Fr. Bill Carroll – The Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2024

Jesus said, “Holy Father, protect them in your Name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today is the Sunday after Ascension Day.  On that day, Jesus returns to the heart of his Father, having appeared alive to his chosen witnesses for forty days.  After his victory over sin and death, Jesus is exalted to God’s right hand, but he never, ever leaves us.  Just like he says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, he is “with us always, even to the end of the age.”  

Jesus is still with us, but the ways that he is with us have changed.  He is still with us in the Spirit. He is with us every moment of every day.  He is alive, active, and in love with us. He is with us in the neighbors he gives us to love, especially “the least of these.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is praying for us.  He tells the Father about the flock he’s been given to shepherd.  “They were yours (he says), and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”  Then, he anticipates sending us out on a mission.  We belong to Jesus, but he is returning to his Father.  And now, it falls to us to continue his mission of love.  As we do so, we will meet the same kinds of opposition that he faced.  We will also face worldly temptations and divisions.  And so, he prays that we might be protected in his Name and sanctified in the Truth:  “Holy Father, protect them in your Name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

In just a week, we will celebrate the Day of Pentecost.  The Spirit of Jesus will fall on the whole Church–and each and every follower of Jesus–renewing us in the gifts and graces we need for our mission.  As we follow Jesus into the world, it is a great comfort and a source of strength that he prays for us, day and night, before the “throne of grace.”

In our Psalm this morning, we hear an ancient form of Christian and Jewish ethical exhortation.  The Psalmist draws a sharp contrast between the way of the righteous, which leads to life, and the way of the wicked, which is “doomed.”  We see this same teaching in other parts of the Old Testament.  It also figures in the Sermon on the Mount and post-biblical Christian literature.  Always and everywhere, we are faced with a choice between Jesus and the way of love, on the one hand, and the ways of this world, on the other.  

But it isn’t as if there are two kinds of people: the wicked out there somewhere, hating God and hating their neighbors, and the pure and holy in here, loving God and serving him every way we can.  The line between good and evil runs right down the middle of our hearts.  We are always discerning and always choosing which way we will follow.  Often, we stumble, and we need to turn back to God.  And so, we need help.  We need the promise of the Father–the Holy Spirit of love, who leads us into all truth and keeps us faithful to Jesus.  

Recently, I wrote a paper for a class that I’ve been taking on the ministry of spiritual direction.  In part, it concerned what it means to help another human being find God’s call for their life.  How do we help someone listen for God? Or, in the words of St. Ignatius Loyola, how do we “allow the Creator to deal immediately with the creature–and the creature with its Creator and Lord.”

In the paper, I quoted an article by Fr. Robert Marsh, entitled “Teaching Spiritual Direction as if God Were Real.”  (As if?) Marsh is, of course, convinced that God is real.  And so, he unpacks what that means:  “By ‘real’ (he writes) I mean present, interested, involved, available for real interaction:  and more than that–initiating, acting, relating, desiring, and responding…”  God is a person.  God is real.  

In a more explicitly Trinitarian manner, St. Francis of Assisi speaks of the ways in which God is involved and available to us in terms of some metaphors drawn from familial relationships, including motherhood:

We are spouses (he writes) when the faithful soul is joined to our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.  We are [siblings] to Him when we do the will of the Father Who is in heaven.  [And we are] mothers, when we carry Him in our heart and body through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience and [when] we give birth to Him through [His] holy manner of working…

In other words, both in the Incarnation and in the gift of the Spirit, God is putting God’s own self at our disposal, funding every aspect of our relationship, as well as our existence and activities as human beings (all of them).  God is always giving us life and forgiveness and hope, in a world where these are often in short supply.  Here, creation is viewed not as a once-upon-a-time event, but as a continual, ongoing process. God is always creating us anew.  The living God is the ever-active source, sustaining power, and final goal of creation itself and of every last human being.

The world can be a scary place sometimes.  It is also an exhilarating one.  Life is an adventure, filled with risk–but also with blessings.  Not only do we wound each other, but we are also capable of the most profound love, creativity, and friendship.  Friendship with God (friendship with the earth, friendship with human neighbors), that’s what life is all about.

Today, we celebrate graduates, and we honor mothers, grandmothers, and other wise, loving people who have shown us something of the strength and friendship of God.  As we send these young adults into the world, let us pray for them.  Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will guide them in the footsteps of Jesus, and in all his ways of love

Holy Father, protect them in your Name.