4 May 2008
“‘I pray for them … Holy Father keep them in your name ...’” (John 17:9, 11) (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo
For my birthday last week my family gave me a card that had the character Pigpen on its cover from the Peanuts comic strip. He’s the kid that is always surrounded by the cloud of dust and dirt. I’m pretty sure the rationale behind the card is that I’m constantly complaining that things are not picked-up around the rectory: Book bags here, gym bags there, 13 pairs of shoes and sandals on the stairway, and bedrooms so bad I’m afraid to even walk into them. So I’m pretty sure that my constant harping that “This place looks like a pigpen” is why I got a Pigpen birthday card last week. But instead of letting the card just sit with the others on the table in the living room, I put it to work. I took my Pigpen birthday card on tour. I left it on the stairs to highlight the accumulation of footwear; I put it by bedrooms as a subtle reminder to shovel them out; I placed it on the television to remind people to take dishes back downstairs. But you know what happened, my Pigpen birthday card just became another piece of clutter. It was ignored. It was like it wasn’t even there. If you can consistently walk by 13 pair of sandals, I guess you can walk by a little ol’ birthday card too.
I share this story with you today because it is the Sunday after the Ascension. Jesus has returned to heavenly glory, and as we read the story this past Thursday evening, the disciples stood there transfixed, blankly looking up into the sky to the place where they had last seen Jesus. It finally took angelic messengers to rouse them from their stupour. They wanted to hold on to that physical Jesus they had always known. When they saw Him ascend, they thought they saw Him departing and leaving them behind. They didn’t know what to do. They thought they wouldn’t see Him any more. But the truth be told, after the Ascension, Jesus could now be seen everywhere. He wasn’t limited any longer by a physical presence in the world. He wasn’t confined by a physical body. After the Ascension, He could be anywhere and everywhere. It’s just that now it would become the responsibility of the person of faith to try and see Him. It’s like that birthday card of mine making its way around the house. It’s been all over the place, but that doesn’t mean it’s been seen or acknowledged. It’s there, but it’s intentionally left invisible because if it’s seen, if it’s acknowledged, then the message is: “I’m supposed to pick-up this mess.” If you don’t want to pick-up the mess, it’s easier to act as if the card is invisible.
Jesus knows how easy it is to not see the card, to avoid the mess. It’s almost a natural human instinct. A lot of serious health problems emerge because we don’t want to see the early signs that something may be wrong. Some financial problems become severe because we don’t want to see them when they’re little ones. We’ve got a real problem with our dependency on oil, as another example a little bit more pressing than a messy house. There have been some easy answers thrown around by politicians trying to get votes, but that’s what they do. And the ones making obscene amounts of money off this crisis are happy to see the price go up and up. The real answers are going to be hard and expensive; that’s why politicians and corporations usually wait until there’s a crisis. Answers are going to involve sacrifice, investment and a lot of change in the way we usually do things. It’s not easy to drive less or smaller, or to take the bus or carpool, or to spend our own money on more expensive energy-efficient light bulbs or even something like solar panels. We just want the price to come down; we’d much more prefer to be blind to the long-term problem that we just have to quit our addiction to oil. Choosing to be blind is a real and viable alternative to seeing what we don’t want to see in our lives and in our world.
Jesus knows of this human instinct, and this is why Jesus prays for us today. This is why Jesus prays that the Father keep us in His name. Because He knows how easy it is to slip away from faith. We have Jesus praying for us, Jesus Himself, because keeping the faith is hard to do. It’s very easy to make God invisible. Peter tells us today in the Lesson that we should relish our chances to suffer for Christ. To suffer for the faith means that we are carrying it forward to places where it is not already, into places where God is invisible, to those places on the borderline between faith and sin where temptation has its best chance to succeed. I got drawn into the PBS special-series Carrier this week. It was all about life on the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier. In one episode about religion on the ship, they were talking to this sailor who was vocal and strong in his faith. Then he went on shore-leave in Australia and met up with a beautiful blond. The cameras filmed the two of them flirting with each other. Then he had to make a choice. Did he follow his conscience and let it go blind? He chose the latter. Back on the ship, with the girl back on shore, his conscience reappeared. He blamed the woman, which wasn’t fair. It takes two to tango. Then his religious mentor told him that his example affects others too. Others are watching to see what he does as a person of faith. He had a chance to do what was right, I guess you could say to suffer out there on shore-leave and not give into temptation. That would have proved his faith for one, and made others stronger as well. Sometimes when we see God, we have to suffer to do what is right, and that’s why choosing blindness is always going to be an easier choice, and that’s also why even Jesus Himself is praying for us because He knows this.
Jesus prays for us today: “Father keep them in your name.” It’s easy to be blind to God, to not see Him anywhere around us, to be blind to His ways, to not suffer through the voices of conscience, to stay away from the light of worship, prayer and fellow believers, but to see God is what Jesus is praying for. We may see Him differently, even where others can’t see Him, but the point of Jesus’ prayer is to see God, and may this also be our prayer today, in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)