Across the centuries, Christians have always needed someone mighty and strong to lean on and to cling to whenever the squalls blow fiercely, and the pain becomes hard to bear. For three years that support was provided by the physical presence of the Lord Jesus in human flesh, visible and operative amid his first disciples. The Apostles took over that task after Jesus ascended into heaven to receive from the Father the fullness of his glory for having obeyed him even unto death on a cross.
Those mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (8:5-8, 14-17) are Philip, Simon Peter, and John who, along with the rest, served as support for the fledging new community of believers as it spread out to also reach Samaria. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the first disciples succeeded in restoring serenity and peace of mind in those who had been tested intensely. Finally, in our gospel passage (John 14:15-21), Jesus himself introduces the best support ever: the Spirit whom the Father will have sent after the Son Jesus had been fully glorified.
Who is this unique support sent from heaven? The term used by Jesus is Paraclitos in Greek, the advocate, the “defense lawyer” supporting and defending us, accused wrongdoers.
What is the full significance of this role of the Holy Spirit? It leads us to understand the full implication of Jesus’ promise not to leave us “orphans” in all our frailty and powerlessness. It leads us to appreciate the comforting fact that, as Jesus so emphatically points out, his Spirit can take possession of our frightened hearts and flood them with confidence, trust, and willingness to respond to his divine love with loving and joyous service of others. So, it is up to us to welcome or to turn down Jesus’ offer of his Spirit.
The Holy Spirit can come directly and take possession of our hearts, or he can serve as our support indirectly by sending our way less imposing, less intimidating supporters whom he first anoints. I refer to supporters who used to be as human as we are, as weak as we are, as needy of divine grace as we are. I am referring to our Blessed Mother who is forever filled with the Holy Spirit, full of grace; I am referring to St. Joseph who is the official patron saint of the whole Church. I am including our favorite, inspiring saint(s); the saint of our baptismal name, the patron saint of our parish or even holy members of our earthly family who have died in the Lord and have been fully purified in Purgatory.
The Catholic Church is the Church that, more than any other, lives and breathes and is unified in the “Communion of Saints,” which is a correct way of saying that we live and breathe and are ONE because of myriads of supporters who are all alive and tremendously helpful. The Communion of Saints, this varied and numerous arrays of supporters is part of the fundamental doctrine of the Church; it is part of our Creed.
Today, Jesus tells us also that, unfortunately, some people are terribly foolish because either they do not see the need for support, or they do not accept it as it is offered us around the clock. This is how Jesus puts it: the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. (John 14:17)
“The world” comprises all those who are blind by choice and do not see this awesome reality beyond their senses. The world is full of those who cannot acknowledge their frailty and their crucial need for the support which the Holy Spirit is always ready to provide.
I hope that none of us is found in this group of foolish weaklings. We should never envy those who could enjoy the physical presence of Jesus Christ. We cannot forget that only a small contingent of them was able to recognize him as the One sent by the Father, and trust in him even when the cross loomed too close and got heavy on their shoulders.
During the forty days that the Risen Lord appeared to his disciples before his final ascension into heaven, he taught them about the new ways available to them to be sustained in their weakness. And said: But you know him (Holy Spirit), because he remains with you, and will be in you. (John 14:17)
The Holy Spirit indeed remains with us and is in us as he fills us with his divine power all the new ways of Jesus’ presence. The Holy Spirit empowers the words of consecration to turn simple bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit empowers the words of absolution to erase from our soul all transgressions for which we are heartily sorry. The Holy Spirit prepares our minds and hearts to welcome, to cherish, to understand and to keep Jesus’ words to bring us light, comfort, healing, forgiveness, and courage as needed. The Holy Spirit calls the Community together to worship and to give praise to the Father. The Holy Spirit anoints the presider at our Eucharistic Celebrations to be a visible representation of Christ among us. The Holy Spirit inspires all the Saints both those already in heaven as well as those still among us to sustain us with their prayers and example.
Yes, indeed, we are not left orphans, but we are and will forever be in the loving, eternal embrace of the Holy Trinity!