At schools such as Saint Louis University, the students and their life-networks fly away at the end of each school year. How much we miss them when the school year ends, a presider at a recent mass admitted with beautiful poignancy. I can remember the same thing from my own college days, especially if I was late in leaving for home. Empty halls and rooms and broad, completely undisturbed yards of grass. Yes, we were all glad to have the year done with, but at the same time, why were the buildings deserted, and where was the buzzing life of intermingling students?
I think this is a pointer to the kind of hollowness the disciples must have felt, and especially the women who had loved Jesus so much. The passion had been the worst part, of course, as we said last week. What could ever fill that gaping emptiness?
Graduated college students find ways to cope with their new lives apart from each other, and besides, who wants to stay in school forever? But what sort of lives were Jesus’ followers to find after the very center of their lives had been stolen away?
Well, you say, there was the resurrection. Correct. But we saw last week how confusing this was to the disciples. “I will not believe this unless I put my hands on him,” said doubting Thomas. And Jesus' new presence did not last so very long, did it? There was this event called the Ascension that emptied the school yards and halls all over again. It was joyous, yes, but why did he have to go away for good?
One way to look at it is to say that he had graduated from life into Life. Having tunneled through the narrow passageway of death—as you and I will do one day—he had given everything he was and everything he possessed to the Father out of sheer love. Instead of there being nothing left there was now a humanity transformed, a divine human person opened up all the way, now marked with the totality of love. He was on his way back to the dynamic, swirling, Trinitarian circle of love from which his humanity had issued in the first place. He lingered after the Resurrection only in order to tell us about it, to comfort us, to ease the loss.
Quite difficult to understand.
“Stay in Jerusalem until my Spirit comes to fill your heart,” Jesus said to his followers (First Reading from Ascension
). They were going to be filled “with all humility and gentleness, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit” (Second Reading
The immense act of modest love that was the resurrection was going to be poured into us and it would be called the Holy Spirit. Jesus would continue to be alive within the world after all, but in a different form: that of our own human bodies and those of our neighbors. Loss and absence were to be turned into real presence.
In the Eucharistic Prayer and Communion, we take his body and blood into our own body and blood. The Spirit helps us accept his whole life, death, and resurrection as these settle into us and into others around us.
This real presence now abides forever in our midst, urging us, gently nudging us to say yes.
John Foley S. J.
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