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I am going away and shall return

Sunday, May 13, 2007
Sixth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 66; Apocalypse 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus comforts us: “do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me say: I am going away and shall return.”

Jesus tells us that to fulfill his saving work, he has to go away. But how do we understand these words? Are we abandoned? Are we left alone? By no means! But how does Jesus remain present to us? Hölderlin, one of the greatest German lyric poets, wrote some two hundreds years ago this famous sentence: “God created the world, as the sea created the earth, by retiring himself.” In a sense, God invites us to take part in his ‘work of creation’ by retiring himself, and giving us freedom to act...

And this freedom implies by definition that we will make mistakes, otherwise it would not be a freedom. In order to be able to grow, we need to tame and to discover what this freedom of the children of God is about. A child cannot learn how to walk properly if he is not able to learn that he can fall down and get up again. To take his hand all the time is not the best service to give him. Similarly, to give him all the answers to any question he might ask is not a solution either. Young children are always trying to be independent, to walk away, to live their own lives, but they cannot survive alone. Perhaps, to become adult is not to become independent, but precisely to discover our dependence. Yet, adults can live on their own, but they discover that they are dependent on their friends, families, relatives, and, for those who believe, on God.

To become an adult in faith is, perhaps, to discover what freedom can bring about. The freedom Jesus gives us is paradoxically directed towards dependence, not independence. Jesus does not leave us alone ... Dominique Pire, a Belgian Dominican who received the Nobel prize in 1958, had a famous exclamation. “Give a man a fish, he will eat one day; teach him how to fish, and he will eat all his life.” This is perhaps what Jesus, by retiring himself, does with us. He taught us how to love, he taught us how to become fishers of men. It is our duty, now, to live as responsible adults and to become dependent on his word and his teachings.

Leaving us neither alone nor as orphans, God does not hold our hands. We are to be his hands and the Holy Spirit is here with us to guide us. This is the reason he says he must leave: so that the Holy Spirit can come to guide us into all truth. This is also the ‘foolishness’ of God. Love is not fusion … Love requires a ‘distance’ between God and his creatures, in which our freedom can grow. Surprising? Perhaps not. Christian faith, in order to avoid the incest of an unsafe fusion requires a distance towards the divine and a voluntary eclipse of a too direct reference to God. But… “do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me say: I am going away and shall return.”


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