07 June 2014

PEACE, MISSION, BREATH

Solemnity of Pentecost
Jn 20:19-23 (Acts 2:1-11 / Ps 104 / 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13)

Wanting to explore the meaning of hell, the great philosopher, Jean Paul Sarte, wrote a play which he gave the subtitle, “No Exit”.  The play has only three characters.  The setting is only one: a room that has neither doors nor windows, only walls made of mirrors.

The three characters, sitting inside the room, face the wall.  Because the walls are mirrors, they see nothing beyond but themselves only.  They brood over their past – a “past” they cannot use to change their present.  They see no future as well, for they see nothing clear of the mirror-walls.  Now – a “now” that is regretfully marked by woundedness and failures – is all they can behold, is all they are allowed to see.  Indeed, a perpetual nightmare – that’s what they are having, for they have no tomorrow to wake up to.

After a long while, one of the three characters breaks the deafening silence.  “Let’s go!” he tells the other two.  Let’s go!  But where?  The room has no exit.  That, said Jean Paul Sarte, indeed is hell.

“On the evening of that first day of the week,” the Gospel today tells us, the disciples of Jesus were also locked up inside a room: the Upper Room, where four days earlier they gathered to celebrate the Passover meal that was to be their Last Supper with Jesus.  The Upper Room had doors and windows, but all the doors and windows were bolted.  The disciples themselves locked themselves up inside the Upper Room.  Why?  John, our evangelist for today and was one of those locked up inside the Upper Room that evening, disclosed (perhaps with much embarrassment) the reason for their self-imposed imprisonment: they were afraid of the Jews.  For if the Jews put Jesus, their Lord and Master, to death, what guarantee did the disciples have for their own safety?  Thus, locked up inside the Upper Room, the disciples were an assembly gathered in fear.

Despite the locked doors and windows, however, Jesus appeared and stood in their midst. Shalom was His first word to them.  Prisoners of their fear, Jesus gave them the key to their freedom: the Lord’s gift of peace.

The peace of the Lord is both the root and fruit of freedom.  Many of us think that we can have peace only when we are finally free.  But true freedom is achieved only with faith in the victory of Jesus, the kind of faith that clings to Jesus Himself and therefore yields the peace that the world cannot give nor take away.  Thus, even in the most trying moment, a person who has firm faith in Jesus can know peace.  It is this kind of peace that truly sets a person free.  With the Lord’s shalom, nothing can lock up a person away from genuine freedom.  Let us therefore, with the Lord’s gift of peace, open our hearts, for “The worst prison,” so said St. John Paul II, “would be a closed heart.”

“As the Father has sent Me, so I send you,” Jesus continued after giving His disciples His peace.  Mission.  Jesus gave His disciples peace and mission.  Having assured them of His abiding peace, Jesus sent His disciples on mission.  With His peace as the “key" to the locked Upper Room, Jesus sent forth His disciples to effect unto others the freedom they themselves had first received: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

From a fearful assembly, Jesus transformed the disciples into a community of missionaries.  From individual believers, the disciples became a missionary Church.  Never again can the Church be church unless she is on mission.  And never again can a believer be a true disciple of Jesus without being a missionary of Jesus at the same time.

To be a missionary of Jesus is to highlight Jesus, not the self.  To be a missionary of Jesus is to think more of others and less of the self.  To be a missionary of Jesus is to be an active member of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and not to be His isolated follower.  Thus, by sending His disciples to mission, Jesus further freed them from their being locked up in themselves, isolated not only from the rest of the world but even from their fellow disciples.  Doing mission is the “exit” from the Upper Room.

Finally, Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  What a beautiful déjà vu!  In Gen 2:7, we read, “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”  Jesus did not mimic the creation in Gen 2:27; He rather recreates humanity by His gift of the Holy Spirit.  With His breathing on His disciples, Jesus creates a new humanity – redeemed and empowered.  Thus, began the fulfilment of the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 104, “Lord, send out Thy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”  For through His disciples – from the first ones up to us in the modern times – Jesus renews humanity by our courageous witness to His life, death, and resurrection.

Ruah Yahweh, in Hebrew means “Breath of God”.  The Holy Spirit is the Ruah Yahweh, the very Breath of God and, therefore, the very Life of Jesus.  As Jesus breathed on His disciples, the life of Jesus cannot but be the life of His disciples.  Every disciple is like “another Jesus” to the world.  Not that the disciple should develop what we call “messianic complex” but that the disciple, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, must strive to conform himself or herself to Jesus and so radiate Jesus to the world.  This presupposes total surrendering of the self to Christ Who breathes on us, gives us the Holy Spirit, and fills us up with His very life, until like the Apostle Paul we may say without error, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

If peace is the key and mission is the exit to freedom from our locking ourselves up in our own “Upper Rooms”, the Holy Spirit is the Power that not only enables us to turn that key and to do the mission Christ entrusts us with but also to become like Jesus Himself.

There once was a student of a great sculptor.  So great was the sculptor that the student wanted so much to become like him, for anything the sculptor worked on would turn into an obra maestra.

One day, thinking that the secret of his master was in his tools, the young man borrowed the tools of his mentor.  Graciously, the great sculptor lent his student his tools.  The young man immediately worked on a piece of wood, using the tools of his master.  But he produced no obra maestra.

Sadly, the student returned his master’s tools, saying, “Thank you for lending me your tools, master.  But I cannot become even an inch like you.”

The great sculptor, with much love, looked at his student and said, “Young man, listen and understand.  The secret of becoming like the master is not in using the tools of the master but in having the spirit of the master.”


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