Today’s gospel (below) is the one that is often chosen at funerals “There are many rooms in my Father’s house.” Here is my homily.
Those of us who are middle aged or older have our own special memories of St John Paul II. I remember attending the Limerick race course for his Sept 1979 visit to Ireland. Even though I got there at 2am, I still didn’t make it to within 100 meters of the altar where Mass was said, such was the crowd of 600,000 that gathered for the occasion. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing back on 13th May 1981 when the newsflash announced that he had been shot in Rome.
John Paul wasn’t just a holy man, he was also renowned for his learning and wisdom. As a newly ordained priest he did a doctorate on the writings of the 16th century Spanish mystic St John of the Cross. The bottom line result of his studies was to define his approach to life and ministry as a priest, bishop and pope.
This bottom line result was that a personal encounter with God must be at the centre of every human life, however it may be manifest. Without such a divine encounter, one looses what it is to be truly human. Put in other words, we were made to be in relationship with God. Without this relationship we will be unfulfilled – like a bird that never flies, a collie that never herds sheep, a cow who never rears a calf, a cat who never hunts a mouse.
It was on this basis that John Paul challenged the communist regimes of his time which tried to form a society without any reference to God.
In last Sunday’s gospel of the Good Shepherd, we heard “the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out.” He doesn’t address the sheep as a whole and say “OK sheep, let’s all go to pasture!” Rather he calls them individually; he says “John, Mary, Bridget, Paul, etc let’s go to pasture.” There is a personal encounter and connection with each of the sheep. In HOSEA, we hear in figurative language that God has carved each of us on the palm of his hand. I read recently that God doesn’t have grandchildren but only children with whom he has a direct and personal connection.
In today’s gospel Jesus says that he is the way for us to encounter the Father: “If you know me, you know my Father too.” The word ‘know’ has a special meaning in the language of the Bible. We can say that we know Donald Trump and Teresa May, the UK prime minister. What we really mean is that we know ABOUT them. We know what they look like, what they sound like and something of what they stand for. But we have never met them or know what it is to be in a personal relationship with them. Jesus is thus inviting all Christians to a personal relationship with him and in this way be led to a personal encounter with the Father. This is as accessible to us as it was accessible to the Apostles who lived with Jesus 2000 years ago.
This Saturday, May 13th, we had the canonisation of Jacinta and Francesco Marto, the shepherd children of Fatima, who were led by Our Lady to a special encounter with God. This is Our Lady’s role, to lead us to her Son, as at Cana when she brought the lack of wine to the attention of Jesus on that occasion.
The children spoke about God as the most beautiful part of human existence. Jacinta would exclaim: “How much I delight in telling Jesus that I love him. When I tell him this often, I feel as if I have a fire in my breast , yet it does not burn me.” Francesco would say: “What I liked most of all was seeing Our Lord in that [inner] light which Our Lady put in our hearts. I love God so much.”
How much we should pray that the children of the parish making First Holy Communion and Confirmation should aspire to this type of holiness.
A big question presents itself: How do we have this personal encounter with God?
A big part of the answer is PRAYER. I have spoken about this before. Prayer brings us into a personal contact with God like the conversations with family and friends held in our kitchens or living rooms. I have spoken about the Rosary as a special prayer that unites us to Jesus and Mary and the mysteries of salvation.
A personal encounter with God also requires an inner life and attentiveness to the heart. Commenting on the Fatima children, Pope Benedict XVI says that we can experience the gentle touch of God’s presence through our inner senses. “For this to happen, we must cultivate an inner watchfulness of the heart.” This takes a lot of hard work and discipline because of all the noise and racket that fills our lives, “the powerful pressure exerted by outside realities and the images and concerns which fill the soul.”
We need less junk TV, FACEBOOK and loud music. As the psalmist says: “Be still and know that I am God.”
To sum up: At the deepest level of our humanity, we were made for a personal encounter and friendship with God. This requires a commitment to prayer, inner silence and an attentiveness to the promptings of the heart.
The Gospel John 14:1-12
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Jesus said to his disciples
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you know my Father too.
From this moment you know him and have seen him.’
Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied’. ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him ‘and you still do not know me? ‘
‘To have seen me is to have seen the, Father,
so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself:
it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.
You must believe me when I say that
I am in the Father and the Father is in me;
believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.
‘I tell you most solemnly,
whoever believes in me
will perform the same works as I do myself,
he will perform even greater works,
because I am going to the Father.’