A reflection on the readings for May 7, 2023, the Fifth Sunday of Easter.
An experience that Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J., had with Saint Teresa of Calcutta can help us to reflect on our desire for clarity, and God’s invitation to trust. Long ago, Fr. Kavanaugh worked at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying Destitutes in Calcutta, seeking a clear answer to his future.
“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.”
She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
He was asking Mother Teresa to pray for clarity and certainty about his plans for his future. Her response to Fr. Kavanaugh likely raises a question for us, just as it did for him: Is God in the business of offering us clarity and certainty? Perhaps not, as the Gospel reveals to us today.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus has predicted his death, finished the Last Supper, and is about to leave the disciples. So far, their life of discipleship has been good: they have traveled, preached, and lived a life free of worries. They have basked in glory with Jesus and enjoyed the praises of people following them. According to the apostles, everything is moving toward fulfillment.
Yet suddenly Jesus is predicting His death—and even seems to be focused on leaving them.
The disciples are now worried and confused. Their dreams are crumbling right in front of their eyes. Where will they go and how will they start their lives all over again? Things are changing—too fast.
The disciples understandably want clarity and certainty. They want a sure path forward with unchanging plans. Hence, Thomas asks, ‘”Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father and that is enough for us” (14:8). They want a definite plan, clear path, specific direction, and finite destination.
Jesus seems least interested in giving them this clarity. He simply tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” (14:1-2).
When they seek reassurance, Jesus gives them more confusing words. Instead of a specific plan, He offers himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:6). The only thing He asks them—and us—is to be firm in Him.
He is the way. He is the only certainty. Only in Him can we find clarity.
Ancient Greeks warned us more than 2,500 years ago with an inscription on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Central Greece, “Surety brings ruin”. As Voltaire put it in the 18th century, “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”
We would often prefer Christianity to be a rule book of “do’s and don’ts,” with clear, precise directions. But is God a clear book of certainty? No, God is messy. He operates in grey areas. When the Angel Gabriel told Mother Mary that she would be the mother of God’s Son, God did not give her a blueprint. There was no clarity or certainty for her. The path ahead was confusing, running from Israel to Egypt and back. In fact, Mary did not understand a lot of things, she “…kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
We sometimes want to be certain that God will make our faith easy, provide answers to our doubts, perform miracles, and directly and clearly reveal His plan for us. But the world and life in it are unpredictable. Life throws unexpected challenges at us all the time. Welcome to being human. Confusion will continue and established order will elude, both in our lives and often in the Church.
Jesus refuses to be defined by that book of “do’s and don’ts.” The lack of clarity we often experience is part of learning to trust. Fortunately, He does not offer any of the certainty we so desire. He instead offers us only His presence.
All Jesus asks is that we trust Him. The only promise He makes is that there are many mansions in the Father’s house, and that He has prepared them for us.
“You have faith in God; have faith also in me,” is all that Jesus asks today (John 14:1). He asks us not to base our life on certainties, clarity, and definite plans, but on Himself and the Father.
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Fr. Fredrick Devaraj comes from India. He was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists of Bangalore Province. Now he is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri, serving at St. Alban Roe Catholic Church.