June 15, 2022
You may or may not have noticed that our Church tradition, both in its Sunday Scripture readings as well as weekdays has featured the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation – during this Easter Season.
The Book of Revelation was put together by a very old John, the Gospel writer, as he lived out his final years in exile on the Greek Island of Patmos – a very pleasant small Greek island near today’s famous Santorini.
John used his powerful imagination and spiritual sensitivity to provoke the early followers of Jesus to change their lives from a pagan way of looking at life to one filled with the presence of the One True God. For Romans and Greeks, the gods that they worshipped kept their society in order, kept the differing classes of people in their places and kept the Pax Romana flourishing – the Roman Peace – a cultural clamp for an ordered society. But you cannot keep a lid on a boiling pot forever.
Into this very ordered society, kept so by Roman soldiers all over the Empire, people begin to hear about a Barnabas and Paul who travelled by foot around present-day Turkey and Greece talking about a Jesus and about what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the gentiles of the Roman Empire.
The religion of the old Roman Empire was being challenged. Temples were being exchanged for gatherings in homes. The way to live and to relate to one another was changing the status quo.
To save the old and to stop the infiltration of a Jesus and his followers began the persecutions of the what we now call the early Church.
Jesus had a vision for a new kind of world and society. St. John, the Gospel writer and author of the Book of Revelation captures this new vision: “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.”
And, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away”… A word of hope for hopelessness.
Jesus had said often that He was not here to condemn, or to use people, to abuse them, to order them around. His God was not mean or vindictive. Such freedom for people to become who God wanted them to be was unknown –and the fear for how it could dissolve the Roman Empire – which eventually it did – a Christian civilization – at least a “sort of” [civilization] that would follow – people could feel it happening!
John’s vision in today’s passage ends with these words: “The one who sat on the throne said: “Behold I make all things new.”
The problem with any vision is how it becomes real or concrete in life, and that begins only when we appreciate ourselves and our relationship with God. That is: that our spirituality begins to appreciate the gift that we are as human beings, and that we are not here to compete with each other, to be inferior to each other, to take from one another; to be enemies to one another.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sets a new standard and a new way to appreciate one another – it is a very fundamental, first principle – that we are all human beings and an even more important principle – that we are all filled with some divine presence.
These two principles are the gift of Easter and the Resurrection.
After reflecting about his own experience of Jesus, John the gospel writer concludes that the very presence of God filled the human being of Jesus, and John writes, “that Jesus has also filled us with the same presence of His Father. So, we hear Jesus advises all today: “I give you the new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples.”
This is what Pope Francis keeps telling us that we cannot find our personal or human fulfillment except in the sincere gift of our self to others. A disciple of Jesus who is working on being, a disciple goes beyond doctrine, way beyond being a cultural Catholic, way beyond prayers and rituals.
How does living the presence of God become translated into our lives and our relationships? First of all, by being authentic and caring, by fostering openness and kindness, by striving for excellence, by desiring and working toward filling the lives of others with what is beautiful, sublime and what builds [us] up.
So, what is the virtue that Easter has revealed? It is the Virtue of Hope — that we can believe and guide our life beyond the present, beyond our proneness to selfishness, beyond our fascination for material benefits and experiences.
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God,” Barnabas and Paul remind us. They were not talking about personal problems or difficult encounters with different people or harassment from others. They are talking about keeping their faith and trust in Jesus. He went through life. So do we – faith and trust in Jesus —- no matter how our life unfolds!