Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Father, the Son and the Big Bird!

HOMILY FOR THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 29, 2011:
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Mrs. Wilson had been teaching her CCD class about the Holy Trinity. The next week as a review, she asked if anyone could name the three members of the Trinity. Young Johnny enthusiastically raised his hand and said he knew the answer, “The Holy Trinity is the Father, and the Son, and the Big Bird!” Confused, the teacher asked, “Johnny, why do you think the Holy Spirit is a big bird?” “Because,” he said. “Last week, you kept calling the Holy Spirit, the Parakeet!”

There is a story of a man who wished to tell soldiers on a military base of Christ's love for each of them. He was prohibited by regulations from coming within the base to spread the message. So, he had several thousand hand mirrors delivered as gifts care of the chaplain. On the mirror's back, he had printed the message from John 3.16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” A message below the text read, “If you wish to see whom God loves, turn to the other side.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus likewise gives to His people a mirror through His words. He took pains to hold before them the bold message that He would not leave because He loved them. He said, “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.”

Let’s recall the setting Jesus says this in. It was the Last Supper and Jesus had announced His impending departure. This left the disciples nervous, anxious, even depressed. But, being the astute teacher He was, Christ had to lift His people off the floor and put them back on their cushions. He promised to continue His relationship with them through a Helper. The Helper is of course the Holy Spirit. The word in Greek is Paracletos, or Paraclete – not quite the Big Bird, the Parakeet!

So, what is a Paraclete? There are many translations of the word: Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, Helper. The Greek Paracletos literally describes someone who is called to stand beside a client. In legal terms that would be your attorney. But a Paraclete is much more than an attorney. Probably the best word that we use today that captures the meaning of Paraclete is the word “coach.” The Paraclete is our coach, always by our side, to instruct and correct us when we make mistakes, to encourage and motivate us when we feel down, to challenge and inspire us to be the best we can be, to defend us and fight for us when the world is unfair. In short, the Paraclete means for all of us, what Jesus meant for the disciples.

Why do we need a Paraclete? For the same reason that athletes and sports people need coaches. No matter how good they are, athletes always need coaches. Even Big Papi, Dustin Pedroia and my favorite Red Sox this year Jed Lowrie – all need a coach. Left on our own, we are prone to mistakes and errors. Without God we can do nothing. In the 5th century ad there was a British thinker called Pelagius who taught that human beings have the natural ability to fulfill God's commands if they so choose. The church condemned his teaching as a heresy, insisting that human beings always need God's grace in order to please God. Pelagianism is the belief that we can fulfill our human destiny just by being ourselves, and that we do not need the grace of God that comes through faith, prayer or the sacraments. Many people today are Pelagians without even knowing it. Jesus tells us in today's gospel that we all stand in constant need of divine help. We all need the divine Helper, the Holy Spirit who stands always by our side, the Paraclete.

How then do we receive this all-important Helper? By striving to live according to the law of Christ which is love o-f God and love of our neighbor. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” After the Ascension of Our Lord, the disciples “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” retired to the upper room to wait and pray for the promised Paraclete. We cannot do better than follow their example. We must do as they did and invite the Helper into our lives. The Helper does not enter uninvited. He waits for an invitation. But, once invited, He will lead us into truth. He guarantees we are God's children. He helps us pray. He offers us hope. He empowers us to help other believers. He aids us to be like Him. He gives us spiritual muscle.

This Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension. Between Ascension and Pentecost the church invites all her children to a period of prayer and waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us observe this period as a special period of prayer just as the disciples did because we need the Holy Spirit today as much as they needed it two thousand years ago.

A poet sums up the Parakletos well in these words. “Eternally the Holy Spirit is love between the Father and the Son but historically the Holy Spirit is love between God and the world.” “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always.” Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

May God give you peace!

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