A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while and you will see me.—St. John 16:16
John 16 is one of the most intimate chapters of the New Testament. Jesus has just washed the feet of the Apostles (chapter 13) and then we have several chapters of Him explaining at the Last Supper the Father’s love for the Son and the Son’s love for His own Apostles. This is just before the arrest of Jesus Christ. As most of you know, St. John spends nearly half of his Gospel on the Triduum prayer and the Passion and Resurrection, and a large part of this is the Great Commandment and the Great Prayer found from John 13-18.
Because John 16 is the chapter where Christ encourages the Apostles in regards to His own departure to face the cross alone, and because we do not have a long pre-Ascension talk from Our Lord, the Church has amazingly chosen to place John 16 as the chapter of the Sundays leading up to the Ascension. Perhaps this is because Christ was also encouraging His Apostles before the Ascension what it would be like without Him in similar words.
John 16 is also a chapter about how the life of a Christian in this valley of tears on earth will be the exact opposite of one who walks through this life without Christ. We Americans are used to so many evangelical T-shirts and Catholic stadium conferences telling us how saccharine-sweet joyful we should be to prove we’re actually Christian. But Christ strangely predicts the exact opposite about how his followers would look for most their stay on this wounded earth:
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.—John 16:20
In other words, our sorrow on earth will become joy only in heaven if we’re actually living the faith here enough to be persecuted for it. Now, the next line from John 16 has been my mental prayer repeatedly this past week, especially I think of my mother’s recent passing into eternity. I had known for a long time that even the early Christians had named their death-date as their “birthdate,” but I had never noticed that the glories of heaven will be so great that we won’t even “remember” the pain we suffered on earth:
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.—John 16:21.
I believe that Jesus is here asserting that our life on earth is like a woman giving birth, full of grieving and pain. What kind of Christian husband—Catholic or non-Catholic—would go up to his wife during the very last moments of her labor and say, “Honey, hey, you’re a Christian, so can you please try to show all the labor and delivery nurses how joyful you are instead of all this crying and yelling? We need to show how happy we are!”
Of course, that would be preposterous. And so Jesus says in the very next line:
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.—John 16:22
Assisting my mother on her death bed just about six or seven weeks ago, I think a lot about how she gave birth to me, and how I as a priest helped birth her into eternal life (please, God) not by my merit but by the sacraments and old-rite prayers of commendation of the soul.
In John 16, then, Christ is comparing our entire life on earth to a woman giving birth. What then will heaven be like? Of course, no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.—1 Cor 2:9. But apparently has deemed that the least bad earthly analogy for our first glimpse of heaven comes from a woman immediately post-partum, seeing her baby for the first time.
Notice that this isn’t my pious or pro-life extrapolation. It’s right from the above verses in bold from Our Lord that shows that the beatific vision is not unlike a woman holding her baby for the first time, looking him in the eyes, full of tears, after a long and painful labor: but when she has delivered the baby, She no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a man has been born into the world.
The thing I had never noticed about the above verse until studying it in Greek this week is those lines, “I will see you again.” Sometimes simple lines in English escape me when reading the Bible, while Greek words stick out at me since I’m obviously better at English than Greek. In foreign languages, we catch things we don’t see in our own language. But it really sticks out in the Greek that this promise after all the grieving and distress comes down to Christ’s unbreakable promise: “I will see you again.” (πάλιν δὲ ὄψομαι ὑμᾶς.—Jn 16:22.)
The line “I will see you again” makes me think a lot about my Mom and when (and where?) I will see her again. “I will see you again” also makes me think a lot about Jesus saying that to the Apostles before His arrest that Holy Thursday night. “I will see you again” makes me think of why the ancient Church put John 16 as numerous Sunday Gospels of the TLM leading up to Ascension Thursday. But most of all, “I will see you again” makes me think of heaven, and what it will be like (if I am saved, please God—quite hard as a priest, according to the saints) and then get to see Jesus eye-to-eye for the first time after a hard-go at it after the distresses of this valley of tears. Then, I hold onto his promise of seeing Him face to face: No one will take your joy from you.