by Rev. James C. Hudgins
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to his disciples: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him."
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that your life is not about you. One could even say that to understand that idea is the secret of living. We were designed by God to give ourselves away in acts of self-forgetfulness, and we will never know happiness until we learn to do so. A light was made to shine. A fish was made to swim. A bird was made to fly. And a human person was made to live for God, and for others. Our sadness and anxiety only increase whenever we imagine our lives to be a grand self-actualization project — as if we were created only to serve our personal ambitions and to make all our dreams come true. As the Second Vatican Council states, “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (“Gaudium et Spes,” 24).
Like most every beautiful idea, however, this is very easy to ponder but quite difficult to practice. An abstract idea has never been strong enough to change a human heart. Only the love of another person has the power to do that. That’s why the strength of the Christian faith derives not from a lofty idea, but from the person of Jesus Christ, whose passion, death and resurrection are the definitive evidence of the truth of his words.
On the night before he died, Jesus spoke to his apostles the beautiful message we hear in the Gospel this week, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). No other leader in history ever dared to speak like that. Many civic leaders have said, in effect, “Follow me, and I will show you the way,” but only Christ says, “I am the way.” Many religious leaders have said, “Listen to my teaching. I speak the truth,” but only Jesus says, “I am the truth.” Many great social reformers have said, “Learn from me. I can help you live a better life,” but only Jesus says, “I am the life.” Notice that Jesus proclaims himself to be not one way among many, or one truth among many, or one way of living, but exclusively the way, the truth and the life.
Such absolute terms may seem to be anathema to a culture such as ours, steeped in relativism, but it is precisely the clarity of Jesus’ words that frees us to act on them, and empowers us to escape the shallow confines of a selfish existence. Moreover, in this same Gospel, Jesus tells his apostles, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid … have faith in me.” This he says just hours before he will be arrested, mocked, imprisoned, scourged, crucified and sealed in a tomb. Notice how these words are spoken in the imperative voice. This is a commandment, not a suggestion. By what authority does Jesus enjoin us to be free from discouragement and anxiety, at the very moment in which we would otherwise be most tempted to succumb to them? The answer is to be found in the empty tomb. Easter Sunday is the definitive proof that our faith is not founded on naive optimism or wishful thinking, but on the extraordinary work which God has done in Jesus Christ. It's why his triumph over death is the spiritual bedrock on which our faith is built.
It’s been said that the Christian story is the only story in the world which must be read backwards in order to be understood. Only when we begin with Jesus risen from the dead do we then see the meaning of his suffering and death, the authority of his teaching, and the importance of every word he spoke. It's why St. Paul urged the Colossians to “be rooted in him” (Col 2:7). Pope Emeritus Benedict once wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with a person.” To lose ourselves in the encounter with that person — to become Christ centered instead of self-centered — is to discover the taproot of joy, and to understand at last who God has created us to be.