Change is in the air! The warmer spring weather helps, of course. More than in previous years, it seemed, my heart lifted as I noticed 2021’s multi-colored parade of flowers: first, forsythia and hyacinth, then cherry, pear and apple blossoms, then magnolias, dogwoods, azaleas, lilacs, and the special green of spring, like no other. Not even masks could hide the kinder, gentler looks in people’s eyes.
Change is in the air. COVID restrictions are being lifted in many places as more people become fully vaccinated. Safety precautions change by the day, sometimes confusingly so: Do we need to wear a mask outdoors? Can we gather for graduations? Is it safe to travel? Saint John Henry Newman (1801-1890) is said to have proposed: “To live is to change, and to change often is to become more perfect.” Maybe the pace of constant change is inviting us to move in the direction of perfection!
Today’s readings, whichever feast we celebrate, place us with Jesus’ disciples as they too struggled to cope with change, big time. They had followed Jesus as he preached and healed. When the crowds turned ugly, most of his followers – with notable exceptions – abandoned him and left him to die. Crushed, they could barely believe, first, the reports that he was alive, and then his new way of being present with them. And just when they began to grow comfortable with those changes, Jesus had more shifts to ask of them – and more gifts to give them.
Jesus tells them he is returning to the One who sent him, his beloved Abba/Father, yet he will remain with us through his own Spirit whom he will share with us, “a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17), a Spirit who enlightens, consoles, strengthens, fills us with hope.
The Spirit of Jesus sends the disciples – us – beyond our comfort zones, to people and places we could never imagine. The Spirit changes our hesitation into boldness, our self-doubt into trust, our blindness into enlightenment, our divisive behaviors into acts of compassion. Through his Spirit, Jesus opens us to receive a new kind of presence – “I am with you always…Remain in my love”; a new mission – “You will be my witnesses…Go into the whole world”; and a new promise – “May they be one just as we are one…Whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.”
These are huge changes, indeed, yet not to be feared but welcomed. For none of us is alone in this endless journey of changing often. Together, as a community of those who seek and struggle to follow Jesus, may we “experience, as he promised,…his abiding presence among us.” (Collect prayer, Seventh Sunday of Easter).
– Sister Regina Bechtle
Sister Regina, a writer, retreat leader, speaker and spiritual director, serves as Charism Resource Director for the Sisters of Charity of New York.