Summary: Jesus is present in our liturgical celebrations, in the Eucharistic species, in our reading of the Scriptures, in our prayer for each other.
Third Sunday After Easter 2018
I have never had, nor will I ever have, the challenge and privilege of giving birth to a child. I have, however, helped my wife during labor three times, and been close by at many births of grandchildren, so I can confirm as well as any man what Lamaze teaches: it’s very, very hard work. A woman in childbirth, “tristitiam habet.” What an understatement! We’ll get back to that reality presently.
What I do every day for entertainment is read what we used to call “the funnies.” They are cartoons run in newspapers, and also available by subscription on the computer. One of them I read is “Spiderman,” and a lot of the entertainment value comes from the same literary device we see in today’s Gospel. On Sunday, “Spidey” gets into a discussion or fracas with some semi-human creature, and the encounter continues on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, and maybe even into the next week, with absolutely no plot development. For those who enjoy, as I do, the new drawings, it’s called embellishment. For those who don’t, it’s called monotony.
St. John’s Gospel today gives us several verses that seem only repetitive. Over and over again we hear, first from Jesus, then from the disciples, then from Jesus: “A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.” Now John never does anything without a reason when he writes. When he repeats himself, it’s because the idea expressed is important, even critical, and an understanding of childbearing will really help.
Humans give birth about 266 days after the unique creation of a child. The last two months of that gestation, I have been told, are the most difficult, because the Lord is compressing two human beings into one human body. Everything is more difficult for the woman to do, and what I hear most often is “I can’t wait until this baby is born.” But when labor begins, and especially in the difficult period called transition, the thought and sometimes the words come out: “I don’t want to do this,” or “I can’t do this.” Tristitiam habet.
But it’s also true that there is a transformation in mom when she first holds her child. She’s been a mother for nine months, but now this passenger of discomfort has become an object of total love. The Latin says, “she forgets the pressure because of the joy.” So Jesus says will the disciples experience His ascension into heaven. What follows will be sadness, but they will see Him again, and be full of joy.
So it’s been two thousand years, and where is Our Lord? With the apostles we can ask “what does He mean by ‘a little while?’” Two thousand years may be a little while to God, but it’s a huge time for humans who have maybe a 75 year or so life expectancy.
The words of Jesus are true, and they are true now: Jesus is present to us in several ways in these millennia after the ascension. St. Luke describes how He is recognized in the breaking of the Bread–in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which we participate in as we take communion. It’s clear that Catholics have been celebrating Eucharist from the very beginning.
Moreover, just ten days after the Ascension, at the end of that first Christian novena, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and the Blessed Virgin and transformed this crew of scared Jews into the most powerful evangelizing, healing, community-living force in human history. The people around the early Church could look on them and see the continuation of Christ’s ministry in their midst. The Christians could look and see the face of Jesus in each other. Jesus said it best: whenever two or three are gathered in His name, here He is.
Jesus is present in our liturgical celebrations, in the Eucharistic species, in our reading of the Scriptures, in our prayer for each other. Jesus is with us when we confess our sins and hear Him say ego te absolvo through the lips of the priest. Jesus is with us as we spread love and joy through His world. So let the fools of the world ridicule our adherence to Christ’s law, mock us for having large families, persecute us when we stand in the public square proclaiming the truth. Those who see and hear us with hearts open to the Truth will understand our witness despite the catcalls of the culture, and many will come in time to the knowledge and love of God in His church.