Laying Down Your Life
Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B)
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
Love is very often understood as a strong feeling or emotion toward another. When someone is strongly attracted to someone or something, they “love it.” But is this love? Is this love in the truest sense? Not really. Love certainly will have an emotional element to it, but it will not be based on emotions or feelings.
So what is love? Love is a choice. Specifically, as Jesus identifies in the Gospel passage above, love is a choice to “lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Laying down our lives indicates a number of things. First, it shows that the nature of love is a total self gift. Laying down your life cannot be done half way. Either your life is laid down or not. This reveals that love, in order for it to be love in the truest sense, is a total commitment of 100% of your life.
This passage also reveals that love is sacrificial. Laying down your life clearly shows that love requires a sort of death to self. It requires we look to the other first, putting their needs before ours. This requires true sacrifice and selflessness.
We lay down our lives for others in many ways. Some small, some big. Most importantly, we must foster an attitude of deep concern for the good of every person. When we do turn our eyes and hearts toward others, we will begin to discover countless ways to lay our lives down for them. Small acts of kindness, words of affirmation, a listening ear, help with a chore, etc. are a few of the small ways we give of ourselves every day. Greater acts may include a heroic forgiveness, love when we do not feel like being loving, giving mercy when it appears undeserved, and going out of our way to be there for a person when we do not have time in our busy schedule.
The bottom line is that giving of ourselves until it hurts turns any small or large sacrifice we give into a blessing for them and a glorious reward for us. Living a sacrificial life is fulfilling on many levels and is ultimately what we are made for.
Reflect, today, upon how well you lay down your life for others, holding nothing back. Do not hesitate to commit yourself to this depth of love. By giving yourself completely away, you find yourself and discover the presence of our divine Lord.
Lord, help me to put others first. Help me to love until it hurts. And in that loving sacrifice, help me to discover the love in Your own divine heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:26–27
Jesus informs His disciples that “the Spirit of truth” will come and that the Spirit, as well as the disciples, will “testify” to Him. When Jesus first spoke these words to His disciples, they would not have comprehended what He meant. Since these words are prophetic in nature, they are words spoken that were to come to fulfillment and, then, once fulfilled, the words would be understood. So what does Jesus mean?
When we look at the Acts of the Apostles and read about the early Church, it is clear that something incredibly transforming took place after Jesus ascended into Heaven. Up until that time, the disciples and other followers of Jesus had faith, but they were also fearful. They communicated with those others who believed, but did so in secret and with fear. But as soon as Pentecost came, and the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, descended upon them, the Apostles began to be used by God to powerfully proclaim the Gospel without fear and with great effect upon many. It was this experience of the disciples of our Lord, being filled with the Holy Spirit, to which Jesus was referring.
After Jesus died, and perhaps even more so after Jesus ascended into Heaven, it is likely that some of His disciples immediately concluded that the new movement Jesus started was now over. They could have never conceived of the idea that what Jesus started was only beginning. They could have never conceived of the fact that soon they would share in the beginning of the Church, proclaim the Gospel with courage and power, see the conversion of countless lives, witness the ongoing forgiveness of sins, and ultimately give their lives in imitation of our Lord. These disciples had no idea just what awaited them with the coming of the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth. What was awaiting them was their sharing in the ability to “testify” to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. They soon realized that Jesus was actually more alive than ever and that He was now going forth to convert souls by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the instrumentality of all of His new disciples.
The same is true in our lives today. It is far too common for Christians to simply believe in Jesus, personally, but then fail to wholeheartedly give testimony to Him by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. It is far too common for followers of Christ to act more like the disciples prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Too often, Christians keep the Gospel to themselves, fearful of giving testimony by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Reflect, today, upon these prophetic words of Jesus. Though these words were initially spoken to the Twelve, Jesus also speaks these words to you today. He wants you, too, to be a witness to Him, giving testimony to others so that they will come to believe. Reflect upon how well you fulfill this prophetic calling. Where you are lacking, pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in your life so that God can reach many hearts through you.
Most glorious Jesus, You promised to send upon Your disciples and also upon me the Holy Spirit, the Advocate and Spirit of Truth. Holy Spirit, I welcome You into my life and offer myself to You without reserve to be used to give testimony to the Truth. Please do use me, my God, and touch many lives through me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Grieved at Changes in Life
Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Jesus said to his disciples: “Now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:5–7
Jesus continues to speak prophetically to His disciples about the necessity for Him to go to the Father so that He can send the Holy Spirit. What’s interesting in this passage is that Jesus points out to His disciples that “grief” has filled their hearts because of what He has said to them. Clearly, this grief in their hearts is because they do not understand what they will soon experience and do not want their relationship with Jesus to change.
Throughout our lives, our Lord will call us to change. At times, He calls us away from that with which we are familiar and comfortable, and He calls us to something new. This can be frightening and can become the cause of “grief” for us also. To help, let’s consider this passage above in detail.
Recall that there were many times, prior to Jesus death, that Jesus slowly started to reveal to His disciples, especially to the Twelve, that He would be going to the Father and that He would no longer be with them in the way He had been. Jesus wanted the Twelve to begin to understand that their relationship with Him, with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit would soon take on new meaning in their lives. But the fact that this was something new, a change to what they had grown accustomed, meant that they were more focused upon the grief that accompanies loss than they were focused upon the joy that awaited.
This same experience can often be found in all of our lives. Though dramatic change is not necessarily a regular occurrence throughout life, most everyone will experience change at various moments in life. And when that change occurs in accord with the will of God, it must be embraced with hope and great expectation.
For example, vocational changes, such as getting married, having children, or entering a religious vocation, always bring with it much change—but a change that God can use for much good. Also, the death of a loved one, a move to a new community, a new job or school, the establishment of new relationships and the like can be difficult but also fruitful. Since the Gospel passage above specifically refers to the change that comes from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it might be helpful to consider the fact that whenever some new change takes place in our lives, the Holy Spirit is there, waiting to enter into the new situation in ways we could have never imagined. So if you find yourself at times experiencing the grief of some loss, or difficulty with some new endeavor in life, know that the disciples experienced something similar. But in the end, Jesus’ words came true—“it is better for you that I go.” Though they did not want to see Jesus die and then ascend to Heaven out of their sight, this was part of the plan of God for their lives. So also when the changes we encounter in life are part of God’s divine plan, we can be certain that good things await.
Reflect, today, upon anything that our Lord may be asking of you in regard to a change in your life. Are you open, ready and willing to do whatever He asks? Or are you fearful or grieved by the thought of some change. Be open to anything our Lord asks of you and know that the full embrace of His holy will is the only path to true happiness in life.
My dear Jesus, You prepared Your disciples for the new life of grace that they would receive after Your death and Resurrection. Though fearful and uncertain, they embraced the new life You called them to live, and You did marvelous things through them. Please open my heart to the full embrace of my vocation and any changes that You desire for my life. I say “Yes” to You, my Lord, and pray that You work powerfully through me by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Best is Yet to Come
Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” John 16:12–13
This passage still rings true for all of us today. God wants to reveal to us, within the depths of our consciences, the deepest, most profound, and transforming truths that flow from the mind of the Father in Heaven. But we cannot bear it all now. Not fully. And eternity will be spent continually deepening our understanding of all that God reveals. And the process of this ongoing and deepening discovery will fill us with an ongoing and deepening joy. This will be our Heaven, but it must begin now.
First of all, it’s important to understand that God does “have much more to tell you.” Interestingly, coming to know how much you do not already know is itself a form of knowledge. Knowing that there is so much more, that God’s wisdom is infinitely beyond you, that the mind of God compared to yours is incomparable is itself a beautiful truth that must be understood. This truth should both humble you and also fill you with a holy awe of God and the infinite depth of wisdom, truth, beauty and glory contained within Him. This is an essential first step.
Furthermore, by saying that “you cannot bear it now” does not mean that you should not try to bear more and more of the truth that God wants to reveal. In fact, it’s a form of invitation in that it indicates that there will come a time when you will be able to comprehend more. This should once again foster a hope and anticipation for all that remains hidden to be revealed. Humility in the face of the infinite God is necessary for growth in wisdom and knowledge of God.
How does this growth in wisdom and the knowledge of God happen? It happens by the power and working of the Holy Spirit. It is the “Spirit of truth” who will “guide you to all truth.” But even this statement, once again, implies that this is a process. It is the Spirit Who will “guide” you. And this guidance will continue throughout this life and on into eternity.
This teaching of our Lord begs the question: Have you begun the process? Have you begun to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth? Have there been concrete moments in your life when you came to know God in a new and profound way that could only have been possible by the power and working of God Himself?
Reflect, today, upon these essential questions. If you have had God the Holy Spirit speak clearly to You, then humble yourself before that truth. Pray for more wisdom and more knowledge of all that you do not know. And if you cannot relate to the idea of there being so much more that is beyond you, then humbly turn to our Lord and beg Him to begin to open your mind to all that He wants to say to you. The infinite mind of our God awaits you to be discovered and embraced. Begin the process today and let Him guide you into all truth.
God of all truth, You, Your wisdom, Your love and all of Your glorious attributes are infinite in nature and are beyond my complete comprehension. As I humble myself before these holy truths, dear Lord, please bestow upon me the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, so that I may open my mind more fully to You by Your grace. May the process of deep discovery be one of great joy and become for me a process that continues into eternity. Jesus, I trust in You.
(If you celebrate the Ascension in your diocese today, see the reflection below. Otherwise, skip to the next reflection for today and return to the Ascension reflection Sunday.)
The End is the Beginning
Ascension of Our Lord (Year B)
Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:15–16
We celebrate today one more step in the completion of the mission of the Son of God. Humanity had sinned at the beginning of time and fallen from the Original Innocence. God immediately began to prepare the world for the gift of eternal redemption by establishing a covenant with Noah, Abraham and Moses. He raised up various prophets and kings to further prepare His people for what was to come. And then, when the time was right, God entered our world through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus, the Son of God, eventually entered into His public ministry, teaching, performing miracles, gathering the faithful to Himself, dying, rising, and then appearing to His disciples in preparation for the Ascension. The Ascension completes the mission of the Son of God, and today we honor that one definitive moment when God the Son, in His transformed and resurrected Human nature, ascends by His own power to the Father, bringing with Himself our humanity so that all humanity may ascend with Him.
As we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, we must first see all that led up to that moment and seek to unite ourselves with all of those preceding events. We must listen to the words of the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament. We must especially listen to the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament and embrace His words without hesitation. And we must unite ourselves with His own death, dying to sin, so that we may also share in His Resurrection. Today, we must further see the invitation we are all given to ascend with Jesus to the Father. We must understand that where Jesus has gone, we are invited to follow if we only believe, embrace, and live all that took place leading up to this glorious moment.
The Ascension was the end of Jesus’ life on Earth but also the beginning of our sharing in the life of Heaven. As Jesus ascended, He commissioned His disciples to go forth and “preach the gospel to every creature.” They were to preach to all about the saving plan of God that began at the time of Adam and Eve and was completed with the Ascension.
Reflect, today, upon your calling to not only share in this glorious moment of the Ascension of Jesus but also your calling to go forth and to do all you can to draw others into this new life. Reflect upon Jesus, Who also speaks to you today to invite you to bring others to that mountain. By teaching friends, family and all with whom God has entrusted to you to share the Gospel, you fulfill Christ’s mission to “go into the whole world” to gather the scattered people into the one fold of Christ so as to ascend with Him one day into eternity.
My ascended Lord, all things throughout history were but a preparation for the moment when You drew fallen humanity into Heaven to be with Your Father forever. Help me to always heed Your holy words, so that I, too, will share in Your Ascension. Use me, dear Lord, to also go forth and to draw many others to You so that the Kingdom will be filled with all those whom You have called. Jesus, I trust in You.
(Note: The reflection below is used when the Solemnity of the Ascension is transferred to the coming Sunday.)
Deepening Your Understanding
Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter
So some of his disciples said to one another, “What does this mean that he is saying to us, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” So they said, “What is this ‘little while’ of which he speaks? We do not know what he means.” John 16:17–18
How about you? Do you know what Jesus means? Or do you find that you are confused by what He said just like these disciples were? Though pride may tempt you to claim that you fully understand all that Jesus taught, the humble and honest truth is that you are probably very much like these disciples in their confusion. And that is not necessarily a bad place to be.
First, the confusion of these disciples shows they took Jesus seriously. They were not indifferent. They cared, were interested, wanted to understand, and must have had some level of faith in Jesus. Otherwise, they would have ignored Him. But they didn’t. They listened, tried to understand, discussed His teaching, thought about His words and humbly concluded that they didn’t understand.
Jesus is not critical of their confusion. He sees that they are trying and that they have some level of faith. And even though these disciples are confused, Jesus continues to speak to them in figures of speech rather than directly and clearly. One of the reasons that Jesus speaks in figurative language is because the message that He is teaching is profound and deep. It’s not something that can be quickly and easily understood and mastered. The mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven are so deep, vast, profound and mystical that the only way to begin to understand them is to first have faith. Faith does not mean you fully understand everything. Faith is a supernatural gift by which you come to believe without fully seeing and understanding. The certainty comes for God, not from your own reasoning ability. But faith always leads to deeper understanding. Therefore, as these disciples professed their faith, they also come to understand. And even though Jesus speaks in this figurative way, these disciples ultimately make the choice to believe. Later in this chapter they conclude, “Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God” (John 16:30).
If you find yourself confused about various matters of faith, God, morality, and the like, or if you find yourself confused about the various mysteries of life itself, or your life in particular, do not be afraid to admit to this confusion. Admitting confusion is the humble admittance of the truth, and this humility will be a helpful step toward the gift of faith.
Reflect, today, upon whether you struggle at all with indifference toward the mysteries of life. If so, commit yourself to be more like these disciples who intentionally grappled with all that Jesus spoke. Do not be afraid to admit your confusion and to place that confusion before our Lord. Strive to have the gift of faith and allow that spark of faith to become the pathway for your deeper understanding of the many mysteries of life.
My mysterious Lord, You and all the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven are so deep and profound that no one will ever fully comprehend their depth, breadth and beauty. Please open my mind, dear Lord, to a deeper understanding of You so that I may profess my faith in You and in all that You have chosen to reveal. I do believe, my God. Help my unbelief. Jesus, I trust in You.
Bearing Fruit for the Kingdom
Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle, May 14
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. John 15:16
After Judas betrayed our Lord, the Apostles gathered together to pick someone to succeed him. They decided it should be someone who had been with them from the beginning. They prayed for guidance and cast lots “and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles” (Acts 1:26).
Little is known about the ministry of Saint Matthias. Being chosen as one of the Twelve makes him a bishop of the early Church. Various traditions state that he preached in the territory of either modern-day Ethiopia, Turkey or Georgia—perhaps all of these territories. He is thought to have been killed for his faith, either by stoning or by beheading or both, which is why he is today honored as a martyr.
As we honor Saint Matthias, we honor more than just a man who became an Apostle and preached the Gospel with His life, we also honor the divine plan by which God has chosen to use weak and humble instruments to further His Kingdom. The Gospel passage above certainly applies to Saint Matthias, as well as to all of us to one extent or another. It was God who “chose” Saint Matthias, as well as each and every one of us, for the purpose of going forth to “bear fruit that will remain.” But this form of good fruit, the fruit that has eternal consequences, can only be produced when we ask for it from the Father in the name of His Son Jesus.
Asking the Father to produce good fruit through us in the name of Jesus His Son does not mean that we get to choose what we ask of the Father. Rather, asking “in Jesus’ name” must be understood to mean that we ask the Father only what the Son has asked. We choose to share in the one eternal prayer of the Son that the will of the Father be fulfilled. And in praying this way, we commit ourselves to unity with His holy will.
Sometimes we can all find ourselves asking God for this favor or that. We can place before Him our preference and our will. But if we want to be used by God, to become an instrument of His grace so as to bear an abundance of good fruit, then we must humbly set aside our own will and allow God to be the one Who chooses our mission and appoints us to His holy task. Detachment from our own will and humble submission to the will of God is the only way to bring forth God’s Kingdom.
Reflect, today, upon God’s choice to call you to share in His divine mission. How He calls is up to God, but you can be certain that He does call you and invites you to share in His mission. Be open to any way that God appoints you to bear good fruit and humbly seek to conform your will to the Father’s plan as you pray in Jesus’ holy name.
Lord Jesus, You have perfectly fulfilled the will of the Father in all things, and You have chosen me and appointed me to share in Your divine mission. Help me to open my mind and will to all that You call me to do, so that I, too, may be an instrument of the Kingdom of Your Father in Heaven. I make this prayer in Your most holy name. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Love of the Father Revealed
Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter
“I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father.” John 16:25
When is it that Jesus will speak clearly about the Father? When is that “hour” of which He speaks? First, this “hour” can be understood to be the time after His death, Resurrection and Ascension to Heaven. It is then when the Holy Spirit will come upon them at Pentecost to open their minds to understand all that He has taught with much greater insight and clarity. But in John’s Gospel, the “hour” is also a reference to His death on the Cross. It is His hour of glory, the hour in which the Son of Man saves us through His holy passion. Therefore, this statement of Jesus should be read within the context of Him alluding to His coming passion. Recall that this sermon Jesus gives is part of His “Last Supper Discourse.” It is given immediately prior to Jesus going out to the Garden of Gethsemane to be arrested.
When we consider this “hour” to be the passion and death of Jesus on the Cross, we should be aware of the fact that His act of dying is not only a saving act of redemption, it is also one of the clearest ways in which He speaks about His Father in Heaven. Jesus’ suffering and death does, in fact, reveal the Father to the disciples in ways that His “figures of speech” could not reveal. Jesus’ veiled language was spoken as truth but as truth that could not be fully communicated. However, Jesus’ freely embraced suffering and death does clearly communicate the Father in the most profound way possible. The Cross is pure love, and the Father is pure love. Jesus’ death on the Cross in obedience to the will of the Father reveals to all that the Father loves us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His only begotten Son so that if we but believe in Him, we will inherit eternal life.
The message of the Cross is a true teaching about the love of the Father. It’s a teaching that took place through an act of the most pure and sacrificial love imaginable. The Cross was Jesus speaking “clearly about the Father” insofar as it reveals the depth of the Father’s love for all humanity. If you find this difficult to understand, then you are not alone. The disciples themselves struggled with this. That is why they ultimately needed the Holy Spirit to come upon them to open their minds. We too need the Holy Spirit if the veil is to be lifted and we are to comprehend this most powerful message of God’s infinite love.
Reflect, today, upon Jesus’ burning desire to lift the veil of His teaching and to reveal to you, clearly, the depth of the Father’s love for you. Allow the Holy Spirit to open your mind to this revelation as it is given through the Crucifixion. Pray for that gift. Listen to Jesus tell you He desires to give you this understanding and then await the grace you need to see and understand the very heart of the Father and His divine love for you.
My precious Jesus, Your hour of glory upon the Cross is the clearest and fullest revelation of the Father’s love. On the Cross, You show us all how deeply we are loved by You and Your Father in Heaven. Please do open my mind, dear Lord, to all You wish to reveal to me, so that as I come to know You, I will also come to know Your Father in Heaven. Jesus, I trust in You.