HOPE THAT IS AT ONCE HOMELY AND HEAVENLY

6th Sunday of Easter – Year C
May 13, 2007

Readings: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 / Rv 21:10-14, 22-23 / Jn 14:23-29

HOPE THAT IS AT ONCE HOMELY AND HEAVENLY

Our opening prayer in today’s Mass gives me a perfect jump-off point for this reflection. We ask God for grace to help us “express with our lives the love we celebrate.” Celebration connotes crowds. It entails many people gathering to express live the love that calls them to celebration in the first place. When we speak of many, we speak, too, of differences: different characters, interests, points of view, origin, race, color, and so many others. When we speak of love that is worthy of being celebrated, we speak of unity in diversity, we speak of inclusion, not exclusion, of openness, instead of bigoted and narrow-minded closedness.

In fact, this is what we pray for right after the first reading: “O God, let all the nations praise you!” (Responsorial Psalm).

But prayer is not just wishful thinking. It is wanting and doing at one and the same time. It is active and alive; waiting and watching proactively. It is acting in a manner that paves the way for God to be able to do what we ask for in faith, what we work for in hope, and what we do together in love. This is what Paul and Barnabas did. They forged new trails. They pushed onward and outward to Gentile territories to win as many as possible for Christ, without having them subjected to the cultural traditions and practices of the Jewish converts to Christianity, while remaining faithful to the non-negotiable essentials of Christian faith.

Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles, worked for inclusion and integration, not narrow parochialism and ritual-bound belief systems that would slam the door in the face of non Jewish converts to the faith. Integration of the many opens the way to genuine celebration.

The second reading paints in glowingly symbolic terms what this inclusion, integration, and celebration would look like. The only word I can think of right now is HOME. The “holy city Jerusalem” is pictured in the prophetic vision as “coming down out of heaven from God.” The glory of God comes home to us His people. The promised “new heaven and new earth” spoken of in last week’s passage is portrayed as becoming a reality here and now – and beyond. John’s ebullient joy shines through in his picturesque language that is redolent of a lively hope that merits celebration if, at least, in profuse prose. He talks of “splendor” and “radiance,” and numbers galore dot the description that is as gorgeous as it is glorious.

The hope of the ages has come home alright. But the same hope is described not as something merely earthly. No … that hope, though spoken of as homely, is really “out of this world.” It is heavenly. It is transcendent. It goes beyond mere human joy and fulfillment. It goes beyond calling people to mere rejoicing. It is a hope that is at one and the same time homely and heavenly, intra-worldly and ultra-worldly, immanent and transcendent, like God Himself.

It is a hope that is “already” reality, but it is a hope that is also “not yet.”

Jesus’ rising from the dead made most of it an unfolding reality for the growing number of believers. The number of joyful, rejoicing, and celebrating people increased, owing to the proactive faith, hope, and love of individuals like Paul and Barnabas. By their preaching an inculturated faith, and allowing the pagan converts to refrain from doing what the Jews usually did, they brought the Christian faith home to them. What was basically heavenly in nature, origin, and finality became a homely, humble belief system that made them feel very much in league with those who believed and belonged to the full.

I would like to push the envelope a little farther. I would like to think that Christ today, in his second “farewell” discourse prior to his ascension into heaven, was giving a homespun, and thus, homely metaphor to refer to his home (ours, too, potentially) both on earth and up in heaven. He speaks about him and the Father “making [their] dwelling with him.” In effect, Christ tells us to rejoice because he is going away … going away, that is, to prepare a place for his followers. He goes away not to abandon us, but eventually, to take us home. That hope he speaks of today is twofold. First, “whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” Second, he promises another “homecoming” in our midst: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

There is something powerfully hopeful in the three readings we hear today. In a world that is now characterized by new and varied forms of alienation, dissension, discord, and segregation, so many are feeling like strangers in their own land. Globalization and the tendencies associated with a media saturated culture that makes for shallow homogeneity, displace so many people in this shrinking planet where there are now between 175 to 200 million migrants in every part of the world. We feel lost even in our own home countries. Third or fourth generation immigrants in immigration receiving countries increasingly feel confused and unwelcoming to new migrants, who, like before, are forced to move on and move out, in search of greener pastures. We feel estranged even in our own global families and clans, where our closest relatives could be living eight or ten thousand miles away from us. There is strife and division even in the Church, in religious congregations, among covenanted communities, even among and within families that at some time, were a picture of warmth and closeness. Everywhere we go, hope seems to be, in the words of Manley-Hopkins, “growing grey hairs.”

In the context where I am, hope is growing grey hairs as far as our political culture is concerned. Everything gets worse before it can get better. The traditional rule of thumb that counsels voters to choose the lesser evil does not seem to work anymore given the fact that both sides of the fence are manned by less than noble and respectable candidates. In the face of all this, people resort to indifference, cynicism, and downright desperation that all translate to dangerous non-involvement and lack of commitment.

But it is precisely in this climate that hope, instead of growing grey hairs, can be revitalized and made operational and real. It is precisely when one knows he has hit rock bottom that he can decide to pull himself together and make a breakthrough after a seeming breakdown. It is precisely in dying with Christ that one can speak of rising with him. It is when everything is eerily quiet and pitch black at dawn when one begins to pine and hope for first rays of light at the break of day. It is always darkest just before dawn, but it is always the moment marked by expectant waiting, certain that light will soon dispel the dreary darkness.

The alternative opening prayer comes in handy here. “May our mortal lives be crowned with the ultimate joy of rising with him.”

Today, what we pray for is what we proclaim – the conviction that hope is at home in our midst, despite all evidences to the contrary, and that that same hope refers to something that is both homely (earthly) and heavenly. The Risen Lord makes sure of that. The new heaven and the new earth has come down upon us, and will still come down in total and full splendor in our midst, here on earth, as it is in heaven. Our prayer after communion reflects that conviction: “You restored us to life by raising Christ from death. Strengthen us by this Easter sacrament. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

I end by quoting a favorite song that, even as I write, fills my eyes with joyous tears: “We will run, and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength, and we will fly like the eagle, we will rise again.”

Paranaque City, May 6, 2007 11:00 pm

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