I have to confess that I do get a little irritated with people who say that they do not know what to say when called upon to defend their faith. Of course there are some things that are complicated, but some simple things like “Why does a Christian need to go to Church?” are so easy that you would think every Christian would have the answer ready, just as St Peter says we should in our 2nd reading (3:15-18) And just in case you don’t know the answer – shame on you! – it is : I go to Church because Jesus told me to. He took the bread and the wine and said “Do this in remembrance of me.”
But, as I said, some things are more difficult to explain, and we have one of those today in our Gospel (John 14:15-21) where Jesus both says that he will send the Spirit, and then says strangely that the Spirit is with us and in us already. So how can we receive something we already have?
The answer lies surely in the nature of God. God is not a “thing” like a book, or a dog or a cake, that you either have or you don’t have. God is a power, a spiritual force, or as the Bible says “God is love”. Now love is something that we can both have and yet receive isn’t it? If I am in love, I already have love within me, pouring out to the one I love, but in order for that love to thrive I also need to receive love from the one I am in love with.
Once we think of God like this (and it is all in the Bible) then we can begin to understand how God can be in a multitude of places at once, all around us and within us, far away and yet very close, calling us forward on our journey of life, and deep within us giving us courage and hope for the journey. So the person who says that they can pray at home because God is there, is absolutely right in one way, and should be encouraged, and yet is missing out on the fact that the God we meet deep in our own personal thoughts and prayers must also be the God we should learn to meet as we pray with others at Mass. Those who limit God to their own personal lives are no different from those who limit God to the time at Mass. Both sorts of people are missing out on all that God can be for us, whether life is easy or hard, happy or sad.
It is a common human failing to limit God to where we find him most easily, isn’t it? We do this with love too, don’t we? How sad it is when some people say they love someone else while everything feels good and romantic. But as soon as love begins to be hard work, they all too easily assume that love has disappeared and start looking around for it somewhere else, instead of realizing that in the challenge that is true love, greater love will be found. What is true of love is true of God. Finding God when life is hard or painful is hard and painful, but to limit God to what makes one feel good and holy and prayerful, is simply to miss out on all that God is and can be, if we persevere.
This is surely what Jesus predicts for the disciples today. He knows that they will feel like orphans as life gets tough during and after his death on the cross. So he says “I will not leave you orphans, I will come back to you.” And then crucially –“Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be the one who loves me.”- that’s the hard bit isn’t it? But then – “Anybody who loves me will be loved.”- so loving God will be worthwhile in the end. And then Jesus says “I shall love him and show myself to him.”
Of course God shows himself to us in different ways, and some are easier for us than others. Some people find it easiest to find God in a Church, some at Mass, and some when the Church is quiet and empty, whilst others find it easiest to find God in the beauty of a garden or the glory of a sunset, or in the majesty of the sea; yet others find God in other people. You might say that this reflects our belief that God is Trinity. God the Holy Spirit is the one we meet inside ourselves and in others around us. God the Father is the creative power that we find in the natural world, and God the Son is the one we find in Church and in the Sacraments. But God is the same God, the one God in all these ways of meeting him, and so our challenge, whatever our particular preference, is to allow God to stretch us beyond the place where we want to meet him.
Those of us who have had the experience of loving someone through a really hard time, know that this brings out of us even more love. The parent who has to look after a screaming baby in the middle of the night, may feel like death. I know one father who used to walk up and down the room rocking his baby in his arms and saying grimly to himself “This is what love means. This is what love means” and he tells me it was worth it in the end! May we all be open to that kind of love, for that is the way to a deeper knowledge of God.