The Feast of the Apostles Philip and James
[Scripture Readings: 1 Cor 15:1-8; Jn 14:6-14]
I confess to feeling a certain exasperation with a tendency found among some sincere Christians today; a tendency one might call “romancing the nothingness.” People who romance the nothingness hold that the supreme heights of the spiritual ascent are attained in the experience of nothing, and these people will have you harboring no misunderstanding on this issue; they are adamant. They will drive the point home until they are sure you understand them perfectly and will insist that in the moments when their prayer is of the “highest” and the “purest”, they experience nothing – absolutely nothing: no images, thoughts, memories, no affections, relationships, beliefs – nothing.
I once attended a workshop on prayer where a woman shared with the group a poem she had written entitled: “The Enchantment of Nothingness”. You would think for a poem about nothing, a few lines would suffice. She read for about seven minutes. In the discussion that followed, I said it seemed to me that, in the end, if that Great Nothingness lives up to its august reputation, there’s not going to be much there to recommend it as “enchanting”. If we really are talking about nothingness, why not simply acknowledge there’s nothing there, and talk about something else? She replied, the poem was not actually about nothingness. Nothingness is just one way of talking about the unmediated experience of the absolute. Now, this was a really nice lady and I didn’t want to argue with her but, I thought to myself: “Why, after professing belief in Jesus Christ, would a Christian be desiring an “unmediated” experience of God? If we believe that mediation is incarnate in a person, the person of our Lord, whose mediation is realized in the experience of friendship and love, then what effect is it having on that friendship when one party decides to purse an “unmediated” experience of God? If the Christian soul is a bride, does the bride have a purer experience of spousal love when that love is unmediated by the embraces of the bridegroom?”
I share these thoughts with you because I think it has some bearing on the gospel for this feast of the apostles Phillip and James. Phillip and James are celebrated today because they saw the Lord. They saw Jesus, spoke with him, ate with him, touched him. And yet, at times, Jesus seems exasperated with these same disciples because, even though the Son of God is standing incarnate before them, they do not see him. So, in today’s gospel we hear Jesus voice strained with emotion as he says to Phillip: “Phillip, after I have been with you all this time, you still do not know me?” Phillip had just said to Jesus “Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” But Jesus says: “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father. How can you say ‘Show us the Father’? Do you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?“
I would suggest that when Phillip looks straight at Jesus and says: “Show us the Father and that will be enough” he is, at that moment, a representative of those people of all generations who seek an experience of God that is “purer”, or “higher” or “more immediate” than the one offered us in the person of Jesus; people who are tempted to think that an unmediated experience of God is somehow more radical than the encounter with God incarnate in the person of his Son. But maybe that tendency exists to some degree in all of us, and today might be a good day to reflect on this in light of Jesus’ words to Phillip; to reflect upon and marvel at the scandal – the scandal of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who says to Phillip and to all of us: “From this point on, you know God. You have seen him.“
The Feast of the Apostles, Philip and James
[Scripture Readings: 1Cor. 15: 1-8; Jn. 14: 6-14]
One of the challenges that the different liturgical seasons bring is to understand the message that they are addressing to us at a particular time. A question that stands out for me this Easter season is: Who is the risen Christ? The question is most clear in the resurrection narratives. The women at the tomb are simply baffled to find it empty. Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus at first do not recognize Jesus as he comes to them and then they do. The eleven cannot believe their eyes when he stands among them.
This is not a totally new response to Jesus. Throughout his ministry and even at the announcements of his birth, Jesus was always an enigma. The crowds sometimes saw him as a healer and wonder worker; sometimes as a political revolutionary who would deliver them from Roman oppression. His brothers were skeptical and his closest disciples failed to understand him. His question to Philip in this morning’s gospel, “Have I been with you so long and still you do not know me?” could have been addressed to all of them. Closer to home it could be addressed to all of us.
True, we live after Jesus’ Ascension. He has been exalted to the right hand of God in heaven. He no longer walks among us and we cannot see Jesus as his contemporaries could. But we also live after Pentecost. We have been given the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit enlightens our understanding to live in faith and hope so that we can recognize Christ at work in our lives. The Spirit dwells in our hearts to enable us to love as Jesus loved so that we too can do the Father’s works. Because the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we can say with St. Paul: We no longer live, but Christ lives in us. This I think is the most fundamental way we come to know who Christ is. We come to know Christ through the imitation of Christ, though our experience of living as Jesus lived.
The New Testament does not give us a detailed account of the Lord’s life with the disciples during the forty days after the Resurrection. We know that he opened their minds to understand him and prepared them for their mission. As we celebrate the Easter season liturgy the risen Lord encounters each one of us. May the Holy Spirit within us enlighten our minds so that we may recognize the Lord present among us and give us courage so that we may follow him.