Fifth Sunday of Easter
When scanning police reports in the newspaper, I sometimes notice they have arrested someone with no permanent address. How did they find him if he had no address? Was he walking out of a drug store? We locate somebody by going to their place of residence, where they live. One of the first questions we ask to identify someone is: where do you come from? Where is your place?
While our place always remains very concrete and even geographical, it also connotes a whole background web of relationships, a nexus of communities and support systems that have prepared the ground for us. Our place is our physical locus and well as our social locus. We have a place in society, a place in the sun. We are expected to know our place and not do anything that is out of place. The one word bears a surplus of meaning. It is a metaphor, grounded in the visible and spatial, but carrying us to the deep mystery of our own person. As a metaphor, it unites the visible and concrete with the unseen but real mystery in which we live. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Jesus is himself the Metaphor revealing the Father to us. He is the place where we encounter God.
When Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for you, he is speaking to our hearts and imagination. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Our hearts are our organs for belief and imagination, for holding together the visible and invisible. What do we imagine when hear these words? Is Jesus going to prepare a place which finally frees us from the troubles and struggles of life? A personal condominium in God’s Great Hotel? An open gate or dock where we can land or come to shore.
What is Jesus preparing when he leaves us and promises to return so that we will be with him? Are we just asked to stand by, keep in our places, until the admission gates swing open? Are we really ready, prepared to enter into the relationships of transparency, love, simplicity that are heaven? Is it we ourselves, our place and relationships that Jesus needs to prepare? What does it mean for us to take our place in heaven? Pope John Paul II has said that heaven is not a place, it is a relationship. What does it mean to be in a better place if we are not prepared?
The whole of Jesus’ life is this preparation. It is his return to the Father which makes it possible for us to make the same journey. He is the pioneer and forerunner of our faith. He is the cornerstone upon which our lives are constructed, being built up together as living stones into the house and dwelling place of God. The foundation of our lives is the everlasting and unconditional attention and love which sustains us in being. But before and without Jesus, it is a secret hidden from our own hearts. It is the secret of being welcomed and loved unconditionally that transforms our lives and prepares them to love as we are loved. There is a deep connection between the visible, historical place of our lives and the place the Father makes for them in His Son.
I remember seeing on television the funeral of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin. The homilist recalled driving the Cardinal who had fallen asleep in the car after a long day. You’re home, he would say to wake the Cardinal. And that was what he would now say at his funeral: you’re home. Our life is preparing us to take our place in the place the Father has prepared for His Son. It is his house (embracing heaven and earth), where he dwells at home with those he has called and chosen out of darkness to be his own people, to be with me where I am. To be as I am. To be at home in God. Let not your hearts be troubled.