In the Gospel today we hear that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He draws us out of darkness and into a wonderful light as St. Peter said in the second reading. Libraries have been written about this statement. And two millennia of saints have meditated upon this statement and lived it. And I have an example of one of those saints, St. Francis Borgia. St Francis Borgia discovered the infinite and eternal true way of Christ while at the very same time discovering how finite and fragile the way of human greatness really is. Sometimes in paintings or statues St. Francis Borgia is shown holding a skull with a crown on top of it. Meaning Human greatness, human royalty always comes to an end.
St Francis Borgia lived in the 1500s and eventually he would become the second Superior General of the Jesuit Order. He took over right after the founder St. Ignatius of Loyola had died. His spectacular leadership laid the groundwork for that Order’s truly remarkable achievements. But until he was 40-years-old, he wasn’t overly concerned about Christ and the Church, and living in the ways of Jesus. Instead, he lived the brilliant and dashing life of a Spanish nobleman. Francis Borgia was the grandson of a Pope on one side of his family and the grandson of a King on the other side of his family. He was a cousin to the ruling Emperor. Francis was well connected, well-educated and he grew up enjoying the privileges of royalty living in Spain’s golden age. He was extremely gifted with intelligence, courage, and all the natural virtues, and was one of the most trusted Imperial advisers. He was also a close friend and advisor to the Empress Isabel, one of Europe’s greatest women. Isabel was intelligent, very wise, beautiful, and loved by all.
By his nature, his education, and his circumstances, Francis Borgia had a great future ahead of him, a great future within the worldly life of the royal court. But all of that changed abruptly when the Empress died. After her death Francis was asked to escort the body of Isabel to the city of Grenada where she was to be buried. It was a long and hot and dusty journey to Grenada. At the city gates this cortege was met by the magistrates and they wanted to confirm the identity of the cadaver. And so they opened the coffin. But it had been such a long and hot journey that when they looked at the queen’s face they didn’t recognize it. Her face had become so bloated and disfigured that no one could recognize it. And the stench of the decaying body was so foul that everyone fled from the chamber. Francis was in shock: he asked himself what had become of those intelligent eyes, what had become of her elegance and charm, her wit, the sweetness of her laughter? It was all gone.
For the first time, Francis really understood how fragile and passing this life is. One day she was Queen of Spain and Holy Roman Empress, revered and envied throughout the world, with unlimited wealth and power at her beck and call; and the next day, she was a repulsive, putrefying corpse. That’s when St Francis Borgia began to think seriously about what Christ had really meant when he claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, the conqueror of death and the source of eternal life.
From ancient times, philosophers have summed up the human condition as a quest to answer three fundamental questions:
1. What should I do?
2. What can I know?
3. What can I hope for?
And today in response to doubting Thomas, Jesus gives us the definitive answer to each one of these questions when he tells us that he is the way,
the truth, and the life. Actually, Jesus doesn’t just give the answers as so much as he is the answers. “I am the way” can translate into: “What should you do? And our Lord answers Follow me! Do what I have done.”
“I am the truth” means: “What can you know? And our Lord answers, you can know everything, if only you know me. “Knowing me, more and more every day, you know the secret behind the workings of the whole universe and the deepest yearnings of the human heart, because I made them both. I am the eternal Word, the very Wisdom of God.”
“I am the life” means: “What can you hope for? And our Lord answers, in me, through me, you can hope for the fullness of life that you long for in the very depths of your soul. “You can hope for your very own room in my Father’s house, in heaven – I have gone to prepare it for you. This room made especially and uniquely for you is within the heart of the Father. A place of great tenderness and intimacy, a bliss unimaginable here on earth. “And in the Father’s house all sorrows turn to joy, all weakness turns to strength, and life grows more alive as eternity unfolds.
Christ is truly the living water that quenches every thirst. He is truly the light that scatters every type of darkness. The quest of every man and woman to satisfy the heart’s deepest needs is the quest to seek his face. As St Augustine famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” And he added, “So cling to Christ if you wish to be secure, if you cling to Christ you will not get off the road, you will not get off the way, because he is the way. And those who hold onto him are not walking off the road but on the right road.”
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley