Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

‘Ut gaudium sit plenum’: a Homily for the Fifth Sunday after the Octave of Easter

Ask and you shall receive, so that your joy may be full (John 16).

For the third, fourth, and now fifth Sundays after the octave of Easter, the Church has been lingering with ch 16 of St John’s Gospel. (I do not know enough about the lectionary cycle to know whether this is common or rare, but it is worth noting.) It is nevertheless fitting, because on the Ascension the Church reads from ch 17 of St John, wherein Our Lord concludes his great high priestly prayer before entering his Passion.

But this brief passage of today’s Gospel—‘Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full’—is the Magnificat antiphon for Vespers this evening. As the sun declines in the west, this is the text that will be prayed. And we do well to linger over it a moment.—Imagine that Our Lord is concerned for the joy of his disciples. Imagine that, as he is about to enter the bitterest hours of his life, he is concerned with the joy of those he has chosen. Ut gaudium vestrum sit plenum. 

Now it is well that he should have said this precisely because he was about to enter his Passion: because his Apostles would have to rehearse and teach and reproduce this Passion to the ends of their own lives. And the Catholics which these Apostles would raise up would also have to linger with and rehearse and learn and reproduce this Passion in their lives as well. And so, knowing our weakness, knowing that, without the aid of grace, the mystery of the Passion would be too much for us, he prays that our joy may be full.

No, dear friends, the Catholic Thing is not all drudgery and danger. In fact, that is not even the half of it. Because in one sense, there is nothing eternal about the trials that we currently undergo in this life. It is true that our suffering is meant to detach, empty, and purify us; but the everlasting thing is not the suffering, but the grace—not the things that make us suffer, but the work that is done in us while we suffer.

This is why David can say in the second Psalm, with a certain mocking contempt: 

Why have the gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ. . . . He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them: and the Lord shall deride them.[1]

Thus, dear friends, never be discouraged; it is one of the deadliest things in the spiritual life. In fact, you have no right to it: for Our Lord has prayed for your joy. And what a sacrilege it would be to oppose that prayer in any way. 

To this end, do not let Pentecost pass you by unthinkingly. One of the names we use for the Holy Ghost is Consoler. And so he is. Our Lord infuses the action of his Church with the fire of the Holy Ghost, indeed, in order to console us and to give us joy—even now. And remember that one of the fruits of the Holy Ghost is joy.[2] In order for our joy to be completely full, it is true enough, we will have to wait to see Christ face-to-face. But when a new day begins to rise, the sun does not come up all at once: you get a brown glow first, and then a pale yellow and orange and red, and it climbs upward; and then comes the vibrating neon magenta just as the sun breaks over the hills, and then color returns to the earth again and morning shadows shrink as the sun mounts higher to midday.

Joy is like that, and the Holy Ghost is there to give it. Take seriously the Pentecost novena this year, friends, which begins on Ascension Thursday. I think we must do this, because it is precisely how Our Lord’s prayer will be accomplished in us. 


[1] Psalm 2, i-ii, iv.

[2] Cf Galatians 5, xxii and STh Ia IIæ, Q 70.

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