“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (Jn 15:11)
By Br Albert Elias Robertson, O.P | “We are not pawns or placeholders, simply holding the fort for the return of the Master. The fullness of our joy extends and continues, furthers and accomplishes Christ’s saving work.” Br Albert reflects on the words of Christ in today’s Gospel.
Gospel of the Mass: John 15:9-11
Jesus’s words in this gospel passage speak of the eternal communion between him and the Father. Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus has told his disciples that, as the Good Shepherd, he knows his own flock, just as the Father knows him, and he knows the Father. Jesus teaches, not on his own authority, he speaks as the Father taught him (John, 8:28). Grafted onto Christ, the vine, the disciples, you and me, are drawn into that communion between the Father and the Son. At the end of supper, when Jesus prays for the disciples, when he prays for you and me, he asks that this shared eternal love and knowledge which exists between him and the Father, will be the basis of our consecration, unity, love and communion. In Christ, the fullness of the divine nature dwells bodily (Colossians, 2:9), and from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace (John, 1:16).
Every fullness seeks to communicate itself, as St Thomas says, it is better to enlighten than simply to shine (ST, II-II, 188, 6). We should shine because we love and follow the Light of the World, that Light who promises us that if we follow him, we will never walk in the darkness and will have the light of life (John, 8:21). That was the light given to us at our baptism, which in confirmation was strengthened with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and which a few weeks ago we held in our hands as we entered the darkness of the church at the Easter Vigil, and renewed our baptismal promises.
But at the end of this Easter season, we read these words from St John’s Gospel to make us realise that we cannot just shine. We have been called, drawn, grafted into the Son’s Divine Mission. Just as the Son draws all things to Himself, so must we draw all people to Christ. This is the great dynamic of the Church, the great dynamic of our own Order: we are sent out to gather in. Like our lungs breathing in and out, the life of the Church is one that can never be contained, always has to be shared, always has to be preached. The joy which we experience in the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, is not something which we can hold onto for ourselves, it must be shared, taught, and proclaimed. As the Apostle says, ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ (1 Corinthians, 9:16).
These chapters show us the great responsibility which is given to us as the Lord’s disciples. As Bob reminded us on Monday, the Church is a great gift, but also brings with it a great task. Our participation in Christ’s saving work is a participation which extends and accomplishes that work. This is especially true of us who are being prepared for ordination, to celebrate the sacraments which are the physical and tangible extensions of Christ’s earthly ministry of healing and sanctification. What was true of the apostles is also true of us: we do not act as delegates of the Lord as if he were absent, but in virtue of that deep communion which exists between us and God, that communion of love between Father and Son which is ours through grace, Christ himself should be made present to the world through us — in us — as we are configured more and more to the image of Christ. This is a great responsibility, for as the Lord says, ‘Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more’ (Luke, 12:48).
The Lord tells us that to remain in the love between him and the Father, we must keep his commandments; and this means that we must allow the words of Christ to dwell within us. St Thomas in his Commentary on John’s Gospel says that the words of Christ dwells within the disciples when they love them and believe them, when they meditate upon them and accomplish them (In Ioan., 15, 1, §1995). There’s a link between teaching and living that the Holy Spirit brings about in our life. The Spirit gives our life coherence and integrity, the Spirit of Truth teaches us all things, and keeps us in that truth; the spirit warms our hearts in charity for God, and for those God has given us to love.
These chapters of St John’s Gospel make it clear that we are not servants, we are friends who are taught by Jesus, and we live in that communion and love between Father and Son. We are not pawns or placeholders, simply holding the fort for the return of the Master. The fullness of our joy extends and continues, furthers and accomplishes Christ’s saving work. Christ speaks in and through the members of his mystical body; St Augustine speaks of the apostles as Christ’s own feet, taking the Gospel to the pagans (In Iohannis Evangelium, tract xxxi).
Yet still the message will sometimes fall on deaf ears, and sometimes even provoke hatred. As the Lord says a little after the verses of this gospel reading, ‘If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:19). But this communion of joy, love, and truth gives us the courage to preach clearly and openly. During these days of Easter, we’ve been reading from the Acts of the Apostles, hearing again and again how the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the Lord (Acts 5:24). If we remain in the love of the Father and the Son, with the words of Christ dwelling in our hearts, we too will rejoice, even when we suffer dishonour, for perfect love casts our fear (1 John 4:18).