Sermon at Silverstream Priory
Fifth Sunday after Easter 2018
On this Sunday before Ascension Thursday, we are again admitted into the Cenacle. There Our Lord is deep in conversation with His Apostles. He is opening their hearts and minds to what is and to what will come. He acts upon His own by the secret operations of His grace, and so renders them capable of receiving what He desires to give them, and of desiring what He gives. This is Our Lord’s way of acting with each of us. The man who tarries in the presence of Christ will find himself gently opened to the truth. He will be surprised by the light that shines within him and by the fire enkindled in his heart.
Origen passed on a saying attributed to Our Lord but found nowhere in the Scriptures: “The Saviour himself saith: He who is near me is near the fire; he who is far from me, is far from the kingdom” (Homil. in Jer., XX, 3). It seems to me that all through Paschaltide, in listening to the reading of the Discourse in the Cenacle, we are very near the fire. With us, it is, I think, as with the disciples who said one to the other: “Was not our heart burning within us, whilst he spoke in the way, and opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
What does Our Lord says to us today? He says, “The Father Himself loveth you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came out from God” (John 16:27). If ever you have looked for divine assurance, know that you find it in these words of Jesus: “The Father Himself loveth you”. Any preacher, it seems to me, would be fully justified in repeating only this, and saying nothing more. This is the word that every soul waits to hear, lives to hear. This is the word that, once heard, allows a man to live as Christ would have him live. “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
But there is more: Jesus tells us why the Father loves us. The Father loves us because we have loved Jesus, and believed that He came forth from God. Loved and believed: charity and faith. Even these are not the effect of some human industry or the result of human seeking, willing, thinking, and knowing. Charity and faith are themselves gifts of God, and, together with hope, they are the gifts by which God renders us capable of receiving His love.
Hope is not as easily expressed as charity and faith, but it is no less real. Hope is a kind of certainty. Our Lord says, “I came forth from the Father and am come into the world; again I leave the world and I go to the Father”. The man who hopes knows that Jesus came forth from the Father for him. He knows that Jesus came into the world for him. This may, to some, sound disconcertingly personal. Some ask: For me? Can this be true? The Apostle tells us just how true it is: “I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
The man who hopes is certain that, in leaving the world and going to the Father, Jesus does not forsake him but, rather, remains present, according to His promise: “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus remains present in the word of the Gospels, a living seed that, day after day, the Church sows in the hearts of the faithful. He remains present in the mystery of His Sacrifice renewed upon the altar; in the living Bread come down from heaven with which He feeds us on the way; He remains present in the hiddenness and silence of the Host by which He draws men into the radiance of His countenance.
The man who hopes is certain of even more. Jesus, he says, in leaving the world, takes me with Himself because, as the Apostle wrote to Timothy, “He continueth faithful, He can not deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Where the Head goes first, the Body, and each of its members, must follow. Those who are in Christ are never left behind. With Christ the Head, all who belong to Him are destined to leave the world and go to the Father.
Today, dear Michael, you will renew your vows as a member of the Society of Jesus. Surely this is, if not a first in Benedictine history, at least most a unusual event: that a son of Saint Ignatius from Poland should renew his vows in the midst of the sons of the Saint Benedict in Ireland! There is, nonetheless, a fittingness about it. It was, after all, at the Benedictine abbey of Montserrat, before the image of the Mother of God, that Saint Ignatius changed his life and gave it an altogether new direction. The vows that you will renew today, Michael, are an ignited – yes, ignited — expression of the gifts of charity, faith, and hope by which God has made you capable of receiving His love. And to you, Michael, I repeat the words of Our Lord: “The Father Himself loveth you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came out from God” (John 16:27). You will not stand on the mountain of Montserrat to renew your vows, but you will stand, you do stand, you must stand, upon the unshakable rock that is the Father’s love for you.
You came to this monastery, dear Michael, not to become a monk but to leave this place a better Jesuit. Saint Ignatius has insight into the temptations against stability that assail the monk in his desert, and into the temptations against apostolic mobility that assail the Jesuit in the midst of the world. In his fine letter to the Scholastics at Acalá, Saint Ignatius says:
Let us all persevere in the vocation to which God calls us, and not make our first loyalty an empty word. For the enemy is wont to tempt those in the desert with thoughts of dealing with the neighbor and improving him, and to those who are helping the neighbor he will propose the great perfection of the desert and solitary life. Thus he lays hold of what is far off to prevent us from taking advantage of what is at hand.
Today, as so often happens in the Mass, the Offertory Antiphon, in some way, continues the Gospel and turns it to prayer. You, Michael, are called to serve in the Eternal City amidst “the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”. We monks are called to the service of the Divine Majesty in the silence of the cloister. But both you and we together, can enter into the Offertory Antiphon that we will sing in a few moments, and find that it expresses the deepest prayer of our hearts:
O bless the Lord our God, ye peoples, and make the voice of His praise to be heard: Who hath set my soul to live, and hath not suffered my feet to be moved. Blessed be the Lord, who hath not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me, alleluia.(Psalm 65:8, 9, 20)
It is this prayer that we are to hold in our hearts today and in the next three days leading up to Ascension Thursday. We will, of course, be carrying out the prescribed Rogations Procession with the Litany of the Saints on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, at about 10:30 in the morning, before the Conventual Mass. It is surely a liturgical providence of God that the Rogation Days, mobilising the Church in intense supplication, should occur before the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.
Finally, at the end of this Holy Mass, all of you, dear sons and friends, will seal the Postcommunion Prayer with your “Amen”. You will give your assent to the prayer, that I, on behalf of the whole Church will present to God before leaving the altar. What will this prayer ask?
Grant to us, O Lord, that filled with strength from this heavenly table, we may both desire what is right, and obtain that which we desire.
This is a prayer for you, Michael, at the end of your retreat. It is prayer for us monks who, by our profession, are called to be like the prophet Daniel, the vir desideriorum, men of desire. It is prayer for the people of Ireland at a moment of weighty and incalculable consequences in the nation’s history: “that we may both desire what is right, and obtain that which we desire”. Desire rightly. Desire boldly. “Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).