A Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter by Fr Daniel Weatherley
It is now over two months since the start of the ‘lockdown’ and for much of that time we have perhaps been asking ourselves when will life return to normal – and what will ‘normal’ look like? It seems likely that things will not be just as they were previously and the not-knowing can feel rather as if the rug has been pulled from under our feet. So much is still uncertain.
This is only the third year in recent times that we are celebrating the Seventh Sunday of Easter as such, since for many years the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord had been transferred to this day. Now that the Ascension has been restored to its proper day - the Thursday which is always forty days after the Resurrection - we may reflect once more on the very particular and beautiful atmosphere of this Sunday, one which is loaded with promise and brimming with hope, coming as it does between the return of Jesus to heaven in our glorified human nature and the promised gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Whilst we ponder what the new ‘normal’ might be in the months and years to come, the scriptures holy mother Church proposes to us today speak with divine eloquence of what is ‘normal’ for the believer…and it is something very different from the ‘normal’ that the world alone can offer us. St. John reminds us that ‘perfect love casts out all fear’ (1 Jn 4:18) and so the one who lives in the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, must have a disposition freed from the cycle of anxiety and doubt which can so easily overtake our inner life. It is the three short verses of Psalm 26 (27) at Mass today which beautifully express the chief disposition of the Christian, and that is desire: our longing for the full and eternal union with our Saviour Jesus Christ which we hope to enjoy with Him in the unending bliss of Paradise.
There is one thing I ask of the Lord,
for this I long,
to live in the house of the Lord,
all the days of my life…
O Lord, hear my voice when I call;
have mercy and answer.
Of you my heart has spoken; ‘Seek his face.’
The Church makes it clear today that our earthly life is to depend upon and be shaped by the life to come which Jesus has made possible for us by his Death, Resurrection and Ascension into heaven.
In the new heaven and new earth which we look forward to (Rev 21) there will be no sacraments, since our union with God will be total, perfect and permanent. The sacraments are for this life, and the gift we are given in them is three-fold: we are given a foretaste of the glory of heaven; the forgiveness of our failure to prepare for heaven; and the deepening and intensifying of our desire for heaven. In the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, and most wonderfully in the Eucharist, we are invited to ‘Taste and see the goodness of the Lord’ (Ps 34(35)). It is a great blessing that many people are able to participate spiritually in the Mass by means of the internet, but it is not a substitute, since the sacraments work on our whole being, body as well as soul, and in the Mass we are for a time united physically as well as spiritually with the Crucified and Risen Body of our Saviour. And so it is deeply painful that for over two months the Faithful have been without these supreme gifts, the food for our short pilgrimage through life.
But God knows what we are going through, and it is in that gift of desire that he is sustaining his action in us in these days as we await the re-opening of Churches and the restoration of Mass with the Faithful. Our repeated acts of Spiritual Communion are our response to the desire He has placed in us.
The prayer of Jesus to his Father in today’s Gospel, taken from what has become known as his High Priestly Prayer (John 17), is a wonderful and timely reassurance that his desire for us is even greater – infinitely greater – than our desire for Him.
‘Let (me) give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to (me)’ … ‘I pray for them…those you have given me…all I have is yours and all you have is mine, and in them I am glorified.’
To live in the desire for heaven means to be ‘in the world but not of the world’. It is a great paradox that it is only when we live with our hearts and minds focussed on heaven that our feet may truly be planted on the earth. For unless we are constantly renewed and transformed by heavenly gifts we have very little to offer the world.
In these very special days between Jesus’ bodily return to heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we are given the model of what it is to live in expectant hope: the gathering of the disciples of Jesus around his Blessed Mother in the Upper Room of Jerusalem. We are told that they were ‘joined in continuous prayer’ – the intense prayer of nine days which we know now as the very first Novena, and the model of all novenas which have been prayed in the two millennia since, as Christians await and long for the Glorious Return of Jesus and the forming of the new heavens and earth.
It is often said that life is a test, a trial; other times people remind us that ‘life is not a dress rehearsal!’. There is another way of looking at life, however. It is a preparation. The Holy Spirit, who sustains the Church and enlivens the believer, constantly calls us to live, here and now, in anticipation of the promised life to come.
And it is when our desire for perfect union with God meets His desire for us that conversion happens and the fire of the Holy Spirit deepens his purifying, refining and invigorating action within us, and desire becomes the certainty of heavenly bliss – the virtue of Hope.
As we long for the day of Pentecost as well as the day of our being gathered once more in Church, but even more so in heaven, let us look to Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, and ask her to help us.
‘Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy towards us,
and after this, our exile,
show unto us the blessed Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ!’.