In today’s Gospel we hear that Jesus is getting ready to leave… again. I can imagine the distraught faces of the Apostles, and their sinking sense of deja vu. They might have said, “But Jesus, you already left us when you died! Now, you’re leaving us again?” But this time is different; Jesus is leaving, but he’s not really leaving completely. He leaves four things behind him: his love, his spirit, his peace, and the assurance that he will come again. Let’s start with the first one.
Jesus begins by saying, “If someone loves me, he will keep my word” (Jn 14:23). We hear this over and over again in the Gospels: “You will remain in my love if you keep my commandments” (Jn 15:10). So, love for Jesus is something beyond feelings; it is something that transcends emotionality. Does loving God mean feeling love for God? If I don’t feel I’m loving God, am I not loving Him? Jesus tells us that love is based on our actions, on our will. What comes first, obedience or love? Do we obey our parents because we love them? Or do we love them because we obey them? The same dynamic exists with our spouse, our co-workers, and our friends. Is love expressed in action, or does the action itself help us to love?
C.S. Lewis says,
“They are told that they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feelings in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, if I were sure that I loved God, what would I do? When you found the answer, go and do it.”
We live in a world that tends to believe that the most intimate expression of our being is feelings. This belief is so pervasive that we express our thoughts by saying things like, “I feel that we should …,” or, “I feel that he said this because…” But there is something deeper than feelings: our will.
To remain in his love is to keep his commandments. Now, Jesus didn’t sit his Apostles down and say, “Okay guys, you know the Ten Commandments? Well, I’m gonna give you new ones: these are my commandments.” Jesus never does that; he never gives a complete formal instruction in his commandments. What he does do is give us some clues here and there, for example the Beatitudes, and other instructions like, “Love one another like I have loved you” (Jn 13:34), “Preach the gospel to all creatures and baptize them” (Mk 16:15), “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19) and “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17); but Jesus never gives a formal Decalogue. Rather, the Gospels paint a picture of the core of the Commandments of Jesus. What is the core of the Commandment of Jesus? It is that through him, you and I have been made sons and daughters of God. The Commandments of Jesus ask us to uphold this divine dignity, and to honor and protect it. To protect our divine dignity is to remain in the love of God, and the commandments of Jesus. That act of remaining in God’s love requires action, protection, decision, and will. Can you imagine what our life would be like if it were grounded exclusively on feelings? If we based our relationships with others solely on the fickle foundation of feelings, then we would fail over and over again. Love is an act that is deeper than emotionality. “Remain in my love,” Jesus tells us, “keep my word.”
This peace, He says, “is not the peace that the world gives” (Jn 14:27). The world does offer us forms of peace: the sense of safety of having a little money in the bank, having a good Thanksgiving dinner and a glass of wine with family, or watching the Spurs with our friends and a good beer! But these forms of peace are ephemeral, and the peace they give us leaves as quickly as we try to grasp it. The peace that Christ gives us is different, and much more profound. Christ’s peace does not mean being free of temptations, suffering, or discomfort. His is a peace many times also beyond feelings. It is the same peace with which Christ died on the cross, a death in which He experienced great physical suffering. And yet it is a peace that nobody and nothing in the world can take from you, if you do not give it. That is the peace of Christ.
Henri Nouwen, a spiritual author of our time, says,
“Being a child of God does not make you free from temptations. You might have moments when you feel so blessed, so in God, so loved, that you forget you are still in a world of powers and principalities. But your innocence as a child of God needs to be protected. Otherwise, you will easily be pulled out of your true self and experience the devastating force of the darkness surrounding you. This being pulled out may come as a great surprise. Before you are even fully aware of it or have had a chance to consent to it, you may find yourself overwhelmed by lust, anger, resentment, or greed. A picture, a person, or a gesture, may trigger these strong destructive emotions and seduce your innocent self. As a child of God, you need to be prudent. You cannot simply walk around in this world as if nothing and no one can harm you. You are, you remain, extremely vulnerable. The same passions that make you love God may be used by the powers of evil.”
“We have this treasure,” says St Paul, “in jars of clay” (2 Cor 4:7). Our infinite treasure is that we are children of God, but this transcendental dignity rests in jars of clay that can be easily broken, and hurt. We have to defend, and uphold the holy peace that Christ has won for us. It is an exercise to remain in his love; it is a continuous work to uphold this peace. We can ask ourselves, surrounded by so much darkness, and so much aggression, how can we protect the treasure of the peace of Christ?” And this brings us to the third aspect that Jesus leaves behind for us.
His Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. This is the same Spirit that resurrected Him, the same Spirit that brought back Lazarus to life, and the same Spirit that created the Earth and filled it with life. Nouwen continues,
“The children of God need support. They need to protect and hold one another close to God’s heart. You belong to a minority in a large, hostile world. As you become more aware of your true identity as a child of God, you will also see more clearly the many forces that try to convince you that all things spiritual are false substitutes for the real things in life. Do not trust your thoughts and feelings when you are pulled out of yourself. Return quickly to your true place, and pay no attention to what tricked you. Gradually, you will come to be more prepared for these temptations, and they will have less and less power over you. Protect your innocence by holding onto the truth: You are a child of God, and deeply loved.”
The strength of the Spirit is that it reminds us who we truly are. When temptations try to tell us, “You need this, you need that, you need all these things the world has to offer,” it is the Spirit who makes us remain true to ourselves. So what is the Spirit? Pope Benedict XVI says,
“The Spirit is the interior power which harmonizes our heart with Christ’s and makes me love my brothers like Christ loves them.”
It is this power. It is real. It is strong. But, because it respects our individual freedom, the freedom won for us by Christ, it is very subtle. It is working in us, and if we pay attention we will become aware of the presence the Spirit of Christ, but we need to listen. We need to listen in order to uphold this dignity.
His Second Coming
He left us a promise that we will see Him again, be it at the moment of our death, or at his Second Coming. This is his testament and will. It is as if he is saying to us, “Even though it may seem that you are alone, I promise that you are not. I will be back for you.” Jesus left, but he remained in his love, in his Church, in his apostles, his Body and his Blood. In his Word and his Body, he has stayed with us, and he will come again.
Can you imagine that moment, when you and I encounter Christ again? The mystics talk about this encounter as an unveiling of the eyes, the sensation of waking up from a dream and seeing what is more true, and real. They talk about this as a reality that will happen and has already started to happen. Can you imagine that glorious moment when you will see God face to face? In that moment, Jesus will discern his figure in you and in me. He will try to see his image, as though through a mirror, reflected in us. If we remained in his love, the mirror will be clear, and we will reflect his image in us; but if we didn’t remain in his Word, the mirror will be soiled, dark, cracked and he won’t be able to find His image in us. This image of Christ forming in us has already begun, “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” (Jn 14:23) It’s up to us to we remain true to his Word and our dignity.
Mary was the first dwelling place of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Through her intercession, may she help us to become a dwelling place of the Word, that we may remain in his commandments. May it be.