By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 21-5-2017, Sixth of Easter (Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8.14-17; First Letter of Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21)
Of course, to see God is not something we do with our eyes. The point is to have evidence, and evidence means vivid presentation, clearness. This is what Apostle Thomas requested from Jesus… and He did not denied it. Today Jesus tells us: You will see me, because I live and you will live. The evidence is his life in us and this new life is manifested mainly in two ways: Purification and Peace. We can call them evidences because clearly they not do come either from this world, or from my effort.
We have a limited idea of what purification is all about. For example, we typically associate it with suffering, but there is much suffering in our lives and in the world…that has nothing to do with purification. While it is true that purification involves some kind of pain or discomfort, sometimes it is extremely joyful and liberating. Essentially, purification is to be pruned by the Holy Spirit.
We are pruned of everything that is useless and hampers our spiritual life; we are also pruned of our current fruit bearing branches so that we can grow new ones to produce more fruit. This is not always obvious and sometimes we do not understand why this is so important: And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.
No matter what is the purification we are talking about, we are pruned by the Word of God: You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you (Jn 15:3). We are all constrained by our past and narrow ways of looking at life and the scriptures.
According to our father Founder, Fernando Rielo, our purification starts already in the first steps of our mystical life. Provided we keep Christ’s small commandments (the true, loving form of obedience in our mind and our will) then we will overcome all depression of our psychological fragility.
Indeed, the prayerful person becomes aware of purification, because the internal wounds that the passions cause cease bleeding. In the Gospel of Luke we read about the woman who had a flow of blood that: she… came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased (Lk 8: 44). When one approaches Jesus Christ, he is immediately healed: the blood of passions ceases to flow. Images, circumstances, persons who used to scandalize us cease to now. In other words, when various persons or things disturb us, it is obvious that we are wounded by the attacks of the devil.
When we are purified we see all people and all things as creatures of God. We consider, especially human persons, as images of a God who is full of love. Whoever, therefore, is dressed with the grace of Christ also sees the others dressed with such grace. I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper’s wounds I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience? (Mother Theresa of Calcutta).
Are there any other signs of this purification? What do we gain by being pruned?
* We are cleansed from the effects and the domination of Instinct for Happiness (the deepest area of our Ascetical Purification). Yes, this Instinct can drown our prayer with haste and anxiety. Time is needed to see things more objectively from afar. Time is needed to help us sort out our prejudices to allow Jesus to live in us; He will set the pace. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.
Any doubt? Here is the striking case of a saint:
Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769–1852), an American missionary from France, seems to have failed at everything she tried. She was sent to America, hoping to teach Native Americans, but was ordered to start a school for farmers and merchants. Her order failed miserably, and she was sent to open several schools and a convent, where her traditional ways were fought by everyone. The children, the nuns, and even the bishop resisted her old ways of life. The fact that she still couldn’t speak English did not help. When she finally did get to go to a Native settlement, she was over 70 and in ill health. She was there only for a year. When she returned to a Florissant convent, she chose, as her bedroom, a small closet under the stairs. Ten years later, she died, feeling as though she had failed in everything.
But her persistence in prayer and suffering was an inspiration to all who knew her. Even school children would wait outside the chapel to see her walk out after communion, because, they said, a strange light shone from her face. Father De Smet (a missionary in the Rockies) often visited her and claimed, Never did I leave her without the feeling that I had been conversing with a saint. Her life may not be sprinkled with success, but all who met her felt called to live the Gospel in greater enthusiasm and fervor. Such is the mission of the apostle, to lead more people to Christ.
* Purity is the fruit of living all the words of Jesus, which free us from the attachments into which we inevitably fall if our heart is not in God and in his teachings. These could be attachments to things, people, ourselves. But if our heart is focused on God alone, all the rest falls away.
Following the commandment of love is the guarantee to deserve being purified. As Chiara Lubich said:
As isolated individuals we are incapable of resisting at length the solicitations of the world. Instead mutual love provides a healthy environment capable of protecting the whole of our authentic Christian existence and, in particular, our purity. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
These then are the fruits of purity, to be constantly regained. We can “see” God, that is, we can understand his action in our own life and in history; we can hear his voice in our heart; we can discern his presence in the poor, in the Eucharist, in his word, in brotherly communion, in the Church.
* And, as we stated, the genuine sign of purification is not just suffering, but the apostolic fertility of a pruned branch: As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. Fruitlessness is the first sign given by a religious who is not pure.
We all look for peace. We are tired because every day, we have to fight so many battles. There is conflict and tension at home, at work and in church. People are not talking or they are gossiping and there is much bitterness. We are drained out by responsibilities and by our commitments. Not surprisingly, the world’s notion of peace is freedom from stress and from human conflicts.
On the contrary, the peace of Christ comes from a greater commitment to our work and responsibilities. Peace comes from continuing His mission to proclaim the Good News to all, like St Paul and Barnabas in their first missionary travel (Acts 14:19-28). Peace comes from saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus. Indeed, this was the peace of Paul. His conscience was clear. His life was so full of hazardous events. But he never stopped fulfilling the mission entrusted to him. It is hard to believe that he was stoned almost to death and yet he stood up and went back to the town. St Paul was not afraid of death or of his enemies. He was willing to face death and suffering. By overcoming the fear of death and suffering, he was fearless in proclaiming the Good News, for nothing could hinder him. Without wasting any time, the next day, he continued his journey to preach the Good News elsewhere. There was no time to lament, to moan or to complain. Such was the peace that St Paul experienced. A peace that came from doing God’s will in proclaiming the Good News to all.
Most of all, peace comes from the assurance of His presence in our midst. Jesus told the disciples, Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me say: I am going away, and shall return. If you loved me you would have been glad to know that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. We never suffer alone. A Christian does not need to suffer alone because the Father is with him in His Son and the Holy Spirit.
Finally, consider the persecution of the early Christians in Acts 14,19-28. From a purely human point of view, this state of affairs might have initiated the decline of Christianity. But in fact, the persecution had just the opposite effect because as Luke never tires of reminding us, the Church enjoyed the gift of the Spirit and such obstacles only served to advance the gospel. If not for the persecution against the Church in Jerusalem, the disciples would not have been scattered through the surrounding areas of Judaea and Samaria. The persecution proved to be a blessing in disguise. This is the peace that the world cannot enjoy.
Today’s Gospel led us to the place where Jesus celebrates the last supper with his disciples. He introduces the promise to send the Holy Spirit, as sure presence, but also the promise of the coming of the Father and of himself in the depths of the disciples who, through faith, will have believed in him and kept his commandments.