On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
Introductory Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I thank you for the gift of faith, which enables me to accept the new life you offer me and to live the reality of your resurrected presence. I thank you for the gift of hope, by which you enable me to place my treasure in heaven, looking beyond the realities of this life to the grace of sharing eternal life in your presence. I thank you for the fire of your love, by which I know I am loved, and I have a pattern to follow in my love for the Father and for my neighbor. All these are the workings of your Spirit in my soul. I thank you for the gift of that same Spirit.
Petition: Grant me the grace to open my soul to the presence and influence of your Holy Spirit, so that I will love you as totally and perseveringly as you deserve.
1. "The doors of the house were locked." Locked. The apostles had many reasons to fear. Their Lord and Master whom they had loved, followed, and learned from, had been betrayed by one of them, handed over by the Chief Priests to be tortured and killed by the Romans. It was logical for them to think that the same wrath of their Master's enemies would now be directed towards his disciples. Jesus had said, if the world has hated me it will hate you also (cf. Jn. 15:20) so there was every reason to lock the doors and keep watch. However, he had also said not to fear those who can only harm the body, and this was the command of Jesus that they were not yet able to fulfill. They needed a new strength from on high to be able to face those who would do them bodily harm as they persecuted them.
When we lock the doors to God’s action in our lives, when we try to keep his voice from echoing in our conscience, when we prefer not to listen to him, it is usually because of fear.
There is another order of fear that the disciple of Christ has to face, and that is the fear of his own weakness. We can fear physical persecution and death because of the objective pain and loss they entail, but when we love Christ and would dearly want to be faithful in the face of persecution but think we won’t be up to it, we experience another type of fear. These apostles were acutely aware that in the Last Supper they had all promised along with Peter that they were ready to die for Christ, and they were now tormented by the grief of not having been capable of keeping that promise. Their fear they felt was also an expression of a love that wanted to be faithful but knew by experience its own weakness. This requires too a new inner strength that had to come from God. A remaking of their spirit.
2. "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." The disciples rejoiced when Jesus made himself present, but then comes a paradox. They are still paralyzed by fear, yet Jesus again wishes them peace while apparently placing an even greater burden on their shoulders by sending them as the Father had sent him. So often in our lives God surprises us by not doing the obvious, calm, “reasonable” thing, but by upping the ante instead. He wishes his apostles peace, he effectively brings them peace with his own presence, and then he shows them that he wants this peace to be permanent, but not in a sheltered, protected life away from all danger, remaining in that room with Jesus present among them. His plan is quite the opposite, because he sends them directly into the fray, the way the Father had sent him to do battle to establish his Kingdom.
If they were being sent as he was sent, it was to work, preach, and offer redemptive suffering for souls. It would mean doing battle like him with the temptations of Satan in their own lives; it would mean preaching, teaching and bringing healing and hope, like him; it would entail dying to themselves, like the grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies in order to bear fruit, like him. This did not seem to promise much peace. And their fear remained. They knew their weakness. But Jesus does not stop here.
3. "Receive the Holy Spirit." Here is Jesus’ solution to their fears and the reality of their weakness. The Holy Spirit will change them. They will become new men under the force of this breath. When God created man, he molded a figure from the dust of the earth and then breathed into that lifeless paste to make man a living being. Now Jesus will again breathe upon these men and they will enter a new level of life in the Holy Spirit, capable of what their poor human nature alone was not. The Spirit gives life. They are going to have a new strength and a new understanding. Their view of the Cross and their reaction to the crosses they were to face from there on out would change radically.
The Spirit they received would not allow them to remain in that room, they felt the urgency to go out and bring the Good News to every creature. They would now be uneasy with a pseudo-Christianity that consisted in keeping their beliefs to themselves, a private matter to be discussed behind closed doors, out of fear. Those doors that were their security now became unbearable obstacles, and they burst through them, breathless to tell the whole world what God has done for us in Jesus. (Were these the “gates of hell” that Jesus promised would not prevail against them?) St. Paul would later say: Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor. 9: 16). Woe to us today, if we do not break out of our comfortable cocoons and preach the gospel; woe to us if we fear the unchartered waters of being Christ’s witnesses in society, in college, in work….
Conversation: Place in me a new heart, changed by the breath of your Spirit. Take away all fear of being your disciple and the herald of your gospel in my daily life. Let me no longer be guided by human respect or a slave of the atmosphere around me. Make me an instrument of the change you want to bring to men’s lives, and may my actions be the first proclamation of your message to those I meet.
1. What are the fears that inhibit me, making me less of an apostle?
2. Do I live my life with the sense of being sent, of having something to give to others?
3. Do I realize the power of the Holy Spirit to transform me, and do I ask God for the gift of the Spirit?