Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

Fifth Sunday of Easter

The season of major transitions is upon us. High schools and universities across the land are holding commencement exercises. Many are celebrating confirmations, weddings, and ordinations. Contracts are being negotiated and signed. Endings and beginnings always go hand in hand, bringing excitement and rejoicing and uncertainty and apprehension. Moving from familiar and comfortable surroundings, faces, and patterns to places, people, and ways exciting and new will make us fearful and uneasy about the unknown. Yet young people more than anyone will welcome thoughts of growing up. They have no idea what awaits them. That’s why they are fearless.

So we prepare. We learn the skills we will need to succeed in the world. But we soon realize a lot of what we learn in school will be outdated the day we set foot in the real world. And what we learn will never be as important as how we learn, because we will always be learning. We remain students and transform into professionals who are constantly updating, constantly learning on the job. We prepare to face situations and experiences that never crossed our teachers’ minds. If we learn what deeply moves hearts and minds, to listen wisely and read between the lines, compassion for others, gratitude, and faith in ourselves, we will be better equipped for any challenge.

Take parenthood for instance. I am not a parent, but I have parents, and siblings and friends who are parents. So just maybe, I will get some things right. When a couple learns a little one is on the way, there is a mixture of excitement and apprehension. It is a major life-changer. They will take parenting classes. They will ask a million questions. They will get ten million answers. But eventually they will have to figure out a lot of things themselves. Despite their best judgment, they will still misread all the signs and come to the wrong conclusions. They will make mistakes. And when they think they have figured it all out, another one is on the way. They soon discover that most of what they learned the first go-around is likely not applicable. It can be scary, but they are up for the challenge. Actually, they get better at it. And when the fourth one comes along, they’re just fine that the child is eating off the floor, running around the house naked, or torturing the dog. They learn when to intervene and when to trust their instincts and when to call it a day. Then they decide to have three more children. I know things.

Life is constantly on the move. And so must everything it touches. Some issues we face today, our parents and grandparents never had to. And some that our children will face, we will never encounter ourselves. But a few fundamental principles and truths will inform and guide us. Everything else we can set aside.

As Jesus prepared his apostles for his departure, he focused on the excitement of the adventure ahead. But they were more troubled about being on their own and not knowing how to get things done without him. Jesus had to tell them they would do just fine, if only they stayed connected to him. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Essentially, Jesus your teacher taught you well. Trust him. He trusts you. You got this.

Not long after, a community formed around the same apostles who were witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, his passion, death, and resurrection, and had received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They were facing a challenge Jesus never prepared them for. They listened to one another and proposed a solution, remaining faithful to their Christian discipleship. If instead they rigidly resisted the new challenge and refused to address it, they would fail to meet the needs that would arise with each new generation yet to come. And if they failed to learn and grow, they would lose their focus, and have to send people away, and themselves fade into irrelevance.

Generations long after those early days, the community of Christian believers has had to face new and interesting challenges that come with a constantly changing human society. With each new challenge, the church has herself had to struggle and learn and grow, although not always as swiftly or as drastically as some would prefer. But Jesus assures us of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. He taught us well. We got this.

When the question first arose about Christians seeking to return to the practice of the faith who had renounced their baptism in the face of persecution, some refused to consider it at all. But the mercy of God prevailed, and the church found a way to restore these fallen to full communion with God’s people. When the question arose about the validity of sacraments celebrated by priests and bishops who had renounced their faith or their ministry, the church declared the efficacy of God’s grace independent of flawed and sinful human agents. Now we no longer have to doubt the validity of a sacrament celebrated in good faith. More recently when the question of cremation came up and whether the practice would alter our belief in the resurrection, the church saw no direct connection. She teaches that all human remains should be accorded the same honor and respect. Eventually some questions can be addressed by pastors. Some are reserved to bishops. And some are reserved to the Holy Father. But if we are truly committed to discerning the mind of Jesus in every time and place where the church wishes to remain engaged and relevant, the essential principles he taught us will inform and guide us. We should never fear to face whatever may come. Jesus taught us well. We got this.

St. Peter reminds us that we are members of God’s holy people, “living stones … built into a spiritual house … a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that (we) may announce the praises’ of him who called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Jesus truly believed his own apostles had what it takes to carry his mission forward. “Where I am going you know the way. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.” Essentially, Jesus taught us well. We got this.

We follow in the footsteps of the apostles, entrusted the mission of Jesus Christ to bring God’s healing, reconciliation, and peace to the world. We need not fear. We will struggle. But we need to learn and grow. Mufasa reminds Simba in the Lion King: Remember who you are. Darth Vader tells Luke in Return of the Jedi: Your teacher (Obi-wan) taught you well. In Finding Nemo, Dory tells Marlin: Just keep swimming. And in Casablanca, Bogart tells Bergman: Here’s looking at you, kid. We got this.

Rolo B Castillo © 2023