We are living in such uncertain times in so many areas of our lives that we may be experiencing a mix of emotions such as feeling uneasy or unsure, unsettled or upended, fretting or fearful, anxious or angry and that is ok. These are human emotions that arise from our perceptions that all is not well and that there is real instability in our society and world right now.
We don’t want to deny our emotions but we do want to be aware and mindful of them such that they do not overwhelm us or take control such that they dictate how we choose to live our lives. We also want to resist the temptation to shut down and adopt a posture of cynicism, defeatism, or despair.
I have always been drawn to lighthouses. These buildings set on the shore emit a penetrating light to guide sailors to a safe haven, especially during times of darkness and stormy seas.
The Bible very much operates as a lighthouse for us, to help to guide us home to a safe haven, to our final destination. When we avail ourselves of the gift of God’s word we are never lost or alone no matter how strong the winds of unpredictability blow or how unstable and turbulent the waters are. No matter the external circumstances, what remains a constant source of direction and support is the light of God’s presence in our lives.
Each of our readings today offers us some illumination to ponder today and through the week.
In the Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (Jn 14:15)”.
Upon first reading, a cynical view might be, “Well that is a pretty conceited thing to say. There goes the Church again telling me what to do. There’s unconditional love for you.” And that is the view many people take regarding authority because many view institutions, the Bible, the Church, Jesus, and God from the view of our woundedness, sins, and failures. We are a culture of celebrity and we place our sports figures, entertainers, political and religious leaders on pedestals where they don’t belong, and when they fall we find ourselves in a crisis of leadership.
Jesus is not them and he speaks consistently as the way, the truth, and the life. He is that lighthouse guiding us to a safe haven. To say that we do not need the commandments is like telling the lighthouse keeper as we head off into the calm ocean to shut the light off, we will be able to find our own way back home. Yet when a sudden storm rises, or darkness falls sooner than we expect, will we be able to find our way back?
Too many of us do the same when being offered God’s commandments as a guide. We fail to do so, for the same reason that we fail at most of our New Year’s resolutions. If we set a goal at all we often do so without placing a system in place to attain it. We also determine too often that we can go it alone on our own will power and determination. Yet as many diversions and distractions arise, we choose apparent goods over and above our highest hope and good and find ourselves adrift without direction.
In our first reading from the Book of Acts, we see how “Peter and John ‘laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit’” (Acts8:17).
The early Church took root and thrived even while under heavy persecution because they encountered Jesus and followed the principles he set forth, yet not on their willpower alone. For left, to themselves, they were all utter failures. It was not until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they were empowered by the love of God to now put into action what Jesus had prepared them to do.
The gifts of the sacraments are the means by which we are empowered by the Holy Spirit today. These are direct encounters with Jesus in which we are transformed by the fire of his love, die to our self-centered focus, and are reborn in him as a part of his body and life.
There is no secret to living as a Christian. Each day we must set aside time to pray and meditate, spend time in the Bible, go out from ourselves to serve others, all the while being attentive to our families, school, or work responsibilities. This balancing act will ultimately play out depending on our station and demands in life and this is why we need a savior to guide us and lead us with his light.
Our final point comes from our second reading from St Peter.
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, (1 Peter 3:15-16).
As Christians, we are to be in relationship with God and one another. This is who we are created to be. We are to share our faith, we are sent on mission to share our relationship with Jesus. That does not mean imposing our views on others or assuming we are right and others are wrong, or that we are charged with saving those in our midst. It means that we are to share our stories, our encounters, our experiences with the living God. This means we need to know God.
We do so when we know and put into practice the commandments, especially to love God, place him first in our lives and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to continually open our hearts and minds to accept the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments as well as in our daily spiritual disciplines and in our willingness to love, serve, and suffer with others.
When we live a life governed by the commandments and are continually open to being transformed by the Spirit, when we bring our trials and tribulations to Jesus and we put into practice his guidance, and experience his presence through each challenge, we will be people of hope and joy. This is what will draw others to God. When they ask us the reason for our joyful disposition, we will have some stories to share.
Because ultimately, no matter what challenges we are experiencing now, or those that will rise before us, no matter how dark the night or how violent the storms, we know that God is our light, that he is with us, and that he will guide and provide for us in each of the ups and downs of our lives. We are not alone.