4th Sunday after Easter
My Dear Friends,
As we make our way through this most festive of seasons, our holy Mother the Church continues to direct our gaze on high. Today we hear our Lord tell the apostles: I am going to the one who sent me, and this is necessary for you, for then I will send you the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who will declare and explain to you all that I have said. He will convict the world of sin, of judgment and of justice; that is to say, he will single out sin and its just punishment, and at the same time point to its remedy in the great mystery of salvation which is offered to all. That mystery of salvation is summarised in today’s collect, one of those countless gems of our liturgy, uniting as it does the typical Roman concision of thought with a complete presentation of the mystery of our faith. We prayed in these terms:
O God, who makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant to Thy people to love that which Thou commandest and desire that which Thou dost promise; that so, among the changing things of this world, our hearts may be set where true joys are to be found.
We are first of all reminded that it is only by the grace of God that so many different people can be united in one purpose. The minds of the faithful, of necessity, are going to have diverging views on any number of things, for it is impossible for everything to think alike. Divine Grace however unites them by moving their wills to profess the same truths revealed by God and to thus live in unison. This the Lord does through the Holy Spirit who draws souls to Christ, to the Church, and gives them to want to live in harmony with all the others. The unity of the Church is that great grace that the Lord Himself pleaded for after the Last Supper:
Not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me. That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them: that, they may be one, as we also are one. I in them, and thou in me: that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me (Jn 17:20-23). Clearly this unity of hearts in the one true faith is very dear to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord, and so it should be to us. We, sons of St Benedict, have a very long tradition of our own to refer to, in terms of promoting unity in charity.
Having reminded the Lord of this marvellous unity He gives to His people, we then ask Him to give us to love the things He commands. This expression takes us straight to Psalm 118, in which we pray: O how have I loved thy law, O Lord! How sweet are thy words to my palate! (Ps 118:97, 103). This law which we ask for the grace to love is such that it makes us truly wise. The same Psalm goes on: Through thy commandment, thou hast made me wiser than my enemies: for it is ever with me. I have understood more than all my teachers: because thy testimonies are my meditation. I have had understanding above ancients: because I have sought thy commandments (Ps 118:98-100).
The love of the divine commandment, which ultimately is love of the Lord Himself, by its very nature leads to desire the things that are promised to those who keep them. Why is that? Quite simply because the commandments are the expression of who God is. By keeping them and basing our life on them, we become like God, and desire and more and more the everlasting communion with Him which He Himself has promised. We might put it another way and say that by keeping the commandments with love we are receiving training in the ways of God, and we discover more and more how beautiful He is and how delightful it is to keep the commandments which are a recipe for joy and a ticket to Heaven.
As we progress in the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbour, we come to see how the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, are simply the expression of those two great commandments. Then, they appear to us with all their beauty. We see how by keeping the first three commandments of the Decalogue, we are formed to a loving, filial, fruitful relationship with God Himself whom we adore, honour and praise. We perceive how the other seven commandments form us to love of neighbour, teaching us the proper attitude towards those who are placed over us in the family, in the Church, in society; we appreciate more and more the respect for life given by God and all that surrounds the transmission of that life; we are more and more grateful for the respect of truth and goods of others, as well as of the interior sentiments of our hearts over which the last two commandments set a guard.
We are then taken with the beauty of the Divine Law, and that in turn leads us to desire more and more the marvellous realities God has promised to those who keep it. We find ourselves longing to see face to face the One whom we embrace in faith, and who we know is the very cause of our inner joy.
When this happens, we are able to pass through earthly realities without being scathed, or at least without being brought down. When our heart and mind are up there, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, when we taste and savour those things that are from above, what could possibly trouble us here below? For then our hearts are eternally fixed on truths and beauties and goods which do not pass, but which remain forever. Ibi nostra fixa sint corda ubi vera sunt gaudia.
The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that since Christ has ascended into Heaven, we have an anchor of the soul. Whereas the anchors of ships go down into the waters below, the anchor of faith reaches up into Heaven beyond the veil, where our beloved Saviour has gone before us. But this anchor is infinitely more solid and dependable than that of any ship. The Risen Saviour is surety for our minds and hearts. If they are with Him, they will fear nothing at all as we cross the sea of this passing world.
The ship is approaching the harbour. It will soon dock. Let’s make ourselves ready by savouring more and more the sweetness of His Law, above all the law of charity, the law of self-sacrifice. It alone makes us perfect in the art of chant, that spiritual canticle of love that we must learn how to sing in this life. When we reach the port, please God we will have learned how to love, for this is an art that can only be learned in this life. Then, we shall join our own voices with those of the heavenly choirs which in turn model themselves on those two voices which will surpass all the others, those of Jesus and Mary, whose ravishing tones were enriched still more by the passion endured together on Calvary. As St Elizabeth of the Trinity writes, “suffering is a chord that emits still more exquisite tones”
In this month of Mary, let us ask the Mother of Fair Love – Mater Pulchrae Dilectionis – to teach us the ways of true love. Let us beseech her to show us how to deny ourselves in order to find our true selves, for that alone is the path to happiness. And may she open up for our sad, self-centred world, a path of humility, which of its very nature is a path of unity, so that, among the changing things of this world, our hearts may be set where true joys are to be found.