Fifth Sunday of Easter

We have all had the experience of hearing the death of a friend or colleague – and are left reeling. We are shocked and try to recall our last meeting or encounter with the person we will never see alive again. It is awful, and yet we run and deep down we know we cannot hide from the inevitability of even our own death.

These sombre thoughts come to mind when we recall Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper in today’s Gospel –‘I will not be with you much longer.’

These terrifying words are on our minds when we hear the news of someone’s diagnosis of a terminal illness. Now everything in our relationship with them changes, be it months or weeks, now every meeting could be our last. We go gently with them. And when the illness takes a terminal and rapid downward spiral, everything stops. All the things we considered important are now side-lined, and we keep vigil. Every word and gesture is crucially important and indelibly stamped on our memory.

So it is with the Last Supper. The words we hear today are put in that context. Jesus begins his Last Supper Discourse as it is known, when Judas departs, with these solemn words:

I will not be with you much longer. Where I am going you cannot come.

This is what we are commemorating in the Easter season. It may seem strange to refer back to the Last Supper on Holy Thursday night when in fact we have celebrated Christ’s resurrection and all the subsequent appearances in the Easter Octave and we are now in the Fifth Sunday of Easter.

Now however, we are being prepared (liturgically) for Christ’s departure at His Ascension and He will send us His Holy Spirit. So these words: ‘I will not be with you much longer. Where I am going you cannot come‘  take on a new significance other than on their own in the circumstances in which Jesus first uttered them before His impending death. There is not the same ‘mourning or sadness’ or weeping (as described in the Apocalypse also) when we hear them now.

Yet when someone we love has gone from our sight, their spirit remains. We somehow ‘feel’ them around us in a new way. Conscious reminders, photographs, songs, sayings, milestones, and even unexpectedly too,  the loved one comes back to us forcefully in a way we cannot readily put into words as these are deeply felt and deeply personal to each individual, even in members if the same family.

Going back to the feeling and atmosphere of vigil,  after the person has gone we try somehow to honour their memory afterwards in a mortuary card, the words chosen for the headstone, and even trying to honour them in a particular way if they asked something of us. I think of people – siblings – who reconcile – at the request of a dying parent. They do so out of respect and love.

The words: ‘do this for me’ are embedded in us, and that is why we hear those solemn words: ‘Do this in memory of me’.

At every Mass, therefore, we commemorate and honour Jesus’ final request at the solemn moment of His last get-together with his friends and disciples, and He becomes tangibly present to us in the Eucharist.

We are called each day – and again this week -  to follow Jesus’ new commandment and as we depart from Mass too, to live out those words we heard today, which Jesus asks of each of us (three times) ‘Love one another’.


Vocations Sunday

Perhaps you can picture the scene – two or three young people at a table in coffee shop or restaurant – all ignoring each other’s company, but there is free WiFi so they are busy texting or playing games or surfing the internet for emails or Facebook alerts or tweets. None of them are in conversation with each other. A similar incident was remarked on by a friend of mine who saw three girls on their respective phones to other people – but not to each other in the present moment. We can all get up in the false and illusory hope that we are missing something – where in fact we are by ignoring the present moment and present company.

I remember walking in to a person’s house a couple of years ago where I was about to say a house Mass – a member of the family was too busy or lazy (but also definitely too rude) to get up and greet me – and he was a grown man – the person they were on-line with so far away was more important than a flesh-and-blood visitor to the house.

All of us have an inner voice – we can’t describe it but all of us can relate to the idea of an inner spokesperson for what is true and right and morally preferable – as well as for what is above all, the truth.  The inner promptings of the voice of conscience – that inner voice we might call our good angel on our shoulder – and the call to be more than I am at times of frustration, bewilderment, confusion and restlessness ; the call and the challenge to be stretched – beyond the boredom of so many young people today.

It is difficult however to hear any interior voice over and above the clamouring for attention in the media superhighway - the internet traffic, the email alerts and so on. We are in danger of becoming distracted by technology as well as artificial deadlines to what really matters. But in a world of instant tweets, there is much lack of true communication – and there is no instant button for changing the mood of loneliness depression or sadness.

Even through conversations – do we really take the time to listen to others? Or is it all about me and waiting for others to stop talking so that I can get my spake? People complain to me often how hard they find it to find someone who will really listen to them and engage with them instead of competing with them for attention.

But if we are too busy to listen to each other and end up ignoring each other, where can God enter?

Today therefore is an appeal to listen, to put down the phone or the remote control, to turn off the TV and not just mute it! To stop for a change, and to listen for God’s voice – in the silence, in what the poet Seamus Heaney calls ‘the music of what happens’; to reflect, and to discern what God wants of us now and from this day forward.  

What therefore is my vocation?

The voice of conscience – that strange indescribable yet inescapable inner voice - the call to be more than I am - the call and the challenges to be stretched – beyond the boredom of so many young (and not-so-young) people today – the call to do what God wants (as well as what others may want) – the call to follow – the way of the Cross – the way of salvation – and the way to heaven.

All of us are called in particular way to follow and are confused and bewildered by competing voices.  If you have ever had the experience of hearing your name being called above other names in a crowd of people – it may in fact be someone else and then you realise in semi disappointment that it is not you who is so popular or wanted, that it is somebody else instead…

But today God is calling each of us by name even in the crowd. We must strain to listen

To sum up

We are called today to make time to listen

1.    Firstly, to make time to listen to others

2.    Secondly, to listen to the inner voice of conscience in the silence of our hearts

3.    Thirdly, to listen to what God might be telling us if we just make the time and effort to switch off competing noise

Jesus says: The sheep that listen to me listen to my voice – and a necessary and crucial step is silence.

 Make time for silent prayer today – you might be surprised to what the Lord has been trying to say!


Post script

·       The measure of the strength of the faith of any country is the quantity as well as the quality of priestly and religious vocations. God blesses abundant faith with an abundance of vocations. It is in a sense an annual recruiting drive of the Church, the sales pitch, the call to hear the voice of God
·       We pray too for those whom God may be calling even in our parish towards a priestly or a religious vocation. We pray that young people especially those in school or college may be open to where God may be leading them to serve Him and others