Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Whither, the Christian Paradox

This past Sunday's readings (V Sunday of Eastertide; Act 6:1-7; Ps 33; 1 Pt 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12) present a few interesting themes that could be discussed for some time. I am not here going to discuss them, but rather a little point buried in the St. John's gospel reading for the day.

After Jesus says, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way."

I think St. Thomas must have had a special place in our Lord's heart because of the special invitation our Lord extended to him alone, to put his hands into those Sacred Wounds. St. Thomas is accused of skepticism, but I think that isn't the case. I think that he is simply very practical. Tradition has it that he was a carpenter, or an architect of sorts perhaps, like our Lord himself. Carpenters and architects DON'T DO the impossible, because when they try, houses fall down on people's heads. Yet St. Thomas was willing to believe - he just needed a little convincing. That's sound. Here we see something of the same cautiousness:

"Master," Thomas asks, "We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?"
Very sensible question, St. Thomas. Very sensible indeed. You see, generally speaking, before we can plot out a course, we need to know our destination. That's common sense. The goal, though it comes after the process, must in a certain sense - in our mind - come before it. Here, St. Thomas merely points that out. Now, the Apostles did not yet understand exactly how Jesus of Nazareth, their rabbi who made increasingly grand claims about himself, fit into God's ongoing plan for the Jewish people and for the world. We have the vantage point of the Resurrection and Pentecost. They didn't.

Even for us now, though, St. Thomas' concern should resonate if we are paying attention. We know that the Kingdom of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the New Heavens and New Earth are to be our true and final home, but what that entails, exactly, who can say? St. Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 2:9, "But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,nor the heart of man conceived,what God has prepared for those who love him."

Whither is an archaic English word that means "to where," or "to what point/purpose," and it is the Christian paradox. The whole rest of the world thinks they know what they are working for, whither they work: a big house, peace and quiet, "true love," a fancy vacation, or what have you. They spend a great deal of time planning and scrambling trying to attain the goal they think clear. When one way doesn't work, they try another way. When one career doesn't do it, they try another; when careers don't seem likely, they try the lottery. When one relationship breaks down, they try another; when relationships seem unlike, perhaps they try a shrink or medication. In reality they do not understand that what they truly seek, the answer to all their heart's longing, is Jesus Christ.

We Christians, on the other hand, don't really know what we are working toward, but in a different way. Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of His Father is our goal, the new life we seek, but what exactly that new life will look like, we cannot even really imagine because it is, in one sense, so fundamentally different than anything we've ever experienced. We know, but not really, whither we go.

But we do know the exact way to get there, "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" Union with Christ in our Father's House is our goal, the new life we seek, whatever it will be. Jesus Christ is the way to get there, and he is the truth, the reality check about where we are actually at. The Second Vatican Council teaches us this: "Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear," (Gaudium et Spes, #22). It is not quite like being given a map, but rather instructions about what-to-do-if. "If any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also," (Mt 5:39) and the list goes on throughout the Gospel. It is like giving an explorer or pilgrim instructions rather than a map: "If you come to moutains, use your rope to climb over them; if you come to a river, use your rope to ford it. Eventually you will get to where you are supposed to be, wherever that is." Only our instructions more or less boil down to this:

"And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?" (Mt 6:28-30). As we explore on this pilgrimage, we must ask our Father for humility so that we can continue to trust Him through whatever hair-raising adventures our continued conversion requires.

You might say, loosely, that our instructions are, "If you are tempted by sin, trust in your Heavenly Father. If you are worried about taking care of your children, trust in your Heavenly Father. If people hate you, trust in your Heavenly Father. If you get to thinking that you have to do something bad to get by, or to get ahead, trust in your Heavenly Father."

So we Christians know exactly how we are to go. It is whither that we know only dimly. On that deepest level, we Christians are working for the same goal as all the world, for an eternal happiness, for the joy and love that never end. But woe to us if our goals don't look different than the worldlings' on another level. We might just end up going where many of them may if we don't show them a better way to get to our true and final home. St. Thomas, supposedly faithless and doubting, went all the way to India to show people the way to their unknown destination. So much for "faithless" and "doubting." And he did it without a map.

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