“Christ suffered for sins once…that He might lead you to God.”
Three Jehovah Witnesses visited our seminary a few days ago. In the course of our discussion, they offered me a complementary (but unsolicited) copy of their magazine. The front page had a picture of a happy looking family, with the sun shining brightly in the background, a beautiful water fall behind them, some animals in the background, beautiful well-kept green lawns and many children praying and laughing. One of them said to me, “This is what paradise will be like.” I mentioned that I never heard of a paradise here on earth. He told me that after the Resurrection, only the faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses will be saved from eternal annihilation and reside forever on Paradise earth.
I replied, “Let me get this straight: Jesus Christ came to this world of sin and suffering, took on our frail human nature, lived a truly human life with all it entails, suffered a brutal death on the Cross, rose from the grave, sent us the Holy Spirit, and then ascended into heaven with our human nature now glorified to seat at the Father’s side and intercede for us as the Scriptures teach. He did all this so that we can live forever on an earthly paradise? Pretty depressing deal don’t you think?” That was the end of our discussion and their visit. I don’t think they will be visiting us again as they promised to do.
St Peter writes to persecuted Christians to remind them of the hope that comes from Christ’s death and Resurrection. He does not promise the persecuted ones an earthly paradise but reminds them why Christ suffered death and rose from the dead and what it means for them: “For Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteousness, that He might lead you to God.” Because Christ is leading them now to the Father, the persecuted Christians should be ready to endure any suffering for the sake of doing the good: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.”
The sufferings of Christ, as well as His glorification, freed us from sin and make it possible for us to journey back to God along the very same path that Christ has travelled in His journey to the Father. We recall His words to His disciples on the eve of His Passion, “I go to prepare a place for you. And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”(Jn 14:3) In so many other instances Jesus revealed that He desires that we participate in His fullness of communion with the Father. He desires that we be “where He is,” i.e. with His Father forever. We came from God and we are returning to God ultimately; it is full unending communion with God and not earthly bliss that is our destiny.
What is this path along which Jesus leads us, this path along which He has travelled to the Father? It is the path of loving obedience to the Father in all things, going beyond merely doing the good but doing the good out of love for God. He stresses this fact in the Gospel: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He responds to our loving obedience by obtaining the Holy Spirit for us: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…You know the Holy Spirit, because He remains with you and will be in you.” Jesus is leading us back to God by the power of the Spirit of truth within us. Because the Spirit remains in us and with us, we are beneficiaries of His light, strength and joy even as we walk through a world of pain, suffering and death. Surely we cannot be recipients of such immense divine gifts and vocation and still talk about being destined to live in an earthly paradise.
The Samaritans in the First Reading have a very good reason to ignore the message of the Gospel that Philip preached to them. After all, there was a long and bitter conflict between these Samaritans and the Palestinian Jews. Yet they “paid attention to what was said by Philip and the signs that he was doing.” They began to experience that joy that comes from obedience to the word that is heard: “There was great joy in that city.” The Spirit of truth is given to them through the laying on of hands of Peter and John, thereby fortifying the Samaritans for the journey back to God.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, though our Christian faith and tradition do not hint at any earthly paradise as our eternal destiny, it is possible for us to live our lives as if we were longing for such a destiny. Let me share with you two questions that may help us know if we are living as Christians or as Jehovah witnesses who long for an eternity of earthly bliss.
Firstly, have we ever let our situation or experiences in this world adversely affect our faith in Jesus Christ? If we have ever let our earthly conditions diminish our faith in Jesus Christ, our hope in His goodness or our love for Him, then we have bought into the lie that we can be completely satisfied here on earth. We have forgotten that Christ died and rose from the grave not to establish heaven here on earth but to lead us to God through similar acts of loving obedience that Christ Himself performed. Through Him, with Him and in Him, it is possible for us to make the journey home to God along the path of loving obedience through a world filled with pain and suffering.
Secondly, why do we obey God today and seek to do His will in all things? If we are obedient to God or trying to be faithful to Him so as to gain earthly benefits (pleasure, wealth, fame, good health, comfort, success, good feelings, etc), then we have followed the same line of thought as the Jehovah witnesses. The path along which Christ leads us is the path of loving obedience where we seek His will above all things because He is infinitely good and worthy of all our love. His commandment to us is summed up in this, “Love one another as I have loved you.”(Jn 13:34) His love for us was not for any earthly gain and our own love for Him cannot be for the sake of earthly gain.
In this month of May dedicated to Mother Mary, let us contemplate closely the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We find in her a constant response of loving obedience to God’s will from the moment of the Annunciation till her glorious Assumption. The more she lovingly obeyed, the more the Holy Spirit worked wonders in her soul until the point of her glorious Assumption. In her Assumption, Mary is led by her loving Son to the Father by the Spirit that filled her soul at the moment of the Incarnation. Jesus did not abandon His Mother in the grave but took her body and soul into heaven. Mary’s life shows us what our true destiny is if we too allow ourselves to be led by Jesus along the path of that obedience that does not flow from desire for things of this world but is rooted in the love of God.
In our Eucharistic encounter with Jesus, we recall His words to us: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servants be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”(Jn 12:26) He comes to us in this Eucharist to walk with us step by step on our upward journey home. This world has never been and will never be our lasting home no matter how tempting it may be to us. The Spirit that we have received will not let us rest contented in this world but will continue to move us to our eternal home with the Triune God and the saints and angels in heaven. We have the impetus of the Spirit of love sustaining us, we have Mary interceding for us to persevere in the journey home to God, and we have a cloud of witnesses cheering us on from heaven.
We must now and always follow Jesus with complete confidence as He leads us to Father by the Holy Spirit and avoid the temptation to ever wish for a heaven here on earth.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!