A man was gathering up clothes, with the help of his sister-in-law, to take to the mortician for his wife’s funeral. He opened a drawer and took out a very expensive slip that still had the price tag on it, and placed it on the bed. Sadly, he told his sister-in-law that his wife had never worn it because she had been saving it for a special occasion. Now, that special occasion would be her funeral.
Gifts are meant to be opened, used, and appreciated. Father Bob remembers his 10th anniversary as a priest. There was a reception after the eucharist. People brought gifts that he received and placed in the dining room. Only after everyone had left did he realize he had not opened any of the gifts. He felt chagrined — surely the people who brought them would have liked to see him open the gifts and acknowledge their generosity. Bob felt he had stolen from them some of the pleasure of gift-giving.
Imagine how our loving Father must feel when we fail to appreciate or use the priceless gift of our faith in him; when we take the gift of his Son’s life, death and resurrection for granted.
The readings today urge us to open, appreciate and use this great gift of faith.
In the gospel today, St. John is using mystical language to describe what faith in God is all about and stretching the apostles’ belief system. We can summarize the gospel in the following three sentences: The Father and Jesus are one, as the Father dwells in Jesus; Jesus is the Way to the Father, and no one comes to God as Father but through Jesus.
Jesus is the way because he reveals the Father, shows us the way to the Father, and alone gives access to the Father. When Philip asks for some marvellous manifestation of the Father, he falls short of that deeper faith by which alone the Father is seen to be in the Son, and the Son in the Father. Philip asks for a marvellous sign, and learns that the only secure vision of God in this life is through Jesus Christ and faith in him. The works of Jesus were merely signs of the revelation and salvation that he brought.
For the New Interpreter’s Bible, John 14:4-6 is the high point of John’s theology. “No one comes to the Father but through me.” These words reflect John’s deep belief that the coming of Jesus, the Word made flesh, decisively altered the relationship between God and humanity. Jesus is the tangible presence of God in the world, and God can only be truly known through that incarnate presence. Humanity’s encounter with Jesus the Son makes possible a new experience of God as Father.
The Incarnation has redefined God for St. John and his flock, because it brings the tangible presence of God’s love into the world. This is a world-changing theological affirmation of an understanding of the truth of God that is coming from a small community that had Judaism as its previous home. John 14:6 is thus the core claim of Christian identity; what distinguishes Christians from peoples of other faiths is the conviction given expression in John 14:6 “It is, indeed, through Jesus that Christians have access to their God.”
In the second reading, we find that faith in Jesus reveals our identity as well. We are living stones, like Jesus, special to God who sees our faith in Jesus and takes us in his arms. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart, God’s own people.
Faith also demands of us a response. We are invited to stay close to God through prayer and the study of God’s Word. Our prayer will be more effective because we are one with Jesus in the Spirit. We are also to spend our lives in loving service. We will do even greater works because Jesus has left behind the limitations of the Incarnation and can now act more freely and does “works” through believers in and through his Spirit. Thus the faith and love of the disciples makes visible the invisible presence of the glorified Lord.
Those who truly live and work the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous experience a faith that transforms their lives. That program involves a balance of faith, fellowship and self-awareness. Four of the steps are all about our relationship with God; four of the steps are all about fellowship with others; and four of the steps are all about self-awareness, having faith in and love for ourselves. No wonder those who truly work the program and enter into the fellowship have achieved marvellous years of joyous, free sobriety.
One day a Father John received a phone call from an elderly widow who suffered from bipolar disorder. She was allergic to the medication she had been prescribed, and at that moment was feeling suicidal, depressed, alone, lonely and abandoned. He listened to her feelings with compassion, then invited her to see that she was helping carry Jesus’ cross, and ultimately, was with Jesus on the cross. That simple spiritual awareness gave her the strength to carry on. Her faith in Jesus helped her to experience the Father’s love for her in her suffering, and gave meaning to that suffering. It reminded him of a saying he saw on a cup one time: “When someone, somewhere, cares, someone, somewhere, survives.” Father John was someone who was a living stone in the temple of the church for that woman, and so many others that he cares for in the same way.
The eucharist we celebrate now is an intimate communion with our God in Jesus through the Spirit. It is faith in action, as we listen to God’s voice in the Scriptures that are proclaimed, and recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
So do not wait for a special occasion — choose now to open and use the gift of faith in Jesus Christ that we were given in baptism.
Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-The Pas, is chaplain at the Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert, Alta. He continues to live out his motto, Regnum Dei Intra Vos (the kingdom of God is among you), which is his overriding focus and passion.