Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the selection read last weekend. The Gospel selections all this week have built on the same theme: faith in Jesus’ word, impending separation with a promise of an abiding presence. You’ll recall that Jesus is speaking to his disciples at their last supper together … and given the length of his discourse, it must have been a LONG, many-course supper. He reassures them that even though he will leave them, he will not abandon them. He contrasts his impending departure with the permanence of the gift of the Holy Spirit: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
When a lifetime friend moves far away we can reassure one another that we’ll stay in touch but we also probably agree: “It’s just not going to be the same.” This may have been the feeling of the disciples. Jesus is saying his goodbye. He is preparing those closest to him, whom he loves and who love him, for his departure. Not just a farewell before going on a short trip, when they will see one another again in a few weeks or months, but a more permanent farewell. He is preparing them for the shock of his violent death and the collapse of their plans for the future. Everything is about to change for them. “It’s just not going to be the same.”
Unbeknown to them at the supper where Jesus is speaking, a few days after his crucifixion Jesus would rise from the dead and they would see him again, at least for a short time. Then, after that, it will be all different: they would see him no longer. They wouldn’t have him physically there with them when they needed to ask for advice as problems arose; or feel his comforting and healing touch when they hurt, or when someone they loved was sick; or hear his voice, speaking words of forgiveness when they needed to be freed from guilt.
Jesus was sensitive to the sense of loss they were about to endure. He was telling them quite clearly, “It’s just not going to be the same.” He knew they couldn’t make it on their own. Their human courage, like ours, just wouldn’t be enough – they’d need continued support to spread Jesus’ message after he was gone.
So, Jesus makes a FANTASTIC, and unbelievable promise: He is going to the Father and he will send the Holy Spirit to guide them as they face new challenges. There’ll be new issues and suffering for what they believe but they will become aware of Jesus’ abiding presence even though they cannot physically see, hear, or touch him.
We may be 2000 years away from those disciples around the table with Jesus that night; but we too have experienced loss and need. We have said many goodbyes to family and community members. We’ve experienced big changes in our lives (even if we did not know life before Vatican II) There have been times when we’ve needed to be strong ourselves and for others: times of grave illness, worry over a troubled or addicted loved one, sorrow over a broken relationship or an uncertain future..
Those are the times when we’ve known: “It’s just not going to be the same.” And it wasn’t. God sends us curved balls when we least expect it. But, like a skilled ball player we can still hit a home run. God gives us the strength to stay faithful; the wisdom to maneuver life’s many twists and turns.
Our duty, our challenge, then, is to believe, to trust that we have the Spirit with us – in Word, the Eucharist, in each other – to believe Jesus has kept his promise to give us the gift of the Spirit – an abiding, permanent dwelling with each of us – Or, as Jesus said, the “Advocate” – a word that means counselor, consoler and mediator – the divine energy that binds us together with one another, and all to God.
A wise person shared this truism: in life we’re either entering difficulty, going through it, or coming out of it. There are points along the journey when the way forward is unclear – when all we know for certain is: “it’s not going to be the same.”
This prayer written by Thomas Merton, speaks to me when all I do know is: “it’s not going to be the same.”
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
(Thomas Merton, Thoughts on Solitude, 1956)
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress