“O Lord, teach me to do Your will, teach me to stand worthily and humbly in Your presence, because you are my Wisdom, Who truly know me, and did know me before the world was made, and before I was born to the world.” (IC 3,3,7) | “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” (Jn 15:16)

Kempis closes out this chapter (3,3) with the proper attitude of a servant toward his Master: do God’s will, be worthy of the name Christian, be humble realizing that I am nothing and God is everything, and all wisdom comes from God.  The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves and has conceived of us before we were a hint in our parents’ minds (see Jer 1:5).

Jesus uses the word love eight times in the nine verses included in today’s Gospel reading (Jn 15:9-17).  How do we prove our love?  Jesus says, “keep my commandments.”  This is how a person’s joy is made complete, so that he may remain in God’s love.  Jesus goes on to say: “love one another as I love you.”  This is how we stay friends with Christ.  The words in the headline lead to His conclusion where He again issues the command to “love one another.”

Kempis and Jesus are on the same page (a good page to be on): God knew us and chose us from all eternity.  He comes to us — we have no power on our own to go to Him.  We recognize this in all humility.  We also acknowledge the Messiah’s mission for us: to do His will.  This is made perfect in love.  The Ten Commandments are our guideposts for this task (see Ex 20:1-17).  The first three commandments pertain to love of God; the concluding seven have to do with love of neighbor.  This is true wisdom: to love God above all things and, in turn, to view others as God views them.  This is, it hardly needs to be said, truly difficult, as well.  But with God’s grace all things are possible (see Mt 19:26).  Let us ask for this gift unceasingly.  In a world in which divisiveness, hate, and despair seem to have the upper hand, let us do our part to bring the unity, love, and joy of God.

“Lord, save us from gloomy saints,” has been attributed to the great mystic and master of the spiritual life, St. Teresa of Avila.  What a beautiful sentiment.  Being in right relationship with the Lord should be thrilling!  Bearing fruit, as appointed by Jesus for us to do, should render us ecstatic!  Spreading the Good News should be a joy (see here)!

To the One who gave us everything what else must we do but give it all back in spades.

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’

For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. (Mt 25:19-21,29)

That is some great reward.

Willem de Poorter's 'Parable of the Talents' in the Narodni Galerie, PragueParable of the Talents by Willem de Poorter (1608-1668)

“What I have promised, I will give; what I have said, I will fulfill; provided a man remains faithful in loving me until the end.” (IC 3,3,4) | “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither … they will be burned.” (Jn 15:5-6)

Kempis puts the words above on Christ’s lips (3,3).  In this rather lengthy monologue, the Lord bemoans the fact that so many listen to the world and the flesh, even in small matters, than they listen to Him.  It will not turn out for these unfaithful ones.

Jesus’ lengthy Last Supper Discourse continues with the famous analogy of the vine and the branches (Jn 15:1-8).  Remain attached to Jesus (the vine), feeding from Him (as branches do), accepting the pruning of the Father (the vine grower), and one bears much fruit.  Those who do not desire the life giving nourishment of the Lord wither, die, and are tossed into the fire.

How do we bear fruit?  By having “[Christ’s] words remain in [us].”  In these posts, I never tire of tying belief in Jesus with living an authentically Christian life. Those who claim that belief and salvation only entail a verbal acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Savior, without concern for behavior, scandalize Christians and non-Christians alike.  We are called to interiorize the Gospel then exteriorize it in word and deed.  Jesus today, and repeatedly in the Gospels, speaks of the necessity of good works to attain heavenly glory (never forgetting the gift of grace necessary to do such deeds).  Meanwhile, this disposition also allows us to bear much fruit here: the Lord closes this passage by saying that doing so is the mark of a disciple.  Will their be pain involved?  Guaranteed.  It hurts to be pruned of our worldly affections and disordered inclinations.  But the gain is eternal life for us and for those whom Christ brings along by working through us.

pruning grapes

“I am the Remunerator of all good men, and I severely try all the devout.” (IC 3,3,4) | “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered around him, he got up and entered the city.” (Acts 14:19-20)

Chapter III of Book III of The Imitation of Christ deals with listening to the Word with humility while recognizing that so many persons take Scripture lightly.  The voice of the world is powerful but ultimately leads to one’s downfall.  The faithful, though, will be tried and tested, as we read above.  In the end, Jesus rewards, but not before the most challenging trials are met by those deeply devoted to Him.

In today’s first reading (Acts 14:19-28), we hear of the stoning of Paul before he and Barnabas travel to a number of Gentile cities, sharing the Good News with success, before returning to Antioch to spend time with other disciples.

How things can turn on a dime, can’t they?  When we left off yesterday, we heard that Paul and Barnabas were considered gods by the pagans of Lystra because of a miraculous healing performed in the midst of the people.  Today, picking up with the verses immediately following this event, we discover that Jewish agitators from other regions come to rile up the selfsame crowd to kill Paul.

Now, I don’t believe Paul was faking his death to stop the onslaught of rocks; rather; he was likely unconscious and severely battered.  I can imagine the horror and sadness of those disciples who thought him dead.  It seems to me quite significant that Luke (the evangelist author of Acts) mentions that “the disciples gathered around” the apparently lifeless Paul.  The prayers and supplications of his friends that Paul be allowed to continue his powerful ministry must have been fervent.  Imagine their great joy when, prayers answered, he pops up and boldly heads back into the city.

Saul was zealous in his persecution of Christians.  His dramatic conversion turned that zeal around without diminishing it — in fact it was likely stronger since he was now part of the minority.  Desiring his eternal reward (Phil 1:20-26), nevertheless he was steadfast in preaching the whole truth regardless of consequences.  He had personal struggles and public disappointments.  A more devout person to Christ might never be known, yet he was severely tried.  This stoning we heard proclaimed today was certainly one of the harshest events recorded about Paul in Scripture but by no means the only one (2 Cor 11:23-28)

We should expect to be tried; even more so as our devotion deepens.  Let it never hinder our desire to evangelize as we anticipate the divine remuneration that awaits those who persevere till the end.

The Stoning of St Paul and St Barnabas at Lystra by Barent Fabritius (1624-1673)

“Render my heart docile to the words of Your mouth; let Your speech distill as the dew.” (IC 3,2,1) | “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (Jn 14:25)

The words above are in Kempis’s opening section in this chapter on how truth speaks within us (3,2).  Here he echoes several Old Testament themes.  Of particular note is the second part which finds its origins in Deut 32:2.  We are also reminded of the miraculous manna in the desert that appeared nearly every day — after the dew evaporated — to the hungry and complaining Israelites in Exodus (see Ex 16; more on this below).

Jesus continues His Last Supper discourse today focusing on obeying the commandments (Jn 14:21-26).  One cannot authentically claim to love Jesus and not obey Him.  By keeping Christ’s words (that is, keeping the life of grace alive in us by not mortally sinning), we have the promise of the indwelling of the Trinity (Father and Son are mentioned above, the Holy Spirit [who “will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you”] is mentioned at the end of the reading).

Kempis’s sentiments may well have been in the hearts of many of the men celebrating Passover with Jesus.  This was a difficult time for everyone in the room and certainly they were seeking, in a special way, understanding of Jesus’ testament through docility of their troubled hearts.  The Eleven, at least, truly loved the Lord, so would have been heartened to hear about the indwelling of God even if they did not understand how this would be accomplished; they would experience this very soon that evening, though.  Jesus, as the new and perfect Manna, was about to give them His very self in the first Eucharist that He celebrated.  But He had been giving Himself to them in word their entire time together over the past three years.  His preaching was to settle like dew in their hearts turning into the true manna that comes from heaven.

We, too, should never miss an opportunity to show our love for Christ by inviting Him into our very being in Word and Sacrament at the Mass, and also through study and devotional reading of Scripture, alone or with friends, while asking the Lord to be with us often in spiritual communion.

Talk is cheap (see Mt 7:21).  Our love for Christ is demonstrated through our actions. Let us always be docile and accepting of the truth of the Word so that we never lose the life of grace within us.

Detail from Institution of the Eucharist (1441) by Fra Angelico

“Speak then, O Lord, for your servant hears, for only you have words of eternal life.” (IC 3,2,3) | “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (Jn 14:6)

The next chapter of Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ is entitled “How Truth Speaks within Us without Noise of Words” (3,2).  The words above are in the closing section, repeating the first words of the chapter.  Kempis urges us to be like Samuel in the Old Testament who responds to the mysterious voice that he finally understands to be God calling him: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9-10).  We are to invite the Lord to speak directly to our hearts the “words of eternal life.”

Today’s reading is an extended version of the reading from just two days ago.  It is the beginning of Jesus’ Last Supper Discourse in John (14:1-12).  Friday’s excerpt ended with the words above.  Today, Jesus goes on to explain the relationship between Himself and the Father to His apostles who lack understanding.  The Father is in Jesus and Jesus is doing the Father’s will.  Jesus will be returning to the Father so that the apostles can do even greater deeds than they witnessed Jesus performing.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, gives us the perfect ground and program for relating to Him.  He is the way we must follow by accepting the truth of divine revelation (He is the Word) in order to attain eternal life.  Yes, we are to ask the Lord to speak to our hearts and then listen attentively to His message for us.  We listen at prayer, while reading Scripture, while studying the Faith, and while being advised by persons aligned with the Church.  So, Jesus speaks to us in various ways.  Let us always be attentive to the authentic voice of the savior so that we, like Samuel and Peter (see Jn 6:68), will never hesitate to confess (and live) the truth that Jesus is Lord and Savior who came to offer us everlasting life with the Trinity.

Why Did Jesus Say "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" in John 14:6?

“Blessed indeed, are the ears which listen to truth which teaches interiorly and not to the voices which make noise exteriorly.” (IC 3,1,1) | “‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles’ … The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord.” (Acts 13:46,48)

Kempis continues to warn against worldly voices that contradict the truth or, much more prevalent in recent times, deny there even is objective truth (3,1).  God has given us a conscience (our interior student) to help us know the truth.  But it must be informed by the Church (certainly not the world) to follow the proper path.

Today’s first reading (Acts 13:44-52) is from the chapter of Acts in which the Lord sends Paul (with Barnabas) on his first missionary journey.  Immediately preceding today’s excerpt, Paul gave a long speech in the synagogue in Antioch covering salvation history through the Resurrection and appearance of Jesus afterward (the early part of this speech was proclaimed at yesterday’s Mass).  From this they were asked to return the following Sabbath to preach further.  And their evangelization gained the two men followers.  Due to the Jewish religious leaders’ jealousy in the popularity of Paul and Barnabas, when they returned, they “with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said” and ultimately stirred up enough dissension to drive them from the city.  Yet, per the excerpt in the headline, the Gentiles who embraced the truth of the disciples’ mission “[a]ll who were destined for eternal life came to believe.”

The prominent Jews made a lot of noise in trying to dissuade Paul’s hearers of the truth of his message.  Those with ears to hear, and hearts open to God, were delighted to receive these holy men and embrace (and help spread) the Good News.  The Gentiles were cut to the heart, receptive to the Word, and thus were on the road to salvation.  Interiorly they were moved while shunning the exterior noise of dissenting voices.

Do not let your hearts be troubled (Jn 14:1)

Good advice from Our Lord that we heard at yesterday’s celebration.  Let us never allow the voice of the world to dissuade, confuse, or disturb us from the truth no matter how cacophonous it becomes.  And may we never be reluctant “to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for [our] hope” (1 Pt 3:15).

Paul and Barnabas at Lystra (1592/3) by Jacob Pynas

“Blessed are the ears which receive the sweet murmur of divine inspirations, and which pay no attention to the whispers of the world.” (IC 3,1,1) | “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (Jn 14:6)

Kempis here is talking about interior conversations with Christ (3,1).  How important it is that we are attuned to the Lord’s communication with us!  It is the perfect remedy for the “whispers of the world” that want us to focus on anything but the divine.  How to best be open to this?  Kempis, later in the chapter, speaks of “shut[ting] the doors to sensuality, so that you may hear what the Lord your God says inside of you.”  Yes, a love for silence is necessary for intimate communion with the Trinity.

In today’s Gospel we get the beginning of the famous Last Supper discourse extending over several chapters (Jn 14:1-6).  Jesus gives the apostles wonderful news in their trepidation: “Do not let your hearts be troubled”!  Keep the faith and He will lead you home in the end.  What is the way to the Father in heaven?  Jesus is “the way” because in Him is found “the truth” and through Him we have the possibility of eternal “life.”

Unlike Jesus’ apostles, the vast majority of the faithful have had to rely on interior conversations with the Lord Jesus.  He certainly wishes to communicate with us in this way, and Kempis helps us to be disposed to His voice.  But, remember that Christ speaks to us in many ways.  His words in Scripture (the Word’s words) are timeless.

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

Have recourse to regular quiet time with the Lord.  Speak as you would to a friend (see Jn 15:15).  And find inspiration in the Bible, as well.

[T]he “Word” of God [is] a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living” (CCC 108)

Being the “living” Word because Jesus lives, Scripture speaks to us in all our needs, and delivers the message we need in every circumstance.  In it we find the truth of the way to life, a “sweet murmur of divine inspirations” countering the forked-tongue hiss of the “whispers of the world.”

Apostles of JesusChrist Exhortation to the Twelve Apostles (between 1886 and 1894) by James Tissot