As we make our way through the manifold unfoldings of the Easter event, we continue to encounter the numerous ways in which God reveals Himself by the gifts He bestows on us. In times past we may have preferred to speak of God’s infinity as a way of manifesting our perception of the rich potential residing in Him. At present we prefer to approach the overflowing abundance within God in terms of the many gifts He bestows on us.
While we can legitimately lament, as we did at the death of JFK ("Johnny, we hardly knew ye"), so short was his presidential style among us, all the more can we grieve that, so far as Jesus is concerned, we barely had time to know Him. But 33 years of age at His earthly departure from us (with only 3 years of His life spent in the public forum, so as to be available to others), we were struggling to get a handle on this stupendous mystery of the Incarnation: God becoming flesh among us. We readily identify with Philip’s fumbling attempt to grasp Jesus’ remarks in today’s gospel: "If you know me, then you will also know my Father." Jesus was already broaching the mystery of the Trinity. We empathize with Philip’s fumbling effort at responding appropriately: "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us."
Jesus is here unfolding the lavish richness of God’s beneficence with us, incarnated before poor Philip in Jesus’ own person. As Philip is striving to keep his head above water whose depth is beyond him, Jesus tries another tact, which magnifies the generous gift-giving that is at the heart of this conversation: "If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it." This has the appeal of being concrete and practical.
There is more to this saga of God’s dealings with us: there is the death of Jesus on the cross-for us. The humanity He early on took from Mary to manifest Himself to Philip, and to all of us, is seemingly destroyed on the cross. But then, exceeding our comprehension, He rises from the dead in that self-same humanity, though different, enriching us, who had hardly mastered the meaning of the Incarnation, with a further dimension of mystery in the Easter event.
Again, this risen Christ is with us too short a time, as He ascends to heaven, while living on in the preaching ministry of Paul and Barnabas, as we hear in Acts today. Paul and Barnabas further witness to the largesse of God toward us, by empowering them to gift us with the mystery of Christ now abundantly present in the word they preach, not just to the Jewish community, but to the whole world (the gentiles): "…the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region".
Christ is this word of the Lord, born of Mary, dead but risen from the tomb, preached by the apostles and empowering us today as the ongoing mystery of the richness of God’s gifting us, in so many different and unexpected ways. It penetrated the lives of the Mexican martyrs we commemorate today, Christopher Magallanes and his companions, more than compensating their loss of life with a generous new level of life. Mystery permeates our Christian faith, marveling at the many ways God gives Himself to us.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.