22 May 2011 Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
In lull periods between chores at the feeding center, Juan’s* eyes turn glossy and forlorn. When he was in Phoenix, he was caught by the border patrol and imprisoned for 8 months. During his detention, his wife was pregnant with his first child. On the day of the child’s birth, Juan was deported to the Arizona-Mexico border gate. He never saw them since.
The stories of the migrants I’ve met and served at the Comedor, the feeding center of the Kino Border Initiative (please LIKE our page here) are stories of separation. We feed people who are lonely and distressed. The pain of separation from their loved ones is fresh and the wound is deep. The options are bleak: if one returns to their origins in Mexico or Central America, they have to bear separation for years; or if one returns to the US, they have to cross the inhospitable Sonoran desert and the possibility of death (related article on this here).
In the Gospels, the disciples of Jesus are distressed over his words about going away (John 13:33-36). But Jesus assures them that His departure is more gain than loss for them, for He will become closer to them after His resurrection and they will enter into a deeper communion with Him. Therefore, they should not be ‘troubled’ by the prospect of a certain loneliness in this world, exposed as they will be to the forces of unbelief (John 16:33) or having to live without their friend. And here Jesus goes on saying that when He passes over to His Father, He will prepare a place for them, the “many dwelling places” in “His Father’s house.”
For many migrants all over the world, the situation of the disciples in the Gospel is all too familiar. On one hand, they leave their families because they want to prepare a better future for them. They are aware of the dangers of being away. In many ways than one, they are like Jesus: on them their families hinge their hopes and dreams away from poverty or the violence in their own countries (eg. Mexico, Libya and North Africa, Vietnam and Cambodia).
On the other hand, their families who are left behind are effected by the parting. Children with absentee parents; those who live away from home; the experience of death; those who had a falling out with a friend are just a few examples when loneliness sinks deeply into our hearts.
The Gospel challenges all who encounter loneliness to put our trust on Jesus who promises a dwelling place in heaven. Thus, it reads that Jesus tells his disciples (us) that they (we) will be where He Himself is, both in the present and in the future. We will, with the help of the Spirit, enter through faith into a closer relationship with God. And this communion is a gift from the Trinity (v.2-3 and 23). It is no wonder that this Gospel is read in funerals: Isn’t it consoling to know that our departed loved ones have not vanished but are there waiting for us? I find this consoling when my dad passed away: our separation is temporary!
But the many ‘dwelling-places’ are not degrees of perfection or status in heaven, in the sense that, the holier you are the bigger the mansion. The meaning is that the Father’s love and life that is present in Jesus is so immense that there is room for all of us! His heart is bigger and wider than what we can imagine. Whatever or whoever we are, there is always room for us in God.
Loneliness is a negative experience. Thus it entails pain and suffering. It destroys our notion of companionship or friendship: no person can totally satisfy our need for absolute presence. Couples have to separate when they have to go to work. Friends cannot stick to each other all the time. The promise “I will be with you always” does not mean the one who promises will accompany you wherever you go --- you don’t want them present in the restroom, do you? Life includes ‘separation’ time.
But there is one who can be present to us, wherever we are! He is the one who can satisfy our need for constant companionship. That is why, the negative feeling of loneliness can turn into an experience of communion with God. Because Jesus can do that: He is more present to us now than he was here in human form.
Those who have accepted this fact and lived this truth is said to live not in loneliness but in solitude. They are those who live in the heart of God, with or without their family and friends’ presences, peacefully. They can have their time for themselves without the impulse of reaching out to their cellphones or opening their social networks because the ‘silence is unbearable.’ Silence and solitude are very much related. You need both to change your loneliness into peacefulness.
*not his real name.