January 17, 2005 – Mass of the Holy Spirit before an abbatial election at Caldey Abbey
1 Cor. 12:2-7; 12-13; John 20:19-23
H o m i l y
The Evangelist John often introduces in his narratives little indications of place or time, that do not seem important, and that we read most of the time without paying much attention to them, but that are pregnant with meaning.
In the Gospel that we just read, he tells us that the disciples were assembled in a place, for fear of the Jews, and Jesus came. But he adds that the door was shut. What is the meaning of the door being shut? First of all, we must note that, grammatically, in the original text, the clause "for fear of the Jews" is attached to "were assembled" and not to "the door being shut". So, there is no question of the door being shut for fear of the Jews. And, also, John does not speak about the door being locked (as many translations say), but simply about the door being shut.
Of course, pious commentaries will tell us, that this was in order to show that Jesus' body was a spiritual body, and that Jesus was capable to come in through the door, without opening it, as they do easily in the movies nowadays. But all the apparitions after the Resurrection are marked with the utmost simplicity and Jesus is not out for showing any miraculous power.
There must be another explanation, and I think it is legitimate to think that while writing this John was reminiscing Jesus' words: If you want to pray, enter your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father in heaven. And also the other words of Jesus: "When two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them". Actually our text says that Jesus "was there in the midst of them".
The disciples, in that moment of crisis, had gathered together and had withdrawn in prayer. They had together entered their room, shut the door, and prayed. And therefore, there was Jesus, in the midst of them.
And that happened, in spite of the fact that they had assembled "for fear of the Jews". That expression, in the Gospel of John, comes as a refrain, expressing a faith that is not yet pure and whole. For example, Nicodemus comes to question Jesus, but during the night "for fear of the Jews". The parents of the blind man that was healed by Jesus, refuse to confess to the Pharisees what they know, "for fear of the Jews". Joseph of Arimathea...
Of all the disciples gathered in the upper room, Thomas was the only one without fear. And because he was without fear he went out, probably to buy provisions for the group. As a very practical, down to earth man, he did not trust what others told him, but when Jesus did manifest himself to him he confessed his divinity. Actually, Thomas is the first one, in the New Testament to address Jesus with his messianic, divine title of "Kurios", Lord: "My Lord, and my God".
Having confessed the Lord, the disciples receive their mission. Jesus breathes on them, in the same way as the spirit had come to him on the day of his own baptism, when the Father had told him: You are my most beloved Son. They receive the same spirit that hovered over the waters on the day of creation and gave life to all the living creatures. When Jesus came out of the Jordan, he was the new Adam. The disciples, who are the new born Church, are the new Creation.
A monastery being a local Church, it would not be difficult to apply all of that to our monastic situation. We have gathered together in a monastery, and we have shut the door of the enclosure, in order to pray our Father in Heaven. Because we have gathered in the name of Christ, Jesus is always there in the midst of us.
Jesus is the father – the abbot -- of the community. He is the one who embodies or incarnates the fatherhood and motherhood of Christ in the community. According to the Rule of Saint Benedict, when the members of a community elect their abbot, they choose the person who, for the next years, will be the vicar or the representative of Christ in the community. That person will have the responsibility to embody Christ’s fatherhood on the community in his relationship to all the brothers and in his teaching.
The responsibility to choose the abbot is left to the conventual chapter, that is, all the solemnly professed members of the community. In order to make that choice with faith and wisdom, the brothers need the light of the Spirit of God. So, we must pray to receive that light, during this Eucharist. But the meaning of that prayer is not to ask God to reveal to us His choice, since He placed on us the responsibilty to make that choice. The meaning of that prayer is to ask God to give us the wisdom, and mostly the purity of heart and the purity of intention that will allow each one of the electors to make the most enlightened and the most disinterested judment. And we all believe that God will give his grace of wisdom, light and strength to the one who will be chosen by you. Therefore, right now, even before the election, let us pray that the one who will be elected will be faithful to those graces.