Before his Passion and Death Jesus told the disciples that “A little while, and ye shall not see Me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see Me, because I go to the Father.” John xvi. 16.
How is it that the Lord leaves and yet a little while longer he comes? Does he come in the Holy Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit take the place of Christ? In a sermon for Easter, Blessed Newman explains to us the meaning of these words.
“(…) we have lost the sensible and conscious perception of Him; we cannot look on Him, hear Him, converse with Him, follow Him from place to place; but we enjoy the spiritual, immaterial, inward, mental, real sight and possession of Him; a possession more real and more present than that which the Apostles had in the days of His flesh, because it is spiritual, because it is invisible.”
By faith in Jesus’ words and through the testimony of the first disciples we know that Christ rose from the dead and appeared to them, but after some weeks he ascended into heaven. The disciples then lost the visible presence of Christ. But, as Newman explains, they gained an “inward, immaterial presence.”
Newman gives us a reason why we fail to perceive Christ’s presence: “We know that the closer any object of this world comes to us, the less we can contemplate it and comprehend it. Christ has come so close to us in the Christian Church (if I may so speak), that we cannot gaze on Him or discern Him. He enters into us, He claims and takes possession of His purchased inheritance; He does not present Himself to us, but He takes us to Him.”
As Jesus had promised to the disciples this new presence of Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes Christ present to Christians. Jesus’ real presence is not replaced by the Holy Spirit, rather, in his coming Christ also comes to the believer. This is the meaning of Jesus’ words: “… and again, a little while, and ye shall see Me.”
Newman discourses on whether the Holy Spirit comes to supply Christ’s absence, or to accomplish His presence. And he tells us: “Surely to make Him present. Let us not for a moment suppose that God the Holy Ghost comes in such sense that God the Son remains away. No; He has not so come that Christ does not come, but rather He comes that Christ may come in His coming. Through the Holy Ghost we have communion with Father and Son.”
The Church teaches us of Christ’s sacramental presence: body, blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. This presence is usually referred to as a real and substantial presence. Jesus is no longer confined in his human body to one location on earth. In his risen body he is present in the tabernacles throughout the world.
But our Lord has wished to remain in another real and hidden manner: in the soul of each believer in the state of grace. In the Easter season the Church invites all to exercise the virtue of faith in this presence.
Do you try to recognize this presence? Do you converse with Christ at different times of the day, aside from those formal times dedicated to prayer? Foster a greater awareness of Jesus who is risen and alive. Hear him address you as he did the apostles: “Peace be with you.”
Christ wishes to live in our soul and to fill it with a deep abiding peace which surpasses all human peace.