Sunday Within The Octave of the Ascension
“Giving Testimony of Christ”
By Rev. G. Lee, C. S.
My brethren, there is about the Sunday a calmness of regret, as well as of expectancy, that greatly helps to pious thought and affection. With holy Church we are thinking of Him who has been taken up from us. His absence from our eyes makes His divine figure grow clearer in our mind. What He did and said, what He was and is, began to stand out in stronger relief; and the charm of it all becomes more completely engrossing. To remain on the mount of the Ascension, looking up to heaven, seems the only thing to do – even though Angels should ask us why we do so. We look in the direction He took, because now more than ever we want to see Him. But the Vision is not for our time of wayfaring, for the time of our participation in the sufferings of which He carefully forewarned us. So, we fall back on His loving words, more justly than the bereaved of earth fall back on the treasured details of the lives they may be mourning.
Great are those words, beyond human estimate or interpretation; great in what they say of Him, greater, if possible, in what they imply of us. The time, dear brethren, is so full of heaven’s light and inspiration that we may venture to turn our gaze even on the unspeakable grandeurs that are Christ’s and that He reveals as about to be ours. All the words of His farewell moments are of special supernal import and promise. Let us dwell on the wondrous affirmations in this day’s Gospel: That the Son of Man sends the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity to be His witness; that through that Divine Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, He enables us to be also His veritable witnesses.
A – “When
the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth,
who proceeds from the Father, He shall give testimony of Me.” While our Lord,
my brethren, was still in His suffering Flesh and His disciples had not yet
received the Holy Ghost, He spoke those Divine mysteries to them. Now that He
is glorified, seated at the right hand of God, and that we have been renewed by
His outpoured Spirit, we should be able to hear these same heavenly truths.
Adoring the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, is wise religion, since
God himself proposes it to our contemplation. Simple faith loves to repeat:
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, one God in three Divine Persons. It knows, too, why
it names the Persons in that order. From the Father is the Son, from the Son –
with the Father – is the Holy Ghost. And the sending, the mission, of
which we have mention and promise in to-day’s Gospel, is made known through the
revelation of the adorable Trinity. The Father, of whom the Son is begotten,
sends the Son; the Son, of whom the Holy Ghost proceed; sends the Holy Ghost;
sends Him from the Father, since He and His Father are as One in breathing forth
that Divine Spirit.
Nothing personal to God is more often said by our Lord than that His Father sent Him. He almost makes the Father’s Name be, “He who sent Me.” Now He speaks of also sending; and He whom He is to send is the Third Person of the ever-Blessed Trinity.
If you are not given, my dear brethren, to meditating on the Divine Trinity – though most wholesome for mind and heart is that primary meditation – at least take the plain truth which arises out of the Mystery, and out of our Lord’s familiar words about it. What is that plain truth? Simply that He is God. That is the saving truth to know and to proclaim. Much revelation and much meditation are already yours, if, with all your mind and all your heart, you can believingly say: Christ our Lord is God, our God. There is that revealed truth, with its fruit of eternal life, of which the world has been proving itself unworthy.
We must notice that when our Lord was speaking those great things about the Father, and Himself, and the Holy Ghost, He was using His human mind and His human lips. In the midst of His human disciples, He, the Son of the human Virgin, could open His mouth and affirm: The Paraclete, who proceeds from the Father, I will send to you. And those men, who had learned that the outpouring long promised was of the spirit of God, might question and say: The Paraclete! Is He not God? Yes, He is God. And you will send Him? Even so, for I am God. “Have I been so long a time with you, and have you not known Me?”
To know with steady clearness the present God, was not in the compass of the disciples’ troubled existence; nor is it of ours. Yet, as they were ready, when called on, to acknowledge His Divinity, so must we be ready to show it forth, to bear witness to it. His words, which we read to-day, are, if taken rightly, its most solemn affirmation.
He not only sends, as He declares, the Paraclete from the Father, but He sends Him for His own purpose. “He shall give testimony of Me” expresses the divine aim of the third Person’s mission: He, Spirit of Truth, shall bear witness to Me, the Truth. And here we are reminded of the Lord’s own mission as He stated it before even the unbelieving Pilate: “For this was I born, and for this came I into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth.” Presently, the Holy Ghost is coming to give us testimony of Him who is indeed our truth, as well as our Way and our Life.
God bearing witness to God is, of course, natural. But how glorious is it not to the Son of Man? In His humble Humanity He would not prematurely glorify Himself; as Man He even said: “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing.” When the hour was come, there was One to whom He could say: “And now, glorify Me, O Father, with Thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was made, with Thee.”
The incredulous Jews had tried to take away His glory, had effectually dishonored Him by rejecting His authentic message. What was more painful to His Sacred Humanity, they had dishonored His father whose words He was delivering: “He who honors not the Son, honors not the Father who has sent Him.” Even the works which His Father did in Him, by which, at His Mother’s request, He began the manifesting of His glory, they would not believe. Rather, they blasphemously attributed those Divine works to the power of satan. But now, the Spirit of Truth is about to make such manifestations, to give such testimony of the Lord and His Gospel, that rejection or denial must be morally impossible; only those determined to die in their sin can continue their opposition to the Christ of the Lord, God blessed forever.
In another week, my brethren, we shall be commemorating the first great conversions to the faith of Christ and His Church. We shall be exulting in the might of the spirit that hurried the multitudes to belief in the Lord of Glory, even in Him whom they themselves had crucified. We shall see in magnificent exercise the commission He gave to teach not only Israel but all nations, when men of every clime will gather to Peter and John and the others, to hear the Apostolic announcements and commands. This comes of the testimony borne to the Son of Mary by the Holy Ghost; this is the first and the main fruit of the Promise sent us from the Father. Oh! That we be prepared to accept and transmit this testimony, to receive the Gospel of the grace of God and prove that we have received it not in vain!
B – “You shall give testimony, because you are with Me from the beginning,” is the second part of our text. The words are of high promise and convey wondrous truths concerning the Lord’s disciples. They have also a clear application to all members of His mystical Body, the Church, and so must concern ourselves. To co-operate with God is the glory of His creatures. It is a glory which in some degree may be found wherever there is free action. But to co-operate in His mysteries of grace, in His revelations and communications of Himself, is necessarily the most sublime of our grandeurs. The excess of Divine goodness is reached when He uses us as if Had had need of us. “You shall give testimony of Me,” as though our testimony mattered to Him who is he splendor of the Father’s glory.
When His infinite authority, His infinite excellence, had to be affirmed in all independence of earthly cavil, He once Divinely said: “But I receive not testimony from man . . . I have a greater testimony . . . The Father himself who hath sent Me, has given testimony of Me.” He afterwards made the disciple of His Bosom add: “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater. For this is the testimony of God, which is greater, because He hath testified of His son” (I. J. v,9). Yet to the men whom He commissioned to carry His Name to the ends of the earth, He vouchsafed to say: “You shall give testimony.”
We may well ask, dear brethren, how the Apostles could receive so Divine a mission, and, still more, how we can have any such mission ourselves. They had it through the Holy Ghost whom the Lord breathed into them, who came upon them life fire, and dwelt in them abidingly. “He shall abide with you, and shall be in you,” was the promise of power to evangelize. It was He, the Father’s Spirit, that was to speak in them when they bore testimony to the Son. In the coming Pentecost we shall be reminded of their eagerness and boldness in proclaiming the power of the Lord’s name, the truth of His resurrection, the grace of His Gospel. The tongues of fire will be resistless; the message will have to be heard. There was included in the promise: “He shall give testimony of Me, and you shall give testimony,” that those heralds of the Faith should speak by the Holy Ghost. The account of their early preaching accords with the prediction, for it is written: ”With great power did the Apostles give testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, and great grace was in them all (Acts iv, 33). Happy mouthpieces of the Paraclete! Happy witnesses to the Son of Man!
By grace, my brethren, we too give our testimony. Wherever there is true faith and the corresponding good works there is witness borne that Jesus is indeed the Savior, that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who has come into this world. Without Him we could do nothing Christian; only by His spirit do we show forth His truth. In this consists the apostolic, the sacerdotal royalty of every simple Catholic life.
Very strikingly do the Apostles identify the profession and practice of Christianity with the testimony of Christ. Their work consists in declaring that testimony; their exhortation is to be not ashamed of it. Their brethren are they, “who have the testimony of Jesus!’ the same are they who are the children of the woman clothed with the sun, and who keep the commandments of God (Apoc. xii, 17). The supreme test of fidelity was recognized in those who were “slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held,” who were “beheaded for the testimony of Jesus.” But the common life of the faithful Catholic, the every-day struggle to save one’s own soul, can testify to God and His truth most effectually and meritoriously.
The Apostle could write to his favorite disciple: “Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art called, and hast confessed a good confession before many witnesses.” He even implies a comparison of such practical testifying with the suffering Lord’s witnessing to the truth: “Who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate, a good confession” (I. Tim. vii, 13).
All real following of Christ demands the martyr spirit. It imposes the obligation of confessing; it calls for courage and endurance in giving testimony. Being with Christ in daily life is the way to escape denying Him. “You shall give testimony,” He says in the Gospel of to-day, “because you are with Me from the beginning.” The words can, indeed, be taken to signify that His disciples knew, as He said at His trial, all His teachings. Being with Him from the beginning of His sacred ministry, they could bear witness to His words and actions. But their fitness to give a testimony to Him, in any sense like the Holy Ghost’s testimony, was brought about by their loving intercourse with Him in the conduct of life. To be intelligently and morally with Christ, is the quick way to be holy, to be heroic.
Just in the Novena for Pentecost which we are now making, there was shown, when it was first observed, the happy result of keeping company with the Lord. In the Cenacle, where the disciples were persevering in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus, St. Peter proposed the choosing of a witness to replace the traitor. No time was to be lost in filling the first vacancy in the Apostolic College. The conditions of the election – which may have been held on this very day – are instructive and can serve to illustrate our present subject. The new Pontiff, who had risen in the midst of his brethren, authoritatively said: “Wherefore, of these men who have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus came in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day wherein He was taken up from us, one of these must be made a witness with us of His resurrection.” So, the going in and out with the Lord was the blessed training that rendered the disciple fit to be an Apostle, even to be a testimony bearer with the Holy Ghost. Mathias, on whom the happy lot fell, testified by his virtues as well as by his preaching. He finally gave his life for Him in whose adorable company he had been transformed and sanctified.
But some one may be saying that Judas also was with the Lord from the beginning. The wretch had, indeed, been long counted in the chosen twelve; but, morally, with the Lord he never was. He did not believe. Of a quite early period it is written: “Jesus knew from the beginning, who they were that did not believe, and who he was that would betray Him . . . This same (Judas Iscariot) was about to betray Him, whereas he was one of the twelve” (J. vi, 65, 72).
The fearful exception, my brethren, but serves to enforce the rule. We have to be thoroughly with Christ, most and first by sound belief, if we would truly confess Him, if we would hear our glorious testimony. On that condition the Church may be heard insisting in to-day’s office. She brings before us the Lord’s own declaration that God is light and that in Him there is no darkness. Then follows the warning: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He also is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.”
One of her great doctors is also put forward to tell us that our vices alone can exclude us from the company of Christ. Who would think otherwise? While He was among men, demons had to flee at His approach; so had sin, if the sinners would remain with Him. He to whom we cling, as our God and Redeemer, is taken up from us, and we would follow Him. Holy church lifts our mind to heaven and encourages us to hope for the day when we can ascend there even in body. But, again she warns. Your pride will not ascend with Christ, says the lesson; your avarice will not ascend, nor your licentiousness. Your sins are your fetters: throw them away and be free to follow your glorified Savior. With Him the spirit of Truth and Holiness placed you, in the beginnings of Catholic virtue; to Him the same Spirit will unite you in never-ending felicity.
Conclude, dearest brethren, in the abounding graces of this most sacred season, to be fully worthy of your supernal vocation in Christ Jesus. Be mindful of your privileges, alive to your opportunities. The most divine of works is easily within your reach, its rewards beyond all computing. The grandeur of bearing testimony to the Christ of God, by our Christian life, might well be its own recompense; but there remains the glorification of His bearing testimony to us. Realize His assurance, comprehensive and individual: “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God. . . . Every one that shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” Acknowledged as His, as worthily His, acknowledged in the sight of the blessed angels, of the Virgin mother, of the Eternal Father, shall we all be, because we shall have been faithful to Him in the grace of His Holy Spirit. Amen.