Wednesday: April 4, 2016 –– 6th Week in Easter
How often do we think, “I wish God would just show me everything and make it plain”? Maybe imagining God as the Jack Nicholson character Col. Jessep (or not!) in the movie A Few Good Men, would tell us why he doesn’t…. “You can't handle the truth!”
Jesus, shortly before going to the cross, tells his disciples: I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
What if, when he first invited those early disciples to follow him, Jesus had been explicit with who he was, what was going to happen to him, and…. what was going to happen to them if they followed him?!
They were not ready for what would come later, when the Spirit of truth…. will guide you to all truth. First Jesus had the disciples walk intimately with him for three years, listen progressively to his teachings, and observe first hand the many and mysterious miracles that shattered all expectation and understanding.
Then––on the other side of the cross and resurrection––the Spirit of God (the power of God that first moved in the incredible acts of Creation, and then raised Jesus from the dead) fell upon and filled the spirits of those disciples. It was then, after Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances and teachings, it all came together and they understood. There are two things I want to emphasize from this.
First, as we read the Gospels––which are accounts of Jesus’ mighty words and mighty deeds during his earthly ministry––the fullness of what it all means is not given. We are given a faith-motivated account of what the disciples saw and heard during those seminal years. This in itself is the basis for what the Catholic Church later called “Development of Doctrine.” It is the idea that while the New Testament gives us truth––reliable, authoritative, and even inerrant truth, it does not give all truth. Rather, the details of truth…. the implications of truth…. the fullness of truth, is unfolding as the Spirit makes it clear to the Church.
It is important here to understand there is no “new” truth, in the sense that something else can be interjected where there was nothing before. Rather, truth is an unfolding of what has always been, even though hidden for a time. More simply, something that was once true is not, later, going to be false; conversely, something that was inherently false and wrong is not later going to become right and true.
Holding to this universal paradigm is essential. It allows for progress in understanding, which is dynamic and life-giving; it also holds to an unshakable core, which while static gives the kind of foundation necessary for endurance. This tension is always present in the Church.
Yet this tension is also present in our personal spiritualities. Even as Jesus was laying the foundation for the Church, he was also lovingly shepherding each of those men who followed him. With wisdom and compassion he gives them just what they need at just the right time. He did not project a “Pentecost standard” on them until they were ready for it and had experienced it. Rather, he patiently took them through each step toward the ultimate purpose and goal he had for them both personally and corporately.
Think of your own spiritual journey. If you have a “healthy” Christian life, you should know and experience and understand more now than you did ten years ago. There are things now you could not have handled then. And if we stay open and humble and obedient (and if we live another ten years), we will know and experience and understand more then than we do now. Why doesn’t the Lord give it to us all at once (we sometimes impatiently ask)? Jesus says, I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
This is true even among different Christians. Some learn faster. Some are capable of more. Some Christians seem almost to “ooze” holiness while others seem to fall way short of a most basic Christian identity. Can we believe that one reason is what one person can “bear” compared to another?
St Jane Frances De Chantal once made this observation about what is sometimes called a “white” martyrdom (in which the person lives a marked life of total surrender––in contrast to a “red” martyrdom, in which a person suffers a violent death for the faith):
When another sister asked how long the [“white”] martyrdom would continue, the Saint replied: “From the moment when we commit ourselves unreservedly to God, until our last breath. I am speaking, of course, of great-souled individuals who keep nothing back for themselves, but instead are faithful in love. Our Lord does not intend this martyrdom for those who are weak in love and perseverance. Such people he lets continue on their mediocre way, so that they will not be lost to him; he never does violence to our free will.”
This is another way Jesus says to his disciples, I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. If we are open and humble and obedient, Jesus knows how much to draw us into the unfathomable mysteries of his life and grace…. and passion. For all of us who own his Name, the goal and our destination is sainthood; the rate at which we get there is dependent––yes, a bit on our own will, but more––on the loving mercy of the Lord who calls us. Listen to him saying, I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
If you are hearing his voice and trusting, know that whatever is happening in your life right now is exactly what Jesus has given for your journey to sainthood. And wherever you might be on your journey, it remains: I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.