Sixth Sunday in Eastertide – May 29, 2011 – St. John’s, Goshen
It is a good practice, when listening to the biblical readings at Mass, to try to find a statement or a phrase or even a single word that you can take away and sort of stow in your memory as a source of wisdom or of comfort or of challenge to which you can refer during the rest of the day or the rest of the week or even for much longer times, even for a lifetime. This may require, of course, that you spend some time looking over the Scripture readings before or after Mass, or that you listen with special attention as they are being read during Mass, listening with the expectation that somewhere in the three readings of Sunday Mass or in the responsorial Psalm there will be a word that finds an echo in your heart and mind. As St. Augustine often said, if you don’t bring the ears of the heart, you will not be able to hear a word that God may wish to speak to you.
One sentence that strikes me as of this sort is the statement that Jesus makes at the Last Supper to his disciples: “I will not leave you orphans.” We know what orphans are: an orphan is a child both of whose parents have died, a parentless child. Our parents anchor us in what without them would be a very turbulent sea; they provide us with the firm foundation on which we may stand in order to construct our own lives. To be without them is to be without that security, to be on our own. How difficult this condition is will depend, of course, on the age at which one loses one’s parents. The younger the child the more dire the situation. But even those of us who lost our parents when we had already long become adults can remember the feeling that something had radically changed in our universe of experience.
Jesus says this of himself: “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.” Here he presents himself not so much as our brother, but as our father, giving us the assurance that we are not defenseless and alone in the world. How does he come to us? He comes to us especially through his word, for it is he who is speaking in the Scriptures we hear each week. But he also comes in his holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, whom Christ promised us in today’s Gospel, preparing for the feast of Pentecost; Christ comes to us in the spirit of truth, who speaks within the depths of our hearts, in our inmost consciousness, at the level at which we decide the orientation of our lives. And he also comes to us in the knowledge that his Father is our Father, whom we may approach with confidence, even with boldness (as the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer at Mass used to say: “We dare to say…”), because God has made us his daughters and sons, loving us with the same love with which he loves his own eternal Son. We are not orphans in this world because we are loved by God as utterly as Jesus Christ himself was and is loved by God. “I will not leave you orphans.”
Perhaps this could be the little sentence that we take away from this Mass, that we store in our memory, that we take out every once in a while and think about in order to let its truth be more than an intellectual assent but something we know and even feel to be true. If we can do this with this simple sentence, then it will be a living truth available to us when we encounter difficulties or tests or challenges that make us feel alone and defenseless in the world, that make us feel like orphans. Then it may make all the difference if we are able to say, in full conviction, “No, I am not alone. Jesus did not leave me orphaned.” And in that conviction will be the proof of his promise: “I will come to you.”