Sunday of Easter
2:14-41; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:-10
The other day I felt this urge to call my
mom and have one of those long phone conversations we used to have. But I couldn’t, because she’s been gone for seven
So I’d like to begin this Mother’s Day by
asking you to join me in praying for the repose of the souls of all our
departed mothers, and for all the mothers here, and for the mother inside of
all of us, for the feminine wisdom we all possess, men and women both, that we
all have the courage to imitate Our Lady in her patience and her compassion.
It’s funny that St. Peter is so clear and
confident in Acts of the Apostles today—“Let the whole house of Israel know for
certain” that Jesus is the Lord, he says—because he’s the one who jumped out on
the water and sank. He’s the one who
denied Jesus three times. And he knew
Jesus, in the flesh. He touched
him. He looked into his eyes.
Still, I envy St. Peter his conviction,
and I envy him his firsthand experience of Jesus, because my experience, like
yours, is indirect, through the Church and through the sacraments and through
the scriptures. And the sacraments are
wonderful and the scriptures are wonderful.
But sometimes I long to see the face of Jesus. To take his hand. I pray, as we all do, and prayer sustains me,
but sometimes I don’t know what prayer is anymore and I’m not sure what God is
saying to me, or if he’s saying anything at all.
Which is why I like this little book a friend
recently gave me, Praying the Truth, by
William Barry, an eighty-year old retired Jesuit. Because it’s simple and sweet and clear, and
it contains the best explanation I’ve read of what prayer is—not just that
prayer is a conversation with God but that this conversation can take many forms. Prayer, Barry says, is anything that occurs
when we are “conscious in some way of God’s presence.” It can be as simple as taking a walk or looking
out the window; as simple as saying “help me” or “wasn’t that great,” as long
as we are “consciously saying these words to God.”
Even more I appreciate Barry’s sense of
what actually happens inside us as we’re walking or journaling or saying the rosary. Ideas come up, of course. Feelings come up. But how do we know that these are from God? How do we know that we’re not just talking to
First, when an idea or a feeling is coming
from God it has a certain resonance, Barry says. It’s striking. It’s like the feeling we have when we’re reading
a book and a passage suddenly hits us as particularly true and right. It’s in boldface.
Second, when an idea or feeling is coming
from God it has a clarity and a persistence.
We don’t forget it. It sticks
with us, and it keeps coming up, again and again. It doesn’t go away.
And third and most important, when an idea
or feeling is coming from God it’s accompanied by joy and peace to varying
degrees. It lifts our hearts—we feel good,
like ourselves—even if we later begin to question and doubt again.
Because of course we all have moments of joy like
this, and we all tend to dismiss them, and Barry says we have to make a choice,
make a decision here, and say: no, this
is God. The sheep hear the voice of the
shepherd directly, in John’s image today, and they follow it. But these feelings are the voice of the shepherd,
too, these feelings of resonance and clarity and joy, and though they’re
subtle, though they’re indirect, they’re not that hard to identify and separate
“It seems as though these thoughts come to
me,” Barry says, “and I know what I am experiencing is different from when I am
talking to myself.”
And the negative voices are not that hard
to identify either, the voices of the thieves who sneak in, the false shepherds. Any feeling of radical self-doubt, any
feeling of self-loathing, for example:
that’s never from God.
This is where the mass and scriptures come in,
as the letter of Peter tells us today.
Christ left us an “example,” the letter says, “that we should follow in
his footsteps.” Any thought that would
lead us to feel arrogant or proud or entitled, that, too, is never the voice of God, because
it doesn’t conform to the life of Jesus, who healed, Jesus who loved, Jesus who
gave himself away.
Jesus is the test. Jesus is the gate.
This is where our own life comes in, the test
of what’s possible, of what the world and our own circumstances allow us to do,
practically and logically, because God is in the world, too. If we feel called to retire but the numbers
won’t crunch, if we feel called to move to Seattle or to raise alpacas but our
family would be hurt, that can’t be the will of God.
Besides, as Barry says, God is “much more
interested in a real friendship than in job placement.” The particulars don’t finally matter. God can reach just as well in Seattle as in
Corvallis. He loves us just as much
whether we’re raising alpacas or raising children. “Your grace and your love are wealth enough
for me,” St. Ignatius prays. “Give me
these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more.”
Sickness and health don’t matter.
Obscurity or fame. All that
matters is our friendship with God, and we already have that and always will.
So when as Christians we say things like
we’ve “opened our hearts to Jesus” or we have “a personal relationship with
Jesus,” we’re right of course, we’re completely right, but we’re also using a
kind of shorthand, a kind of Christian jargon, to describe a real set of
interior events, something that’s actually happening in us all the time, and if
we keep this mind, religion won’t seem as crazy and unreal as it often
And if we keep this in mind, if we stay
centered in our own prayer life, everything else will take care of itself. Sometimes when we worry too much about
external things, about changes in the church, for example—I mean, in our own
particular church—it’s a sign that we’re avoiding the inner work we have to do
or don’t trust in it enough. It doesn’t
matter where the Eucharistic Minister sign up is. It matters where we are, inside: where our grief is, and our compassion, and
our hope. If we think of the church as
simply another human organization that has to run in a certain way, if we think
of the outer world as more important than the inner world, we might as well just
join a book club or start going to city council meetings.
we really want to help the parish in this time of transition, the best thing to
do is to pray, as a lot of people already are.
700 rosaries have been pledged already, 700 prayers for our good and the
good our priests, and that’s terrific, that’s great. We need more. If we don’t believe in the value of that, if
we don’t believe in the power of prayer to influence the church and world, what
are we doing here?
And if we stay centered in prayer, if we keep
our focus on prayer, I think we can deepen our faith over time, we can get closer
and closer to the confidence of St. Peter. We may not be able to walk on water, but we can
walk beside it—beside the still waters, in the green pastures. We have to keep making a choice—we have to keep
choosing to call these feelings of resonance and persistence and joy Christ—but
the more we make that choice, the more it doubles back and strengthens us for the
next time. Our faith builds and builds, until
finally we realize: what happens inside of
us, that is the Lord. We are touching
Jesus. Whenever you touch me. Whenever I touch you.
Which is maybe exactly what Peter came to realize
anyway, after the resurrection. Maybe we’re
exactly in Peter’s position after all.
Maybe one day—and I pray for this, for all of us—maybe
one day our faith will have matured enough, it will have deepened enough, that we
can stand up with Peter and with Mary in the temple, and we can raise our own voices,
and we can proclaim, too, in all confidence and joy: let everyone know for certain, that God has made
Jesus both Lord and Christ.
Because it’s true. Every bit of it. It’s all true.