6th Sunday of Easter
May 21, 2017
Five years ago, the University of Chicago released the results of a study on loneliness.
The study finds that about 25% of people frequently feel lonely. And the study says that loneliness is increasing.
Among the factors causing this are our longer life spans, more years spent in widowhood, and the rising number of single-person households. One finding is that we Americans tend to feel lonely on special occasions.
These are occasions when being together is the social norm, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Feelings of loneliness are more frequent at these times.
The study says that loneliness has more to do with the quality than the quantity of relationships. Studies of college students show that incoming freshmen are particularly lonely during the first quarter of school.
This is true even though they have roommates and are surrounded by many peers. Again, the finding is that it is not the number but the quality of relationships that determines whether we feel isolated or lonely.
“I will not leave you orphans.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses this very human issue.
Jesus knows that he is about to return to the Father. He senses the apostles’ anxiety about being left alone, without him.
And so, Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphans. You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
Jesus promises to be with us through his Spirit, the Holy Spirit. And then Jesus makes his presence through the Spirit concrete in two ways: 1) sacraments and 2) community.
1. Through Sacraments
First of all, our sacraments are visible, earthly, physical ways for Jesus to be with us through the Spirit.
We have the physical experience of Jesus’ presence through the water of baptism. We also have a physical experience of the Holy Spirit through the anointing with oil at Confirmation.
And then, here at Mass, the Eucharist is the supreme experience of God’s presence. In the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest prays over the bread and wine.
Today I will pray: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, by sending down your Spirit upon them… so that they may become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These gifts become the means for Jesus through his Spirit to be with us.
The result is that when we eat the consecrated bread and drink the consecrated wine, the Spirit enters us and becomes one with us. We even physically experience Jesus becoming one with us.
We are drawn into the life of God and God lives within us. As Jesus says today, “you live in me and I live in you.”
2. Through Community
And then the second way that Jesus remains with us is through community.
Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.” Sometimes we can be tempted to go it alone in life, to think that we do not or should not need others.
It is so important not to fall into this. This path easily leads to isolation and loneliness.
Maybe this is why God’s action throughout the Bible is always directed to us as a people, as a community. Jesus draws the first disciples together as a community and makes this his primary way to be with us.
When we join with other persons of faith, either here at Mass or in the service of others, we are energized. And this happens because we are drawn out of ourselves – out of our aloneness or loneliness – and into relationship.
And a key part of being in community is to reach out to those who may be alone or lonely – like a struggling single parent or a grieving widowed neighbor. The idea is that we are empowered by Jesus’ presence here in the community and then we reach out to draw others into that same presence.
So, Jesus addresses a troublesome human feeling today – loneliness – and he gives us some ways to deal with it.