What does it take to hear what God is trying to tell us?
In the Gospel readings for Mass yesterday and today, a profound shift from incomprehension to comprehension on the part of the Apostles is registered. Jesus’ mystagogy in the Farewell Discourse (John 14-17) has seized, at least to some degree, their minds and hearts, bringing them into the mysteries of the Trinity and of the Cross, which are what the Discourse is all about.
Today we hear the beginning of the High Priestly Prayer (John 17), in which Jesus speaks of the consummate historicization of glory through the Cross, that is, the final envelopment of history (and of the whole span of humanity) by the Trinitarian relations: “Father, the Hour has come; glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, because You gave Him authority (exousian) over all flesh, so that He may give eternal life to all which You have given Him” (17:1-2).
This is mysterious indeed. But the Apostles are catching on: “Now they know that all things whatsoever You have given to Me are from You, because the words which You gave Me I have given to them, and they received them and truly know that I came forth from You; they have believed that You sent Me” (17:7-8).
This is so odd. Throughout the Farewell Discourse, the incomprehension of the Apostles has been patent, and especially concerning “going to the Father,” which is inseparable from the Paschal Mystery. How did they catch on?
Indeed, as if to emphasize the radical quality of the shift from incomprehension to comprehension, this is the lead-up to their getting it: “Then some of His disciples said to one another, ‘What does He mean by saying to us, “A little while, and you will no longer see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me”; and “Because I withdraw (hupago) to the Father”?’ They were saying, ‘What does He mean by this “a little while”? We do not know what He is talking about’” (16:17-18).
Jesus ends up meeting their confusion by saying, “I have said these things to you in cryptic proverbs (paroimiais). The Hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in cryptic proverbs, but I will announce to you concerning the Father in unreserved openness (parrhesia)” (16:25).
But instead of a change in His way of speaking, Jesus sums it all up once again in words and in a style we have heard throughout the Discourse: “I came from the Father, and I have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (16:28).
It’s at this point, with no change in Jesus’ manner of expressing these mysteries, that the change in the Apostles occurs: “His disciples said, ‘See, now you speak in unreserved openness (parrhesia), and You no longer speak cryptic proverbs (paroimian)’” (16:29).
Here’s my proposal. The Farewell Discourse is the mystagogy every Christian must undergo. But because it is mystagogy, it is not an abstract teaching. This is simply the pattern of the Christian life. There is no newness of Christian life unless we walk this Way. Why else is the Discourse, which occurs after the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, presented in the lectionary at a little past the midpoint of Eastertide, running almost to Pentecost?
Jesus isn’t in fact speaking cryptically. He knows that we encipher what He reveals. Decryption of divine revelation cannot occur through a mechanical procedure. It requires the transformation of the person receiving the message. Jesus knows this, of course. The Farewell Discourse isn’t finally spoken theoretically, but in the flesh. The “Hour” in which He will speak without reserve is when He, the Father’s Word of Love, will be uttered to the last syllable. The parrhesia of Jesus, the source of Christian parrhesia, derives from the pierced Heart of Jesus, His love-death transposing the Word He Is into a silent flowing, the pouring forth of everything He is (pan-rheo), in complete abandon, for the sake of love. This flow is also the Spirit: “Having bowed His head, He handed over (paredoken) the Spirit” (19:30).
(That is also the moment, the Hour, when the abyss of hell is swallowed up within the historical elaboration of the Trinitarian relations.)
This is the unreserved openness of Jesus. But a pierced heart in our breasts is still the required receiving Enigma machine. And only the Spirit of Love can break our hearts in the way that's necessary.
We might assume that it’s a straightforward thing to hear the words of God. And, certainly, from God’s side, it’s all infinitely luminous, infinitely clear, infinitely understandable.
But it’s too much for us. We are creatures, and we are broken.
As creatures, our finite minds and hearts must be infinitized to receive the ever-greater signal of divine knowing and loving.
As broken creatures, we need healing.
And so, in baptism, the grace of the Holy Spirit, given through faith in Jesus, is infused into us, to begin to heal our brokenness and to begin the process of infinitely expanding our finitude. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts (which is at the same time Trinitarian indwelling, for He is the Love of the Father and the Son), this new mode of presence of the Spirit Who is the Advocate justifying us against the Adversary, causes our souls to be transformed. The sole formal cause of our justification, brought by this indwelling of the Spirit, is called sanctifying grace, which begins to heal and begins to elevate us.
But this initial justification requires the traversal of history to become more than formality: it must ramify in flesh and blood. Through time and circumstance, Spirit perfects, or sanctifies, bodies. Sanctifying grace must grow and intensify, so as to permeate everything in us, such as our temperaments, and to straighten all our slumpings from true: in our habits, in our rationalizations and compromises, in our mental schemas, in the ways we’ve been marred by history (from family interactions to the ideologies of our age). And all of this rectification must go on as we inexorably face new circumstances and change physically and psychologically.
The pedagogy of this total process of formation essentially involves suffering. The smallness of our hearts requires the breaking of our hearts. Transcending the self requires dying to self. Personal development does not proceed only by gradualism; it also proceeds by cataclysm (analogous to geological change or punctuated equilibrium in evolution).
I assert what I’ve written about before: the dark nights through which we must pass are needed for two reasons, purification and substitutionary suffering on behalf of others. No person rises for himself; if the stars come closer to our reach, if their music sounds more brightly, it is because we have suffered for others, and in so suffering, have become relieved of some of the gravity of self.
God is Light. If we cannot understand what He is saying, it is because we are too full of darkness. God is Love. If His words do not claim everything in us, it is because we love too little. We must become light, and we must be in love, to hear God. He is not speaking in riddles. It is our spiritual sensorium that scrambles the light.
The purifying and amplification of this sensorium is done by the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Farewell Discourse, when Jesus speaks of “going to the Father,” it means Cross and Resurrection, but that also means the coming of the Spirit.
“Yet many things have I to tell you, but you are not able to bear them now, but when He has come, the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak from himself, but what things He will hear, He will speak, and things to come He will announce to you. He will glorify Me, because He will receive from what is Mine and will announce to you. All things which the Father has are mine; therefore, I said that He receives from Mine and will announce to you” (16:12-15).
The procession of the Son from the Father, and of the Spirit from Them both, is the very texture of Being. And in the Paschal Mystery, Trinitarian Being transfigures history, by swallowing up ambiguity and deception within a Light from Light from Light.
This zone of mutual comprehension, deeper than words we can voice: we call it being in love. It’s the magical world opened by faith, hope, and charity. It’s Trinitarian indwelling. It’s the Kingdom of God breaking into time.
And it is life in the Spirit.
Like Eastertide, the Farewell Discourse leads to Pentecost. It is Jesus’ initiation of His followers into the Trinitarian life. The Trinitarian mystery is the mystery of infinite self-dispossession. And that is why there is no glory without the Cross, why there is no love without the Cross, why there is no mutual understanding without the Cross.
The process by which cosmos and history are indwelt by the Trinity, by which Light can be seen exploding out of every thing and out of every event, is the cataclysmic process of enduring the dark night of the Cross.
This is how everything becomes luminous. Our patience in the Cross makes us mediators of the massive ricorso of the procession of the Son from the Father into the world, and of the Son’s return to the Father in the Spirit, bearing all of humanity with Him, with its weight of sorrow and lightness of joy, and with the whole cosmos and all of history.
There are times when we will fail in the darkness, even after having understood something of what Jesus is saying: “Now do you believe? Look, an Hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his own (idia) and you will leave Me alone” (16:31-32).
But the Trinitarian life is so strong; it will overcome all the wastes and voids of forsaken love: “Yet I am not alone because the Father is with Me” (16:32).
Remember, Jesus knows He will experience utter godforsakenness on the Cross, exceeding every hell. But He knows the Father will be there, somehow.
The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit: God just wants us to trust that all shall be well: “I have spoken these things to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you have misery (thlipsin), but be cheerful, I have conquered the world” (16:33).
The Trinity is always there. When it is dark for you, please try to remember: it’s because the Light is so strong. It’s because Love has taken hold of you. It’s because Love has come and is coming. Such glories you will see when you are ready, when the world is ready! This Light, which streams everywhere... “Amen, amen, I say unto you, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51).