[Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; Daniel 3; 2Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18]
When I visit a parish, I am often met with some questioning looks. The question behind the facial expression is usually along the lines of: “What’s he doing here? There must be some reason. Is he here to bring bad news?” Let me assure you that the reason I’m here is simply that I want to be here. I love to be with parishioners, to experience something of their parish life and activities, to make sure the priest is still going to church, and so on.
Our scriptural texts for this mass are all about the reason for a visit. At the heart of Christianity stands the astounding truth that God has visited his people! He did so by sending to us His Son, who assumed our human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God visited us by becoming one like us.
In the Gospel text, Jesus himself gives the reason for the visit: “God so loved the world…” Moved by His infinite love for the people and world He created, God has come to us in Jesus, to be with us, to share in our lives, and let us know how much we are loved by Him.
Continuing with the biblical readings, we can see that God also has some particular purposes in mind by sending His Son. The first is to save us from sin. “God so loved the world,” Jesus says, “that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God sent His Son into the world to save his people from sin that brings death, from the power of the evil One, so that we might live with God forever in heaven, a mission Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection.
Within this saving action of Jesus, we are able to discern another purpose of God’s visit, namely, so that He could reveal Himself to us, make Himself known. When I visit a parish, often I will hear someone say, “Oh, that’s what you’re like!” The more we spend time with people, the more we get to know them and realize what they’re like. As the Church has “spent time” with Jesus, beginning with the apostles who were his eye-witnessers, and then the community of disciples as a whole pondering prayerfully the words and deeds of Jesus, she became aware of the wondrous truth of God’s very being. God had already led the ancient Hebrews, our ancestors in the faith, to the realization that there is only one God, not a multiplicity of gods. Moreover, as we hear God reveal to Moses in the first reading, this one God is tender, merciful, and desirous to be with His people. Yet, as the Church with the help of grace reflected on what they had heard and seen in Jesus – the wonder of the Incarnation, his constant reference and prayer to his Father in heaven, his self-identification as God’s Son, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension to his Father and subsequent sending from heaven the gift of the Holy Spirit – what dawned upon her was the awareness that God has revealed Himself in Jesus as, yes, one God, but at the same time a Trinity of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the great and wondrous mystery that we celebrate and ponder in today’s mass.
As we do, a third reason for God’s visit emerges, and that is to reveal to us a wonderful truth about ourselves. If God is a perfect communion of persons, that means that God needs nothing. Therefore, if God has created us, it is not because He needed to do so. It can only be because he wanted to. We live because God wants us to live. We exist because we are wanted by God, loved by God, and in the eyes of God, necessary. How many people there are today who have lost any sense of life’s meaning or purpose! How great in number are those who think they do not matter, that they do not count for anything! We are immersed today in a world marked by a utilitarian mindset – I matter, I count, only to the degree that I can do something useful, that I can contribute something judged by others to be of value. I worry in particular about the many young people who are tempted to despair, because they draw conclusions from social media messaging that they are not beautiful enough, smart enough, or talented enough to count or be noticed. The mystery of the Trinity puts the lie to all of that. We do not have to do or achieve anything to be loved by God. We are loved, we matter, simply because we exist.
What is more, we matter so much to God that he wants to be in relationship with us. God, perfect in Himself, has visited us in His Son in order to free us from all that separates us from Him, and continues to visit us in the gift of the Holy Spirit so as to draw us into his own life! This is why we are alive. Knowing this fills us with the assurance that our lives are always of great value regardless of circumstance. From this awareness springs real hope, the one sure antidote to the despair that is far too prevalent in our day.
My visit to the parish is for two days, and then I leave for Edmonton. God’s visitation does not end. Jesus has promised to remain with us forever, to love us, care for us, guide us, save us, and lead us home to the Father. Nowhere is he more wondrously present than here in the Eucharist. He visits us here because he loves us and wants us to know the saving power of that love. Let us once again welcome his visit with open hearts and minds, so that we might always live in the hope that only his visitation can give.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Blessed Sacrament Parish, Wainwright, Alberta
June 4th, 2023