Sunday after Ascension
On the days that separate the Ascension from Pentecost, the apostles, as Our Lord commanded them, retire to the upper room to await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. With them, let us ponder those parting words of the Saviour at the Last Supper, and let us, in the tradition of Holy Church, savour what has come to be known as the High Priestly Prayer, in chapter 17 of St John’s Gospel. This prayer can be considered as a prayer of consecration, whereby the High Priest of the New Covenant dedicates to the Father His apostles and their successors in the priesthood and through them all future believers.
If we had to summarise this prayer in just a few words, we might do so in this way: Father, unite all those who will come to believe in me in the truth and in love, so that the world may believe, and that they may one day see the glory I share with Thee. The faith, the truth, love, but above all unity in faith and love, appear to be the desires most dear to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Truth and love – the perfection of the intellect and of the perfection of the will. The intellect cannot be satisfied until it finds the truth. The will cannot find rest until it learns to love selflessly. And since such is the deepest desire of every person, if each person attains them and are united in them, we would have the highest possible bliss of all rational creatures. Such was the desire of His Heart. Such should be our desire.
The Catechism teaches this: “God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 851). And again: “Faith bears its fruit in love: it means keeping the word and the commandments of Jesus, it means abiding with him in the Father who, in him, so loves us that he abides with us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 2614).
The consequences we can draw from this, confirmed by the words of St Peter we heard in today’s epistle, are that if we want to prepare ourselves for an abundant outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, then we must make every effort to be one in the truth and in charity. Be serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. (1Pe 4:7-8).
Being one in the faith means sharing the common teaching of the Church without picking and choosing. Being one in charity means bearing with the infirmities of our brethren, of serving them in their needs. But it also means widening the frontiers of our heart to reach all men, having a heart as wide as the sea as Holy Scripture tells us of King Solomon: God gave to Solomon wisdom, and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, as the sand that is on the sea shore (1Ki 4:29). No one is excluded from the merciful heart of Jesus, and no one should be excluded from ours, not even our worst enemies. As St Augustine had already taught: those who today are your enemies may tomorrow be your friends. And even if they are not, they can become the instrument of God’s providence. Let’s not forget the profound lesson of the mercy shown to Gollum by both Bilbo and Frodo. It was thanks to that mercy towards a worthless and dangerous enemy that in the end all is saved. Here, as in many other places, Tolkien reveals himself to be a true Catholic, putting into practice the teaching of the Saviour:
Love your enemies. Do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you and pray for them that calumniate you. … If you love them that love you, what thanks are to you? For sinners also love those that love them. …But love ye your enemies: do good, and lend, hoping for nothing thereby: and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the sons of the Highest. For he is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Luk 6:27-36
As we prepare our minds and hearts for the visit of the Holy Spirit, let us strive to be more united in love and mutual forbearance; let us consider the burdens of others as our own; let us pray for the conversion of sinners and those who cause us or others to suffer, even those who appear to us to be utterly evil; let us not seek revenge, but pray for mercy. Those who deserve judgment will receive it, but let us all the Lord to mete it out in His time, for the only one who is fit to mete out justice is the one who is entirely innocent. For the rest of us, that is to say, all of us, let us seek to heal all wounds, to mend all rifts, to reconcile all hearts.
This is all the more essential when we consider that the sole to avoid evil is to forgive others and to help others in every way that we can just as we hope to be helped when we cannot achieve what we need to. The beatitude of the merciful – Blessed are the merciful, for mercy will be shown to them – is therefore the one which manifests the greatest wisdom and opens to a greater influence of the discerning Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis expressed this marvellously in his little book The Name of God is Mercy: “Our era needs mercy because it is a wounded humanity, a humanity that bears deep wounds (…). More than half a century ago, Pius XII said that the drama of our time was to have lost the sense of sin, the awareness of sin. To this is added today the fact, dramatic in itself, to consider our illness or our sin, as something incurable, that can neither be healed, nor forgiven (indeed many people of our time are convinced that sin is inevitable because they don’t believe anymore in the omnipotence of prayer and grace!). What is lacking is the concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our epoch consists also in that: to believe there is no possibility of redemption, i.e., no helping hand that makes it possible for you to get up, no embrace that saves you, forgives you, brings you relief, floods you with infinite, indulgent love, and allows you to restart on the road. We need mercy!”
Yes, we all need mercy, and to receive it, we must show it, and if we show it, we will be not only the children of the heavenly Father, but also the brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus who teaches us today: 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 (Jn 17:20-21).