Sunday, May 18, is the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A, Cycle II).
Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” says the Lord in the Sunday Gospel. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus says these words to console his apostles after he tells them he will leave them for a while. He is going to die, and they are going to be scattered and confused — so they need to know how to find the way, the truth and the life.
They are important words for those of us living in the early 21st century, when the world is getting increasingly dark for Christians. As we face a future in which our faith will be tested in new and uncomfortable ways, we, too, need to keep in mind these three things Jesus says about himself.
St. John Paul II often reminded us of these truths during his papacy. (Note: It is his birthday today.)
“I am the Way.”
A missionary priest once described being lost in the jungle surrounding his camp. He did not know how he would ever find his way back and feared he would end up the prey of some wild animal — then a native he knew found him.
“Follow me,” the native said, as he cut through the brush.
“Is this the way back?” asked the priest.
The native answered in broken English: “I am the way.”
This is the position we find ourselves in as we follow Jesus in the 21st century. We are in a thicket of confusing, tangled obstacles that obscure the right way. Jesus is not a guide who knows where we need to go to find the road: There is no road. He is the only way through the mess. Where he goes defines the right way. By staying close to him, we will arrive safely at our destination.
“I am the Truth.”
Pope Benedict once remarked that the worst aspect of imprisonment through much of history has been darkness. Prisons were often built without windows and often underground, as is the case with dungeons.
Imprisonment meant darkness, and darkness meant imprisonment. On a moonless night, you are stuck unless you have a light of some kind.
Jesus’ sayings “I am the Truth” and “I am the Light of the world” express the same reality. “Whoever believes in me will not remain in darkness,” he said, and “the truth will set you free.”
Our world is dark, but Jesus sheds his light — precisely through his Gospel and the teachings of his Church. Alone, we are stuck in the darkness, but we are free in Christ.
“I am the Life.”
Even to say we are “in Christ” is to acknowledge the next thing he says about himself: He is the Life.
We are “the body of Christ.” In baptism, we unite our lives with Christ’s. In the Eucharist, we are strengthened and intensified in that life. We are told that our unity with him is so great that we can even ask things “in his name.”
Tom worked on Capitol Hill for the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in the 1990s and found out what this meant. When Tom Hoopes called to ask for something, he would get one response; when Tom Hoopes called on behalf of Congressman William Archer to ask for something, he got quite a different answer.
So how do we find our way to the Father in the dark days ahead?
It is true that Jesus may disappear from sight for a while to us in the West — he won’t be as present in society and its institutions as he has been, due to societal changes.
But he remains more present to us than ever because he is the way out of the thickets, he is the light in our darkness, and he is the name that opens doors for us.
Tom and April Hoopes
write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence
at Benedictine College.