The gift of feeling incomplete

Published on 17 May 2019

Do you ever wonder if we might have missed something essential in the faith? Does it sometimes seem as if all the really faithful followers of Christ have understood something which we haven’t quite grasped or haven’t properly assimilated?

The way some people live their religion – with enthusiasm, with joy, with commitment – makes us suspect that they have somehow taken it on board differently than us. They are on the way of being saints: we are plodding. We love God of course but possibly not all the time and not with all our heart and mind and soul. One way of explaining our lower key devotion might be that we have simply missed something. How could that have happened? Is there a truth about which we have not been told? Or is there some teaching to which we have not been listening with enough attention? Are we unable to accept some demand which, in those other lives, has been fully embraced?

While we were out in the darkness

The beginning of the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter captures this difficulty: When Judas had gone, Jesus said: Now has the Son of Man been glorified… I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you. We are not all Judas. However we might have stepped away from Jesus’ company for a moment. The verse of Saint John’s Gospel immediately before the one with which our reading begins is: So after receiving the piece of bread, he (Judas) immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13.30). Perhaps we too have gone from the Eucharist out into the darkness. We have had lives to lead: persons and things to attend to, difficulties to face. It is our condition as sinners, deeply repentant ones, which prompts us to admit that we have sometimes left Jesus’ company and gone out into the darkness. While we were out, however, was something said which we really ought not to have missed? Judas had witnessed the washing of the feet and had heard much of Jesus’ explanation. He did not hear explicitly about the new commandment of love. Surely, however, someone could have told him about that? Could not the Holy Spirit have helped him? We have all had the teaching and commandments of Jesus explained to us. Saint Thomas, whose absences from important occasions are very significant, eventually got the message and was able to share it accurately with others. His being absent at first, and even very sceptical, ultimately seems to have reinforced his faith, not undermined it. Not all of us have been all the time in the Lord’s presence.  Yet, we have each received the Holy Spirit.

The doctrines we have missed we can revise. The teachings of Jesus are inscribed by the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of faithful disciples. Giving the proper glory to God, however, is a task of the heart and the soul which demands a different kind of catching up. By this love you have (for one another) everyone will know you are my disciples. There can be plenty of revision and remedial study in the school of the heart. It is not, however, a matter of cramming. No book tells the whole of the love of God. The Holy Spirit has more to tell us than is recorded in any library or on any website. The Spirit speaks to us of a different sort of life.

A summons to love and service

In the account of the arrest of Jesus in John’s Gospel we hear of no betraying kiss but rather that in the darkness Judas brought the soldiers with lanterns to the place where he knew Jesus would be. Jesus immediately identified himself and then Judas and the arresting officers stepped back and fell to the ground. The Lord peacefully handed himself over to them: if you are looking for me let these (my disciples) go. On the Lord’s own instructions, we are all allowed to go out into the darkness into what might seem like safety. Judas is not alone in going out. Everyone departs. And in the meantime, the Son of Man is being glorified. Furthermore his teaching is being explained by his every gesture. The glorious revelation of his Father and his Spirit is taking place. The only people there to receive this abundance of grace, at that moment, were the hired toughs who have come to manhandle him off into custody, trial, humiliation and death.

We have all of us missed something very important. We can catch up. We have more to learn of Christ. The Holy Spirit has much to teach us. There are not simply gaps in our knowledge but places in our life where the darkness has still not been dispelled. The Son continues to give glory to the Father. The Holy Spirit continues since our baptism to dwell in us. We could miss the essential entirely, but we are being helped to play our part in this giving of glory. We are being given the grace to keep the new commandment of love with renewed commitment. The renewal of the whole of creation which is proclaimed in the Apocalypse includes us.

The warm invitation from God to make our home in the household of the faith is a summons to love and service. Our devotion is not only to the Lord Himself. We are to love each other. We are to love also those who have not as yet entered the place where Jesus is and where his light shines. We are to love also those who for whatever reason have stepped outside the house in which Christ is offering himself to the world in humility and self-sacrifice.

We are among those who have gone out. Did we miss something? Yes, we did. Matters significant for our salvation passed us by or have still fully to sink in. Our return into the light is still in progress. What has been missed-out can now be supplied. Our sense of incompleteness is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit and the same Spirit will confer on us all the wisdom we need.

Peter Gallagher SJ