Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”
In the Irish language there are two different verbs for ‘ask’. If you are asking a question, the word is ‘fiafraím’; if you are asking for anything else (help, for example), it is ‘iarraim’. It is the same with the final verse of today’s reading. Two different Greek verbs are translated as ‘ask’. One, ‘erotao’, is used for asking questions; the other, ‘aiteo’, usually refers to petitions. It is not as watertight a distinction as in Irish, but the idea is the same.
‘On that day you will ask (erotao) nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask (aiteo) anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.’ Paraphrasing this we could say, “When you see me again you won't be full of questions, you will be doing something: you will be interceding with the Father in my presence.” Any teacher in any school will tell you how quickly a religion class disintegrates into a debate, and further into a shouting match. It is much easier to talk about something than to take it to heart or to do it. Talking is often a substitute for doing.
A 19th-century British Prime Minister, William Lamb, once famously remarked, on hearing an evangelical sermon, “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life.” One way to avoid the challenge of religion is to keep it out there in the public sphere, along with ceremonies like the Changing of the Guard. Another very successful way, paradoxically, is just the opposite, and it seems to be the preferred one today: make it so private that you no more need to give an account of it than you do of your circulation or your digestion.
But the Faith is something you do in the first place, and afterwards talk about if you must. “I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” An adherence to the Faith that is not also an adherence to prayer – Liturgy and informal prayer – and to service of others, is only talk. Oscar Wilde said that talking was the only form of exercise he ever took. Spoken like a Christian!
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