The two men sat and watched it cool; then the priest put the coal back into the fire where it heated up before taking it out a second time so that it cooled down. No words were needed, but the young man got the point. It is not a matter of efficiency, nor of the trivial truth that “unity is strength”. Without the encouragement of other people our faith might well fade and cool and diminish to nothing.
That is why we must encourage everyone to never walk alone. The reason goes beyond the importance of having spiritual direction, beyond mutual consolation, beyond greater effectiveness. God, with the voice of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, makes himself present in a different way when we unite, however clumsily, in his name.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,