In my work as a priest, people often tell me about spiritual experiences that they have had: sometimes they are experiences of the Lord in some way, sometimes of someone who has died, asking for prayers or something like that. Quite a large number of people do in fact have spiritual experiences. However, often after a time people begin to wonder did they really have these experiences, or was it all in their imagination. Of course it is really impossible to know, and in one way it is even not important. Usually the experience will have helped them, and the rest is irrelevant.
In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles—or the ‘adventures’ of the Apostles, as you might call them—Luke tells us how after Jesus rose from the dead he continued to appear to the Apostles. Not just once, but many times. Why? Probably to convince them that they had not imagined it. One thing that he did on at least two occasions was to eat something with them. The first time when he appeared to them in the room, they were all standing there speechless, and he said ‘do you have anything here to eat?’ So they gave him a piece of fish and he ate it in front of them. Then they knew it was not just a vision, but a real person, the same real person they had known before. It was not even food that Jesus had with him, which could also have been part of a vision, but it was something they gave him and then they watched him chew it and swallow it. This was a beautiful and very human thing to do; something that we could completely relate to.
Luke also says that he not only appeared to them, but he also continued to tell them about ‘the Kingdom.’ What is ‘the Kingdom?’ What was he telling them about? I have no doubt that he was telling them about the reality of heaven: the life with God which He has created us for; that it is real and that we could also lose it if we are foolish. There we will be reunited with the people we love and we will experience happiness there in a way that we can not even begin to imagine now. He was probably also explaining to them what the purpose of his life was on earth, why he had to suffer and die the way he did, what all this meant for the human race; God’s plan for his people. Also he probably told them that he had a lot of work for them to do and that they must remember that their life here on earth was a time of service and not to worry if things were not easy, because when their work here was done he would bring them home to be with him again. Why do you think they were suddenly able to go out and start preaching to everyone about a man that most people had never heard of before? And not only preach about him for a while, but for the rest of their lives with passion. I think nearly all of them ended up being martyred, but they didn’t care, because they knew that the only thing that was important was to be faithful to the Lord Jesus as best they could.
Why am I telling you all this? Because the same thing exactly applies to us. The Apostles were real people and these are real experiences that we are reading about. Our life on earth is just as short as theirs was and it is also a time of service, just as theirs was. For most of you it will be serving by looking after your families. For single people and also for priests and religious it will be in a slightly different way. But that is why we are here, to learn to love, to serve, to freely choose for or against God. However, I think it is also worth remembering that we are living in a time when people are very cynical about religion, and they point to the scandals as being 'proof' of just how hypocritical the whole thing is. We must not let that put us off. It has always been difficult to believe and probably always will be, but we must ask the Lord himself to help us to persevere and not become negative or cynical. And when our time here is complete God will come and bring us home. I have no doubt that this is probably what Jesus was telling the Apostles about for those forty days. He wanted them to have no doubt about why they were here, so that we also could have a good understanding of our purpose here, through their teaching.
You might say, ‘but it is too difficult', or 'not realistic', or 'too hard to believe.’ God has given us every possible help that we could ask for. If it seems too difficult it is only because we are not using the help that He has given us. What help? Above all, the Eucharist; the word of God; in the Scriptures, confession, etc. It is all there waiting for us. The clearer a picture we have in our own heads as to what our life is about, the easier it is to keep going. That is also why we needn’t be afraid of anything in this world. If we offer ourselves to God, then why should we be afraid. All things are in his hands.
I am going now to prepare a place for you
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you to myself (Jn 14:3).