Following Christ through every change in life

Listen to mp3 file
6th Sunday of Easter, Year A: May 29, 2011
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Ps 66; 1 Pet 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

This time of year is always a time of change and transition.

  • The school year ends, and many move to summer vacations or summer jobs.
  • Some graduate—from 8th grade, or high school, or college, or kindergarten—and move on to a new stage of schooling or life.
  • Some marry, and begin their marriage as husband and wife, with children soon to follow.
  • Religious sisters receive their veils and make their vows.
  • Priests are ordained; and some are transferred from one parish to another.
  • And on this Memorial Day weekend, we remember those who gave their lives in service to our country; and indeed all our loved ones who have died, who completed their earthly lives, and moved on to their reward, purification, or punishment, as they await the Resurrection.

For all who make these transitions, it is a big change in their lives, completing one phase and beginning another. But for the rest of us, it is also a change: for often, when they move on, it changes the relationship that we have had with them up until now. So these times of transition give all of us the opportunity to raise our eyes from our normal routine, and take in both the past and the future: to take stock of where we’re headed and how we’re doing, in the big picture.

And what is that big picture? It has everything to do with this Easter Season, and with what we hear in our Gospel reading today. For there, Jesus is speaking at a time of change and transition. The passage comes from the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, when he had so much to say that it takes up 5 chapters. He had to prepare his disciples for what was coming, which was four big changes:

  1. Over the next 24 hours, they would see him captured, condemned, scourged, crucified, dead, and buried.
  2. On the third day, he would rise from the dead, his body transformed. He would appear to them many times over 40 days.
  3. And then he would ascend to the Father and no longer be with them in that way, under his own normal appearance.
  4. 10 days after that, the Holy Spirit would be sent upon them at Pentecost.

These were big changes! But they were not random: they were part of the great plan of God.

  • For God the Son had been sent forth from God the Father in what theologians sometimes call the “exitus.” He had entered our world and taken on our human nature, becoming like us in all things but sin. He had lived his earthly life in perfect obedience and love to the Father—even to the point of death, death on a cross.
  • And then began the second stage of his journey, the return to the Father, the “reditus.” For the Father raised him from the dead, the firstfruits of the Resurrection. And after 40 days, he ascended, returning to the Father. He returns in the flesh, bringing with him the Father’s adoptive sons and daughters—us!
  • It is a new trail that Christ blazed, through gates that he opened, leading us to the heart of the Father. For we are meant to follow. And the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and bring us there.

We heard our Lord say in last week’s reading: “I am going to the Father… I am going to prepare a place for you.” And in today’s reading: “I will not leave you orphans… I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.”

It is against this path, this trail, this race that lies before us, that we measure our own life transitions: our graduations and marriages, vows, moves, and deaths. Christ has opened the way for us; he has blazed the trail; and he asked us to follow. Are we following? Are those we love?

  • The beginning of that trail was our baptism, when we were baptized into his death and resurrection: when the stain of original sin was washed away; we were adopted as sons and daughters of God the Father; made temples of the Holy Spirit; and filled with faith, hope, and love.
  • The end of the trail will be the glorious beauty of the new heavens and the new earth, when all things will be made new, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, and God himself will always be with us.

That is where we are headed—if we are on the way. But are we? Thomas said to Jesus, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way… No one comes to the Father except through me.”

First question: Are you staying close to Jesus? Are those you love? We heard Jesus say, “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Are you living that out?

  • Are you attending Mass on every Sunday and holy day of obligation?
  • Are you bringing all your serious sins to sacramental confession before receiving Communion? Even better, are you bringing all your sins to confession once a month?
  • Are you taking some time to pray and listen to Christ every day?

Are you staying close to Jesus? Are those you love?

Second question: Are you obeying all that he commanded us? Are those you love? We heard Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Are you obeying him?

  • Are you obeying his commandments in your job; in your family; in your use of time and money; in your sexuality?
  • Do you seek to know his will—and to do what he wants you to do—each day, and for your whole life?

Are you obeying all that Christ commanded you? Are those you love?

When you face a big life change of your own, do you ask the Lord what he wants you to do? And seek to follow him even more closely in your new phase of life? When you witness someone else’s life change, do you allow that to inspire you to similar self-reflection on where you have been and where you are now?

As you ask yourself these questions, I hope you find that, by the grace of God, you are currently walking “the way” very well. But how about those around you? Your spouse? Your parents and siblings? Your children and grandchildren? Are they becoming saints? Are they walking the path toward the heavenly kingdom? Or do they need some help finding that path again?

For St. Peter urged us in the second reading: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” Now, as in St. Peter’s time, this requires sensitivity, gentleness, and often creativity! Even if your children are grown up now, after you brought them through the full course of Catholic school or religious education: your job isn’t done. It has just entered a new phase. For they are still walking that path, or not walking it; becoming saints; on their way to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Whatever this earthly life brings you; wherever you go; whatever new phase you begin; whoever enters or leaves your life: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He will never leave you or forsake you. Will you stay that close to him, all the way to the glory of heaven?

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