Bishop Michael Vono and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

Peace I leave you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

– John 14:27

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I am writing these reflections to you from The Roslyn Retreat Centre in Virginia where I have gathered with my fellow third-year Bishops. We are concluding a course of education and formation as new Bishops, which is designed to better equip us for Episcopal Ministry. I have learned much these past three years, and realize that I will continue to learn Christ’s ministry along with all of you in the Diocese of the Rio Grande. Thanks be to God.

During these early weeks of this season after Pentecost, I have been reflecting on a teaching a wise spiritual director once said to me: “The voices we listen to and the direction we choose will determine where we will go.” Which voices, or better still, whose voice, do we choose to listen to? Whose voice do you hear in the solitude of your heart, mind and soul? Is it your own voice or the Lord’s voice?

The Church’s story, the account of a strange communal awakening, reveals the singular voice of the divine Spirit. Surprisingly perhaps, it is this same Spirit that can awaken our souls and turn us in a new direction to build an unimagined and unexpected community of faith. Listening for the Spirit’s voice provides many unique challenges in our 21st century technological age. How do we attune our souls to listen? How do we know the true voice, the voice that his sheep know when they hear it? Jesus teaches that we will know his voice, and we will choose to follow.

As this long season now unfolds for Christian believers, one can only wonder what the world might be like if the Church’s boldly proclaimed faith of the Easter reality were to fully replace the present anxieties of our secular and religious uncertainties, self-assuredness, complex controversies, and contemporary differences. What keeps you up at night? What would make you sleep better? Consider how daily life and living would be radically altered if we took seriously and literally Jesus’ saying: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.” (John 14:1) I ask you to consider the spiritual mandate given to us when Jesus said to his followers: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22). As described in John’s account, the Spirit is given on the same the day his disciples discovered the empty tomb.

St. John’s Gospel (20:19) records that “…on the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the door being shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” This Gospel account reveals that the glorious morning of the Resurrection event quickly gave way to a crippling fear as the darkening evening hours approached. The disciples certainly must have been confounded with mixed emotions that weekend. They disbelieved that Jesus again would stand among them as he had promised. We can only imagine the confusion. Imagine how ecstatic they must have been, while still with a questioning joy, upon hearing the news of the women that the tomb was empty as Jesus promised. Imagine how cautiously fearful they must have been knowing that they were also in grave danger of being caught and perhaps hurt or killed simply because they were followers of Jesus.

Into that darkened room and chaotic, fearful time, Jesus quietly and suddenly appeared to his huddled desperate followers and said, “Peace is with you.” “Peace” is what Jesus said. By this

personal encounter he encouraged them to disengage from themselves and from their trusted logic, their doubts and conclusions. He simply said receive the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine what this experience might have been like if you had been there. How engaged or disengaged would you have been? Would you have been able to let go of your personal beliefs, your logical conclusions that dead people, for example, do not return to life and make visits? Good question for all of us. Imagine how your whole life would have changed. Could you disengage in order to be fully engaged with Christ Risen, listening and seeing with your soul, and not your person?

God’s presence already is breathed into us, and is made known with visible and audible manifestations. Listen carefully to everyone, and look more closely at the world through your spiritual senses, and not merely your physical ones. Christ already has overcome the world, and we lovingly are redeemed. To be engaged in spiritual listening and seeing, you must first disengage not only from yourself, but from your gravity-stricken ego, which insists it knows the whole truth, and even the mind of God. We must empty ourselves in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Reflect, for a moment, on how each one of us, as well as the whole world, yearns for the divine presence, peace and grace that comes from God. It is a peace that Holy Scripture says passes our human understanding and yet mysteriously embraces our whole being, our hearts and souls, enabling us “to be” in the life-giving presence of the living God. God created our senses, both physical and spiritual, so that we are able to both feel and sense the very person of God as Spirit.

Can we doubt that the Lord stands before us each day? I believe that as we live into the life and teachings of Christ, this divine peace not only calms us, but also strengthens us in times of personal weakness and uncertainty. No wonder St. John tells us “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” They were empowered with unlimited courage and a strong confident desire to trust and speak openly about the life, death and resurrection of their Lord. They no longer were afraid of telling others what they knew, and what they believed.

You and I live in an uncertain and fearful age, just as the first disciples did. There are all kinds of fears to be sure: fear of war, fear of terrorists, fear of intolerance, fear of illness, fear of racism, fear of rejection, fear of making mistakes or getting it wrong, and so on. Name your own fear. What keeps you up at night? It is only by the gift of the Resurrection that the Spirit enables us to overcome and conquer any of these paralyzing fears. Only God’s holy and life-giving Spirit can break every barrier that inhibits our public witness to God’s Resurrection in our lives, in the Church and in our world. The gift of both Easter and Pentecost received by the Church strengthens us to live out our faith with more boldness and confidence in a world that can intimidate us.

Just as Christ’s presence that evening motivated the disciples to leave their hiding place and disengage from their personal (un)certainties and doubts, so may the presence of the Risen Lord move the Church in our own time from often silent complacency to the boldness of proclaiming the message of God’s love and peace. Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. … Peace be with you. My Peace do I give you.”

May this peace be with each one of us in the Diocese of the Rio Grande as we listen to the voice and directions of the Holy Spirit. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe that Jesus is truly among us, leading the way.

Abundant Pentecost Blessings remain with you,

Your Bishop +Michael

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