By Fr. Roberto Mosher
John 16: 12-15
It’s a dark day. Faith is difficult to grasp.
The sorrow that is difficult for the followers of Jesus to bear at this time of pending departure is a present reality throughout the Gospel readings in these days before the Ascension, when he will return to his Father. The followers of Jesus cannot bear much more revelation, Jesus notes, since they are not yet in a place where they can understand the benefits for them of Jesus going back to where he came down from, at the Father’s side.
But he offers more words about these benefits, focusing his farewell speech, at this point, on the gift of the Holy Spirit that will pour down on them after his return to the Father. This gift will open their minds and give them understanding, and peace.
In this Spirit, Paul speaks to the Athenians (Acts 17:15, 22—18:1) , in our first reading today, at the cultural center of the Greek-speaking world, and shows a deep appreciation for the search for God in this culture, understood as a struggle to find the peace, joy and liberation of living in harmony with God’s will, a search that now leads to the opportunity to discover this path, in the living Christ.
Appreciation for the spiritual, religious and philosophical traditions of all peoples, descended from a single family, is also today a basic missiological principle and approach for sharing the Good News with people who are from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
No one need presume that nothing good, holy, wise, ethical or beautiful existed in one’s own culture before the fullness of the Truth arrived in the Gospel message, but rather, as Paul knows, all these cultural riches are evidence of the ongoing dialogue God has sustained with every people on Earth for millennia, and need to be learned about and respected by the witnesses that Jesus sends forth, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, to live among them.
We are sent forth as students, not teachers. Paul begins by showing evidence of what he has learned and been enriched by in Greek culture, over a long time. Thus Paul helps continue the dialogue of this people with their Creator, and God brings more people to the truth that unites all peoples, building on what has transpired so far.
Our own way of life in the United States is on the judgement seat today, the blood of children once again revealing the violence deeply embedded in our culture, in our attitudes and in our technical ability to destroy one another, and even to kill the most vulnerable and innocent among us, with an efficiency united to a disregard for the sacredness of life that shows the deadliness of a lifestyle unmoored from ethical restrictions or spiritual ideals. We’ve seen this before, in the death camps of German Nazis that eliminated human lives on a massive scale, human technical abilities placed at the service of a mindless and soulless passion born of irrational fear and hatred.
May God help us to reorder our priorities and guide us away from worshipping at the altar of weaponry, freeing us from slavery to the spirit of Evil by the force of the very Spirit that is poured out on the followers of Christ at Pentecost, who will “guide us in all truth” (Jn 16:13) and bring us to the ways of the One in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).