May 26, 2019
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 15:1-29; Revelation 21:10-23; John 14:23-29
Driving into Corvallis the other day I had a good view of the earthly city, and it wasn’t gleaming like a diamond or shining like a precious stone. It was rainy and gray and the streets were made of asphalt and the buildings of wood and plaster and what was inscribed on the billboards were not the names of the twelve tribes but of all the fast food restaurants and car dealerships.
And yet God is here, too, even the splendor of God. Just hidden. Dialed down.
It’s easier to imagine Corvallis as Antioch or Jerusalem in the time of the apostles, a time of great dissension and debate. The bars and the coffee shops are full of people “without any mandate” making their bitter arguments and upsetting the rest of us.
Yet God is here, too, in the midst of things, as he was then and always will be. God is here.
I used to think my faith would be a 9 or 10 all the time and should be a 9 or a 10, but it’s just a 2 or a 3—pretty steadily, but just a 2 or a 3, and I’m starting to realize that’s OK, that’s good, that’s a grace in itself. Jesus is speaking to his disciples in today’s Gospel on the night before the crucifixion, it’s his Farewell Discourse, and what he’s trying to say is that though he will be leaving them in the flesh, though they will no longer have the kind of intimacy they have now, they will have a new intimacy, a quieter, gentler intimacy—after the Resurrection, and the Ascension, when at Pentecost he sends the Holy Spirit into the world, to fill all things, to be everywhere, in every moment, subtly. Pervasively.
PeaceI leave you, he says. Not ecstasy. Not visions.
PeaceI leave you. Not absolute knowledge. Not the obvious. The easy.
Paul tells us in Galatians that when we feel peace, that quiet, inner sense, and when we feel joy and when we feel confidence and calm and love, we can trace those feelings, however weak or temporary they might be, back to the Holy Spirit and back to the Lord. We just have to keep track of them. Be alert to them. Not forget them. Remember them. Trust them. Act on them.
My dear souls, says the eighteenth-century Jesuit Jean Pierre de Caussade,
you are seeking for secret ways of belonging to God, but there is only one: making use of whatever he offers you. Everything leads you to this union with him. The blood flowing through your veins moves only by his will. Every feeling and every thought you have, no matter how they arise, all come from God’s invisible hand. You have nothing to do but love and cherish what each moment brings.
Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.
Maybe you’re reading the scriptures and a line jumps out at you, tugs at you, seems to be written in boldface. That’s the Lord.
Maybe you’re having a conversation with a friend and something shifts somehow, something opens up, and you know your friend is speaking from the heart and you can feel something extra, something else, in the air of the room. That’s the Lord.
Maybe you’re standing at the window and you see a leaf jump in a tree and you think, that’s a bird, hopping around. But then another leaf twitches and another and another, and you realize it’s the rain, it’s beginning to rain, there are not birds enough in the world.
That’s the Lord. He has come to make his dwelling with us.
Every city is the heavenly city.
St. Ignatius says that when the Spirit is speaking to us truly it’s not like water striking a stone but like water being soaked up by a sponge. It’s a matter of slow, quiet absorption, not of a big splash, and in fact, he says, we should doubt the big splashes, the sudden, violent impulses, question them, wait them out to see if they really are what they seem to be because often they’re not. The work of the Lord is usually gentler, quieter. Daily. Hourly. Moment by moment.
And it’s a matter of love most of all, of keeping God’s word, as Jesus says today—whoever loves me will keep my word—and that word is always the word of Love, is always the word of gentleness and inclusion and welcoming—and not just as something we feel inside but as something we bring to others.
Last week I had the great honor of baptizing an elderly man over at the Caring Place. He’s on Hospice now, he has just a little while longer to live, and he was ready, he was longing for Christ, and it was because of the love of a friend of his, a younger, former colleague who is Catholic and has been gently, quietly, steadily talking to him about Jesus and about the Church, and not just talking but bringing that love to him, showing him that love. I really liked Father Maximo’s homily last week about spiritual friendships and how important they are, and this was exactly the kind of friendship he meant.
When I asked the man why he decided to become Catholic, he said, love. The love of his friend. The love of Christ.
I feel, he said, like I’m being welcomed into a family of love.
He didn’t have a bowl in his room, so we found a 16 inch clear plastic cup with “Human Bean” on the side, and I blessed the water, and I poured it on his head, three times, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and later, when I walked out into the parking lot, it had been raining again, and the asphalt was shining. It was shining like a diamond. Like a precious stone.