May 14, Fifth Sunday of Easter
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
I was 19 when my cousin came to live with my family. He was just out of the Marines. He was not doing very well and was lost in many ways. When we were children we had been close, but it had been a few years since we had seen each other, and trying to re-establish our friendship was hard. To complicate things, my faith was becoming very important to me, and he rarely darkened the door of a church.
I took this in stride though. We had many conversations about the meaning of life, God and faith in general. He had a lot of opinions, but he was not ready to believe that God existed, much less believe that God loved him and wanted a relationship with him.
Try as I might, I could not get him to budge. One night while we were lying in our bunk beds talking about life and faith, almost arguing, he finally said in an exasperated tone, “I’m not going to believe in God unless he comes down here and shakes my hand.” I had no idea what to say to that. I simply stared at the bottom of the top mattress with my mouth open and my mind empty.
I realize now that my cousin was no different from the first Disciples. They had been with Jesus for three years and still did not completely understand who he was. At the Last Supper Philip said to Jesus: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus responds rather incredulously, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
Twenty-five years ago, lying in that bunk bed, I felt the same way. Didn’t my cousin know Jesus had already come and revealed himself? He grew up Catholic and had heard all the same readings I had heard. What was I to say to this lack of belief? No words came, so I did the only thing I could think of; I silently asked God to come down and shake his hand.
I wish I could say that the next day he experienced a divine handshake, but though the hand of God was continually offered to him, it would be many years before he grabbed hold.
QUESTIONS: How would you have responded to the challenge, “I’m not going to believe in God unless he comes down here and shakes my hand”? How does Jesus reveal the Father to us?
May 21, Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Psalm 66:1-3a, 4-7a
1 Peter 3:15-18
I love the progression of this week’s Old Testament and New Testament readings, and how they speak to the “communication” of the Holy Spirit among believers.
The first reading tells about the apostles laying hands on new believers who then received the Holy Spirit. The Gospel talks about the Father sending an Advocate, “the Spirit of truth,” to those who love him, to live in them and reveal God to them (one might add, again and again).
During a confirmation preparation program I helped lead, parents joined us for one of the sessions, and at its conclusion we invited them to join the sponsors in laying hands on their children and other candidates in silent prayer.
We hoped the young people would feel the warm reality of God’s presence in the human touch of those who love them and who wanted the Spirit to come deeply into their lives. Subsequent comments from some of the candidates suggested that was, indeed, what happened for them.
But comments from parents indicated that they, too, were touched powerfully by the Spirit as they laid hands on their young people. These were people who had held and hugged their kids throughout their 16 or 17 years of life, yet several remarked that they were thankful to have the opportunity, in the words of one, “to do this for my child.” Many were moved to tears.
I laid hands on their children, too, and I can vouch for the fact that I truly sensed the Spirit of Jesus passing between us. As Catholics, we are fortunate to have tangible symbolic acts, such as laying on hands, to bring alive our spoken or silent words in prayer.
And we don’t come out of the experience wondering, “What just happened?” The Gospel explains it, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. ... And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
QUESTIONS: How has God been revealed to you in the laying on of hands — either as the one laying on hands or the recipient? What other tangible prayer experiences have you had, and how has God been revealed in those?