Presence in Absence

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul, Easter Wk. VI, Yr. C, 26 May 2019
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 >< }}}*> Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23 >< }}}*> John 14:23-29
A view from the entrance to the Temple Wall of Old Jerusalem, 04 May 2019.

Life is a series of coming and going where we never really leave at all.

I have been sharing you this quite often since Advent last year. We do not leave completely but simply come to new levels of relationships with our loved ones. When children grow up and go to college, they move into new environment, new stage in life. They never leave but come to new beginnings. Eventually, they leave home when they graduate in college and get married only to start their own family and home.

We call this series of coming and going in life as “presence in absence”. Sometimes it happens that it is after someone had left us, whether temporarily or permanently like death, that we even get closer with that person. Here we find the wonderful truth that if you want to be eternal, love. Then, a departure no longer becomes an exit but an entry to new mode of presence and relationships.

This is why Jesus commanded us last Sunday to love one another as he loved us, that is, to always love in his Father who is love himself. When we love in union with the Father, then our love is made perfect as it is God who eventually works in us.

The Lord deepens this teaching to us in our gospel today as he prepares us for the great celebration of his Ascension on Sunday, a kind of his own “leaving and coming”. Our gospel today is still part of his long discourse during his Last Supper when Thomas, Philip, and Jude asked him some questions about his impending departure that they could not really fully grasp at that time. Anyway, Jesus now answers the last question from Jude concerning his presence while at the same time prepares them for the inevitable when he has to “leave” them first for his Passion and Death and second, when he returns to the Father in heaven.

( Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, “Master, what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”) Jesus said to his disciples: “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. I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name — will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

John 14:22-23, 25-26
Altar of the church Dominus Flevit (the Lord Wept) with the old Jerusalem as background, April 2017.

First thing we notice in the Lord’s statement is the great honor for each of us to be the dwelling place of him and the Father. Can you imagine the kind of intimacy that means we now have with both the Son and the Father dwelling in us? It is something beyond our expectations or hopes when all we want in life is to be with him in heaven after death. But we do not have to wait for our death because right now, right here, Jesus and the Father are dwelling in us. And because of this reality, we are able to find meaning and fulfillment in life despite its many trials and difficulties, pains and tears along the way.

We have experienced the Father’s presence through the words and teachings of Jesus passed on to us through the Sacred Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church. Jesus himself stressed that his words are not really his but the Father’s. Loving the Lord and keeping his words are the same because Jesus is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us according to St. John’s prologue to his gospel. It is for this reason that we are also able to call God “Abba” (Father) because we have that inner recognition of him deep within us in Jesus Christ.

Clouds over Sinai desert in Egypt, 07 May 2019.

Jesus continues his presence and teachings in us in our own time in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the second part of his discourse in our gospel today, his sending of the Holy Spirit upon his return to the Father to be his apostles’ and our Advocate or defender and inner guide to all the truths he had taught us.

Christ did not say everything to the apostles. Aside from the fact that the time of his “presence” on earth was limited (33 years), it was impossible for the evangelists to report everything he had said and done (Jn.21:25). But he knew the totally different situations his disciples would be into and that includes us in the present time. Jesus knew very well the shifts and upheavals coming but, as we have seen in the past 2000 years since he went back to the Father, his Church has continued to exist despite the many predictions of its end. And that is largely due to the work of the Holy Spirit as our Advocate or defender.

From Google.

As our Advocate, the Holy Spirit acts as the “memory” of the Church like in a computer that it “processes” us disciples to act according to the Scriptures and teachings of Jesus in our own time. The Spirit powers us like a dynamo to continue to be the living presence of Jesus in his “absence” in a world that tries to delete him. This was first experienced in the first Council meeting of the Church in Jerusalem in the year 50 AD (Jesus ascended to heaven 33 AD) when the first Christians were plunged into a controversy regarding the imposition of Judaic traditions on Gentile converts. The first reading from the Acts tells us how the Apostles were guided in their proceedings by the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit continues to do the same in the Church when our Pope and bishops pray and reflect on the Scriptures in making its stand on the different issues now confronting us that were non-existent 100 years ago or 2000 years ago like the Internet or global warming. The Holy Spirit is the “heart and soul” of the Church’s living tradition that makes Jesus present in the world today through each one of us, its dwelling-place.

In the second reading, John tells us of the splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem where God is at the middle of everything. It is also the challenge of the gospel to us today, as the indwelling of the Father and of the Son, do we make God present in our family, in our places of work and study? Do we remain faithful to his word that we are not ashamed of praying even in a restaurant?

See that after explaining his mode of presence through us in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus spoke of the gift of peace. Peace is always the fruit of love when we have Jesus as basis within us in all of our undertakings. How sad that even in many families, couples and children plan on their own for their many projects and activities without including their spouses or children in the process. There is no internal unity that often leads to misunderstanding and divisions that make peace so elusive.

Last Wednesday night I was invited to guest in a radio talk show hosted by former colleagues in the news. They complained to me how the Mass is no longer holy and has become very showbiz. Lourd De Veyra complained of priests not prepared with their homily and so “in love” with their voice that they talk nonsense like TV hosts. Photojournalist Melvin Calderon formerly of TIME Magazine and Pulitzer Prize winner last year Manny Mogato of Reuters News lamented at how our churches have become to look like a studio or a stage with all the pomp and pageantry, empty of any sense of the Holy. Though their observations were painfully true, I still felt so glad for them because despite their being so immersed in the world, they all long for the peace of Jesus Christ they believe can be first found among us priests and in our churches! May we go back to the Father so we may be able to share Jesus, only Jesus, and always Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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