By a priest of San Jose
I take great comfort in walking with the Apostles, the Twelve whom Jesus selected to be His closest followers and friends. Jesus knew what He was doing, who He was choosing, and that they were far from perfect. Why do I find consolation in this? For a simple reason: the Twelve were a lot like me. I can see myself in their shortcomings, their confusion and lack of understanding and their doubts. Had Jesus chosen perfect people to follow him, I doubt many would have followed them in following Him. But, as it is, since they were beset by weakness and imperfections, many others have had the courage, also, to follow Jesus. And in this I find hope at a time when more than anything else, hope is needed.
The gospel reading for this Fifth Sunday of Easter is from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John and is part of what is called “Jesus’ Farewell Discourse.” It takes place at the Last Supper on Thursday, the night before Jesus died. During that meal, Jesus spoke to the disciples of what would soon happen to Him; He prayed for them and he consecrated them for the mission to come; and He gave them His “new commandment,” that they love one another as He loved them, even to the point of laying down one’s life for a friend. And they did not understand.
We can see this lack of understanding in Thomas and Philip. Thomas’ statement (“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”) could easily be ours, when we feel lost and even abandoned. We try to walk by faith, but faith does not always point to a clear and precise path. Jesus’ response (“I am the way, and the truth and the life”), while consoling, lacks a certain clarity. Jesus seems frustrated with Philip (“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?”).
On that night, at that meal, Jesus reassured them – and us – of the good that would come, yet he did not sugar-coat the path that they would have to follow. Jesus, soon to be the Crucified One, would be their way; His way would be theirs, would be ours, and to embrace it is to accept the suffering of the Cross. An old Latin expression comes to mind: “Per crucem ad lucem.” Through the cross to light: Jesus’ way and our way. Through suffering to light, through hardship to glory.
It was noted in a recent reflection posted to this website, the early Christian community was called “The Way,” as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. The first believers chose to follow Jesus, choosing Him as the way that they would live. And this way leads to truth and fulness of life.
We Christians have had nearly 2000 years to reflect upon the teachings and life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet we are no better and no worse followers than were the Twelve. But just as the Lord chose them, so He chooses us and remains with us no matter what we do or do not do, no matter how imperfect we are.
As Pope Francis has taught since the beginning of his pontificate, the Church is not a group of holy people or perfect people, but people in need of healing. The sacraments, especially the Eucharist, “are not a prize for the perfect, but powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” This does not mean that we should not strive toward holiness, but that we should not despair that we have not yet achieved it.
Our weeks of isolation and quarantine have found many families spending much more time together than they have been accustomed to. This can be both a blessing and a curse. Kids really want to go back to school and parents cannot wait to go to work again. At the same time, families have adapted to this new way of being together, to sharing meals together, to spending almost every waking moment under the same roof. Life has slowed down. And who can say that this is not good? When we are able to go to whatever the “new normal” will be, might we not retain some of what we have learned these months – about priorities, about being pulled in too many directions, about taking our families, our friends, our parishioners for granted?
Dutch Holy Ghost Father Adrian Van Kaam (1920-2007) wrote that “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. . .For we are like sailors on a ship of unknown destination on an uncharted sea. Very gradually we learn the crucial lesson of existence that we do not ask what life has to give us, but rather respond to what life asks from us. Then the question is no longer what can I get out of life, but rather what can life get out of me.” (Religion and Personality, Image Books, 1964, 24-6)
This time of pandemic has charted an unknown course for our entire world. It is easy to feel as though we are alone and afraid, tossed about by strong winds and rough waters, as did the disciples when they saw Jesus on the Cross. Yet He who would always be their Way is also ours. He did not abandon them on account of their doubts, and he will never leave us. As we hear so often during this time, we are all in this together. And we will come through this together. But for Christians, how much more consolation and encouragement can we find in knowing that Jesus – the way, the truth and the life – is together with us also?