The Inviting and Liberating Presence of Jesus

05-13-2018From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

It is always wonderful to feel we are welcome into the presence of others. Of course, the other side of that is making others aware that they are welcome into our presence. Sometimes we feel we are given the bum’s rush and at times we are the person rushing to get away from people we do not want to deal with at the moment. Even more, sometimes we do not want to be alone with ourselves and our thoughts of who we are and what we have done in the past. This is the last Sunday of the Easter season. Next Sunday will conclude the Easter Season of fifty days as we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus.

All during the Easter season our readings at Mass have called our attention to the powerful, loving presence of the Risen Christ as He appeared to His followers. Since last Sunday and including today, the Gospel passages at Mass have come from the Last Supper discourse (chapters 13-17) in St. John’s Gospel. This passage calls our attention to how Jesus is not only preparing to physically leave His followers in His crucifixion, but even more how He is assuring them of His love. His physical absence through death does not mean the end of His love for them. He promised to send them the Holy Spirit who would open their minds and hearts to His love for them and to how He is present to them and through them. He assured them they would be in His heart when He died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. He wanted them to know without a doubt that they would always be welcomed into His presence.

Do I as a follower of Jesus always feel welcomed into His presence? One of the most powerful signs of the willingness of Jesus to welcome us into His presence and to assure us of His desire to have us with Him in heaven for all eternity is found in Luke 23:39-43: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” In the midst of great physical pain, Jesus welcomes this seemingly hopeless criminal into His presence eternally. There were no demands of repentance, no words of rebuke or condemnation, only words unconditional love: "today you will be with me in Paradise.” It is so clear that the presence of Jesus is not threatening and demanding, but inviting and liberating. Jesus looked beyond this man’s criminal past to embrace him with eternal love. The question to ponder is: Do I feel that welcome to come into Jesus presence? Coming into His presence is far more than just “saying our prayers” and “attending Mass.” It is sincerely opening our minds and hearts as attentively as possible to Him. “Saying our prayers” and “attending Mass” can make us feel like we have satisfied an obligation and avoided disobeying the first commandment (“I am the Lord your God, you shall not have strange God’s before me” and the third commandment “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.”) But do these acts really enable is to personally be aware of His presence and attentiveness to us?

The other question to ponder is: Is Jesus really welcomed into my mind and heart? Am I happy, grateful, and joyful that Jesus is with me? Those we love and let into our lives are always welcomed into our presence. Their presence frees us to be ourselves and to accept their love. It also enables them to be themselves and to be joyful in our presence. Mutual love and presence to one another lifts our minds and hearts and fills us with joy and gratitude. Another word for Mass is Eucharist which means thanksgiving. We come to give thanks to God and express our gratitude by our words and attentiveness to Him. That gratitude leads us to open our minds to the prayers and readings. As we speak to God, God speaks to us. He always listens. Do I? A life-giving relationship is a two-way street. Both people want to be there and thoroughly enjoy one another’s presence. When they part physically the presence remains in each other’s hearts.

Today we celebrate Mother’s Day. What a wonderful example of how we carry one another in our hearts. Whether we come into the physical presence of our mothers or not, they are in our hearts and we are in theirs. This powerful love is far more than a physical presence, it is a life-giving force. My mother would always say as we prepared for gift-giving holidays, “Don’t buy me any gifts, just come home.” As much as she was a gift to us, we were a gift to her. I pray for her and my father every day, thanking them and asking them to pray for me, my siblings, and others I have on my mind. I am inspired by their sacrificial love and know that I would not be who I am without them.

Jesus does the same for us. When we can say we are who we are because Jesus is part of our lives and we are a part of His life, prayer, Mass, and the other Sacraments become life-giving encounters. In these meetings, we are brought into the life of the Father and Holy Spirit and the saints. We see how blessed and united we are as members of God’s family. That leads us to pray in thanksgiving and also in petition for those we love and those whose suffering comes to our attention personally, locally, and worldwide.

I conclude by offering verses from Psalm 139. I invite you to pray them with gratitude and joy in God’s all-embracing, unconditional love for us as individuals and His people.

Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach. Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, Even there your hand guides me, your right-hand holds me fast.

Fr. Wald