Sunday, May 22, 2011

Homily: Fifth Sunday in Easter

                Many of us are comforted by this Gospel passage at funerals. It consoles us especially when the deceased person has left the world with many ambiguous relationships, and in particular with his or her relationship with Christ. It consoles the many who realize that God has a place for everyone in heaven even if the deceased was difficult, peculiar, a partial believer, or did not reconcile major relationships. We worry that someone did not merit heaven. It causes us to consider the paths we choose and to make adjustments now so Christ can eventually welcome us into his Father's house. We hope for a room set aside for us because we know our history of decision-making.
          Before he goes to his death, Jesus consoles his believers saying, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." He points out again that access to the Father is through him. This is the purpose of Thomas' question, "How can we know the way?" If we know Jesus in the earthly life, we will know him when he returns in his risen state. He is going to the Father's house to make a place ready for them, and he will return. Why? Simply because he deeply cares for them and wants to be with his friends. Because Jesus came back for them, we also know he desires us so much that he will remember us and come back for us. While the content of the words is reassuring, the tone carries the stronger message: The heart of Jesus breaks because he will be separated from his friends, but his memory outlasts death. The heart of Jesus brings us to the mind and attitude of God.
          I think back on an 8-day retreat I made here as a novice in preparation for my first vows. My novice director, Jim Gillon, is known worldwide for being non-directive. He surprised me when he told me to demand from God that I experience him now my prayer. I had to demand God be present to me. I thought that was presumptuous for me to demand something of God. I was tentative to follow Jim's uncharacteristic lead, but it was the first time I ever experienced him in this mode. I reckoned I had to try.
          Jim gave me three passages from which to choose, one of which was the Lord's Prayer. I wanted an exciting retreat of confirmation with the Lord where he would invite me to take vows. I thought the Lord's Prayer was tried and true - overall a good passage, but boring.
          I sat down for my 45 minute prayer session, begged God to show up so my director won't get mad at me, and I watched Jesus get up from our conversation and go to a more secluded spot so he could pray to his Father. I was intrigued. I had never watched Jesus as a Jew pray before and I thought I could learn something so I stayed and observed what he was doing and how he was doing it. I was startled when I glanced at my watch to see if 10 minutes had passed and I realized 45 minutes zoomed by.
          During my 2nd of 4 prayer periods that day, I returned to watch Jesus, the man, pray the "Our Father." I remember thinking, "this is pleasurable." I'm watching Jesus pray first hand and it is something that he enjoys, not something he is doing because he is told it is important. He likes being with his heavenly father. I was further amused and I watched the expressions on his face as he began his prayer. I listened to his tone of voice as he spoke and I reverenced the silence that overtook him. I found it so cool that he just let me watch him during his private time. The prayer period passed and I repeated this prayer twice more during the day.
          I noticed when I saw Jim the next day that I was the one who was directive. I told him I would pray the "Our Father" again and did not need him to recommend other passages that day. I think for once I was an easy retreatant because it was the only passage I used for the 4 daily prayer periods on the 8-day retreat. I had little to say to Jim except that Jesus was teaching me to pray and as he was doing so, he introduced me to his father and that was all I needed.
          I contemplated Jesus over and over as he sat chanting in Aramaic (and sometimes in English.) Sometimes these contemplations swirled around in a flurry but retained a strong, inner calm. Sometimes I couldn't see the distinction between Jesus and the Father because they seemed meshed together. Sometimes I was drawn deeply into prayer that I could not distinguish between the words I was praying from the words of Jesus. He and I were fused as one. I felt drawn into presence of each and lost perspective on who was who. I contemplated Jesus as he contemplated God and he kept showing me a dimension of God that was both new and constant. I experienced the reality of the words of Jesus when he said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. " By the end of the retreat, when I sat down with Jesus, it was as if he instantly pointed me to the way to God's heart. I no longer needed to demand it. It came easy and I learned to cherish that boring old Lord's prayer.
          Jesus wanted to share his Father with me. He says, "if you know me, then you will know my Father." As we begin our retreat, let's come to know Jesus better in his humanity. When we gaze upon him as a man, we behold his divinity. We can trust he will bring us to our steadfast saving God. Let's not forget him within the weightiness of our agendas or bypass him by going directly to the Creator God who can be found in nature or by seeking him through other means. Remember, this is the man who prepared a place for you. Now, he wants a place within your world because he has come back and speaks of his longing desire to be with you. He came back for the expressed purpose of being close to you. He says, "where I am, you also may be." He wants to know from you whether he is welcome. He is awaiting your favorable reply.