By Paul J. Ashton, Psy.D., D.Min.
Consultant to the VIRTUS® Programs
“Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
—John 20: 19-23
“Peace be with you!” Jesus tells his petrified and fear-filled disciples huddled in that upper room. With his greeting of Shalom he grants them a mighty blessing—one that is filled with the fullness of everything that Shalom means—to be complete, perfect, and full! (Strong's Concordance 7965) What a blessing! Jesus knows well the anxiety and fear that has paralyzed the disciples and his mother Mary. They witnessed the horrors of his suffering and death, and they live in an aftermath of fear. They need him and feel lost without him. Now he comes to them and gives them the mighty blessing of fullness; he breathes his own spirit of love on them. Jesus came for them, and for us, to liberate us from this upper room that is filled with anxiety and fear.
Sometimes, the cost to move to a place of full peace is overwhelming, and it seems less threatening to remain in anxiety and fear. We, like those first disciples, can be paralyzed and continue to dwell in a traumatic experience—fearful to move beyond what we know and feel is comfortable—even if it is anything but comfortable.
Jesus empowers his disciples to move from that room of fear and go out and to spread his Good News. With the power of his Spirit they are moved to go beyond themselves—free to continue spreading his message of peace, Shalom, and love. In our glorious tradition, we too, are empowered, generation-to-generation, to move beyond our fear and to accept the mission of the Church—to complete on earth the great task that Jesus began for us. In the intimate act of Jesus breathing the gift of his Spirit and Love on each of his disciples, we also take up the great charge of Love—not so much Love as a feeling, but as understanding, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and goodness. By doing so, we embrace for ourselves the path which leads us out of our own personal traumas and fears.
So many of us are trapped in our own upper rooms, refusing to leave the safety of the world we have created for ourselves—painful as it might be. We are filled with fear and doubt and are reluctant to take the steps needed to love ourselves fully—so fully that we forgive ourselves, accept who we are in all of our brokenness, and move toward to forgive others and spread the good news to help others break free from their fear.
Bernard Lonergan, SJ said that, “The entrance to Faith is doubt.” In this belief we find ourselves, like Mary and those first disciples, desperately wanting the peace that Jesus brings, wanting to feel the fullness of Shalom, and knowing again what it feels like to be whole—without agitation or discord. There are many who are still hiding or lost, many even sitting lost among us, remaining unengaged. They experience fear so great that they are silenced, continuing to dwell in their interior upper rooms, tormented and demeaned. Even the doubt that they need to begin the process makes it inaccessible to them. When they do speak, it is often in anger, with words that are difficult to hear—words that often speak of dark feelings. When we hold our hands out to them as disciples of Jesus, we are not rebuked by their angry, fearful words and rebuttal. We move, instead, toward the fearful because we know two things—this is the call of Jesus, and that we too have been in this same dark place, and it is only by his grace that we have been freed.
Christ suffered, died, and rose for all of us. In every Christian act we undertake, we acknowledge that Christ is dependent on his Church, and we are dependent on him. Every living person has the right, by our inheritance directly from Jesus, to be free to live in the wholeness of Shalom, in the clear light of day, living, loving, and embracing a life of freedom and endless possibilities.
Experience has taught us that this is not easy—embracing the call of evangelization can be overwhelming in the face of ignorance and fear turned to hatred, but from every bad thing comes goodness. Here’s an example of such goodness: the story tells that following World War II some German students volunteered to rebuild an English cathedral damaged by the Luftwaffe bombings. The work came to a successful end with everyone very pleased and encouraged—all but for a large statue of Jesus in front of the cathedral with his arms outstretched. The hands of statue were broken off and all attempts to restore them failed. At the base of the statue read his message, “All come unto me.” In the end, they decided to leave the statue handless, but changed the inscription below to read: "Christ has no hands but ours."
These words, from the prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila, sum up beautifully the work that Jesus is dependent on us to accomplish. May her words become ours:
You have no body on earth but ours,
No hands but ours,
No feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which your compassion must look out on the world.
Ours are the feet by which you may still go about doing good.
Ours are the hands in which you bless people now.
Bless our minds and bodies, that we may be a blessing to others.