If You Want to Go Forward, Go Back

If You Want to Go Forward, Go Back

Sunday after Ascension

On this Sunday that falls between the Ascension and Pentecost, the Church’s attention is drawn to seek the face of the Saviour who has disappeared from our field of vision. Through faith we must seek His face, we must long for Him to return. Ever since the Ascension, when the angels said to the apostles: This Jesus whom you have seen ascend into Heaven shall return as you have seen Him go, the Church longs to be united with her heavenly Spouse, that is to say, that every Christian soul should have a great desire to go and be with Him; at the same time the Church calls for His return in glory to judge the world. The final words of the book of the Apocalypse summarise this in the phrase Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

This longing to see the face of God is tempered by the knowledge that in a way we already see Him. In the liturgy we celebrated yesterday for the feast of the apostles Philip and James, we heard Philip ask Jesus: Lord, show us the Father. We can be grateful to St Philip for asking that question, for even though the Lord somewhat chided him for it, it afforded Our Lord the opportunity to underline His own divinity. Have I been with you for so long, Philip that you do not yet know me? He who sees me, sees the Father (Jn 14) By contemplating Jesus, we see the love of the Father and are led to be one with Him already in faith until we see Him face to face in the eternal homeland. In the same passage just a few verses up, St Thomas asks our Lord to show the way. You will recall that Our Lord said: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. Here again is stressed the reality that divine revelation finds its full realisation in Our Lord. He alone is the way that leads to the Father; He alone is the truth that we must believe; He alone is the life that we must have lest we die eternally. Neither Buddha, nor Mohammed, nor Luther, nor Pachamama, nor anyone else. Only Jesus can lead to the Father.

So, while we long to see God face to face, we already see Him in a way, as it were in a mirror, and that vision gives us great peace and the certitude of being on the right path. It is this certitude that God is ever with us till the end of time that gives us peace and tranquillity, to each of us personally, but which also makes the Church, the Catholic people, invincible. Over and over again in history, the enemies of the Church have shouted victory, only to find that their apparent triumph was short-lived: the Church is constantly being reborn, often thanks to the blood of martyrs. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton: The Catholic Church has died many times in history, only to rise again, for she happened to be founded by a man who found the way out of the grave.

The Holy Spirit is constantly raising up new saints to meet the challenges of every age. This is why the Church never gives up; it is why the faithful never give in to the mentality of “to each his own, let each man defend himself”. No, the Church remains with her visible structures, that are renewed in every age; through the Church, grace reaches all souls of goodwill.

There is no need to insist upon the fact that we are in one of those periods where it would be easy to give in to that fatalistic spirit, but the admonishment of the Church, given through the epistle of St Peter on this day, is that whenever the Lord seems to have disappeared, as He does in the Ascension and as He does in the eclipse of the truth in our world, our path has been clearly shown to us: Keep watch in prayer and in the practice of fraternal charity. That is the infallible way of being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is the infallible means we have been given to tap into the infinite source of grace. That is why St Alphonsus famously said that whoever prays is certainly saved, and whoever does not pray is certainly damned. Indeed, the Lord has given us the means, the very simple means of procuring the actual graces we need at every moment. It is as simple as asking for it. Ask, and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. That is also why the same St Alphonsus says that in moments of temptation we have a grave duty to pray, for only prayer can obtain the strength we need to resist. Otherwise, we throw down our weapons and are immediately taken out by the enemy.

The practice of fraternal charity is also an indispensable means for obtaining grace, for as St Peter says, it covers a multitude of sins. How is that? On the one hand, a perfect act of charity, that is to say, an act of love for God, for Himself just because He is infinitely loveable, in and of itself, has the potential to wipe out all our sins, because perfect love for God implies the detestation of all that is contrary to God. On the other hand, the love of God in our hearts moves us to show charity to our fellow humans and to show compassion by offering any help we can. That attitude draws down further graces upon our souls and atones for our many sins.

Our prayer for the return of Our Lord is doubled with a prayer for Him to send the Holy Spirit, the promised Paraclete. In this way, the prayer of the Church is continually asking the Lord to send forth the Spirit that He may renew the face of the earth, that He may blow away all the stains of filth that cover the earth and the Church, that He may light a fire of faith and love in every heart.

In the coming week, then, my dear Faithful, let us be insistent in calling down the Holy Spirit upon the Church, the He may raise up great saints to show the way forward, which, contrary to what we hear so much these days, actually lies backward: when you get lost in the mountains, or in an unknown country, you go back. Back to safety, back to the truth, back to humility, back to prayer, back to penance, back to the faith of our fathers, not forward to some fictional church that has no other basis than the wayward pride of its builders, who imagine they can build a better church than the one Christ founded. No, we do not need another Church. We do not need a different Church. Both would be a false church, and therefore no church at all. We need the true Church, whose teaching is available to everyone who seeks it with a humble mind and whose life is not corrupted by vice in all its forms, who truly seek the face of the Living God and strive to devote all their energies to saving their souls and the souls of all.

In the fourteenth century, when the papacy was decadent and gravely compromised, when several successive popes thought that they could make a different and better church by governing it from a more comfortable place in Avignon, God raised up the most unlikely of persons, a sickly young woman, St Catherine of Siena, who singlehandedly brought the pope back to Rome, by her prayers, but also by her courageous letters and words to the pope. She also wrote scathing letters to corrupt cardinals, calling them to repentance, not omitting to address them as “incarnate devils”. Such is the attitude of the saints in the face of the failures of the hierarchy: resistance, prayer, penance, and above all confidence that the Lord has not abandoned His Church. My dear faithful, let us hand ourselves over to much prayer without hesitation. For, as St James tells us, he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord (James 1). Stand firm, do not waver, the end is near.

Come Holy Spirit, Come Lord Jesus, Come Quickly.