Dominica Quarta post Pascha [4th Sunday after Easter]: May 19, 2019
Delivered by Most Reverend Roger LaRade, OFA
Beloved Disciple Catholic Church, Toronto
© Roger LaRade 2019
James 1: 17 – 21; John 16: 5 – 14.
The liturgy of the Church constantly calls us to live our lives with a deep belief in Jesus as the Christ, from which flows a deep conviction in the message of Jesus. This message is rooted in what is known as Jesus’ farewell discourse to His Apostles, or Jesus’ instruction of His disciples, part of which we have heard proclaimed in the Gospel reading for today’s Mass. This discourse begins with Jesus washing the feet of His Apostles at the Last Supper (which we commemorated just a few weeks ago in our celebration of Holy Thursday); it ends with Jesus instructing His future disciples to live in unity, a unity modeled on the love of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This is Jesus’ great teaching to His disciples, preparing them for His Passion, Resurrection, Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. We – just as was their experience – can only make sense of these words of Jesus with a post-Resurrection understanding, one shaped by the leave-taking of Jesus and the reception of the Holy Spirit.
The liturgy of the Church is preparing us for Christ’s Ascension and for the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Apostles, newly rejoicing in the return of Jesus in their midst, are reminded that this new situation is temporary. Jesus will again leave them. They may well have been thinking that the return of Jesus after three days in the realm of the dead was what Jesus had been talking about. The harsh reality is that His leaving is yet to come, and that it is necessary; necessary so that His mission may, in fact, be continued and deepened. For the Apostles, this must have seemed a bit incomprehensible. Their direct experience of Jesus-with-them would have led them to believe that this experience was the end all and be all of their discipleship.
Yet, God’s design is different. It is only in Jesus’ passing into Heaven, only in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity being reunited with the First Person of the Holy Trinity, that His disciples will be empowered to live lives fully convicted in the message of Jesus. In the reunion of the First and Second Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Third Person, the Holy Spirit – the Convictor, if you will – is given to those who believe in Jesus as the Christ.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria, in his homily on this gospel reading, explains the effect and necessity of this. He writes:
All that the Lord had to do on earth was now done; but it was necessary that we should become sharers and partakers of the divine nature (II Pet. i. 4) of the Word…But it was not possible to do this except through the possession and communion of the Holy Spirit. The most fitting and the most appropriate time for the mission of the Holy Spirit, and for His descent upon us, was that which now opportunely arose, namely, after the going from our midst of Christ Our Saviour. For as long as Christ remained bodily with those who believed in Him, He appeared to them, I think, as the Giver of every gift.
I think we can understand this as meaning that as long as Jesus was around, the Apostles would have continued to rely on His physical presence, on Him, to do it all. In this situation, it is likely that their own sense of mission would not have deepened; they themselves would not have been empowered to "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mk. 16: 15).
Saint Francis of Assisi, before passing into Heaven, told his followers that he had done what God had given him to do and now that he was leaving this earthly realm it was their turn to do what God called each one of them to do. And so it is with each one of us. And this we must do on our own. We must come to it of our own choosing. Of course, we are hopefully supported in this by others, but in the end each one of us must come to it and live it with conviction in our own heart.
These fifty days between Easter and Pentecost are indeed meant to form in us a disposition to live out God’s will for us in a post-Resurrection understanding, an understanding which is formed and sustained by the reception and continued gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Church in this season of Easter, in this season when Resurrection is followed by Christ’s Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, calls us to rejoice and partake in the glorious love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for one another that our post-Resurrection understanding of God’s all-encompassing love in Jesus as the Christ may be deepened by our partaking of His Body and Blood.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, v. 2: From the First Sunday in Lent to the Sunday after the Ascension, translated and edited by M.F. Toal, D.D. (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1964), p. 368.
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