I was up early this morning writing to my brother John and my sister Marianne. They were born five minutes apart (John coming first) sixty-two years ago today. Marianne and John, often referred to as “the twins,” have blessed our family and our world abundantly. Marianne, works as a school nurse and lives with her family just outside of Boston. John is a Redemptorist priest who works at San Alfonso Retreat House in Long Branch, New Jersey. Alone and together, they share a unique sensitivity to the needs of those around them, especially aware of those most in need, and they have selflessly been there and gone ‘the extra mile,’ for family, friends, and strangers, often at great personal cost, for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, I have thought that they have done too much and wearied themselves beyond necessity. But mostly, I have watched in wonder and admiration questioning where they possibly get the strength to do what they do.
I sent a text to Marianne and John, and my other six siblings this morning, in which I wrote, “Thanks for being the delightfully good, kind, and loving presence you have both been throughout your lives. You have blessed the world abundantly. It is as if you made a commitment to be that presence of God from the moment you left the womb. Ad multos annos!!”
Each of us knows that it is difficult, to say the least, to live out Jesus’ command to “love one another.” It is difficult to be Jesus’ disciple in every moment and in every circumstance of our lives, and it often seems beyond challenging to bear forth the compassionate and loving presence of the Risen Christ. And yet, that is exactly what we are asked to do.
Today’s gospel passage from John (15:26-16:4) helps me, and all of us, to understand once again, that the source of all good deeds, the source of all our Christian witnessing is the Holy Spirit, aka the “paraclete” or the “helper.”
While always challenging and difficult to be a true disciple of Jesus, whether in the first century as the nascent Christians were being expelled from the synagogues, or today in our chaotic and busy world, we have the Holy Spirit as our helper. That Holy Spirit, given to us as a gift at our baptism and confirmation, testifies to the message of Jesus, and the love he poured out for all, and the cost of doing just that. It allows us, despite the challenges, to go forth and bear similar witness, albeit in less dramatic and demanding ways, and “embody” the presence of Christ to one another and to our world.
There cannot be any authentic witness to Jesus without an inner conviction which comes from a deep knowledge and intimacy with Jesus. A deep knowledge and intimacy, that again is gift from God, and a gift given in many ways. Yes, most especially through the Spirit we receive at our baptism and confirmation, but also in the faith of parents, grandparents, neighbors and strangers who poured themselves out in service to their families, neighbors, strangers throughout their country and the world. By word, but especially in deed, they, and we, show our faith in Jesus, and our knowledge and love of Christ. That is not always an easy path to follow but it is why Marianne and John, and the good people who have populated your lives and your hearts, have chosen freely to be faithful to his message and faithful, if not always perfect, Christians.
This can be a costly and lonely path to travel as it was for Jesus. But in today’s gospel, please hear Jesus implicated say to the early church, and to us in our own time and place, ‘You are not alone.’ In all those costly and lonely places, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit as our helper. What else do we need?