“I will send you an advocate; I will not leave you orphans.”
Sometimes we do not just feel low, dejected, or confused. We feel abandoned, orphaned. The old Negro spiritual says it beautifully and plaintively: “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” So does the old prayer to Mary we learned from the sisters, the Salve Regina. “To thee do we cry poor banished children of Eve.”
In the gospel today Jesus reads the hearts of his friends and knows that they are feeling like orphans. It is the night before his death and he has told them that he will not be with them much longer. He knows their unspoken questions. “Who will keep us together when you leave us? Who will stop us from arguing with each other? Who will speak the words that calm the storms and silence demons? Who will we become without you, Lord?” They don’t want to imagine what it will be like not being able to reach out and find Jesus’ hand.
Our Lord speaks to their grief: “I will not leave you orphans. I will send you the Spirit to be your comforter, your companion, your defender and advocate. The Spirit will come to you and remain in you. The Spirit will move into your heart and abide there. The Spirit will hold your hand and guide you where you need to go.”
Our Lord was not just speaking words of comfort to the apostles in the upper room, he was speaking to the community of John, living a generation after the apostles. John’s gospel was written around 90 A.D. for Jewish Christians who had been expelled from the synagogues for their faith in Christ. They, too, are feeling like motherless children abandoned by the faith community that once mothered them.
Jesus is speaking to us, too. He is comforting all those who try to have reverence for God and a heart for others but who find themselves at a distance from the mainstream of today’s world. Like the community of John some people can feel left behind because they have claimed a set of standards for themselves that demands integrity, faithfulness, and self-sacrifice. They are used to being called old-fashioned but the epithet still hurts.
It is true that the world is no longer ruled by Christian monarchs. It is true that Catholicism is no longer a favored faith. It is true that a shared moral code has been jettisoned in favor of political correctness. In those things Christianity has been orphaned by society. But not everybody lets moral loneliness keep them from living out their vocation to holiness and fidelity. They trust in the presence of the one who promised, “I will not leave you orphans.”
Mother Teresa told us, “There is a light in this world, a healing Spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the Spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer it in extraordinary ways.”
We are two Sundays away from Pentecost. This week when you feel that you may be the only parent on earth who still insists that your child be respectful. When you feel that you must be the only teenager who still goes to church. When you are almost sure that you are the only person who doesn’t steal tools from work. When you feel like a motherless child and a banished child of Eve remember that you are not an orphan. You have God for your father, Jesus for your brother, and the Holy Spirit as your best friend.