29 May 2011
“‘[The Father] will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth …’” (John 14:16-17) In the name …
Earlier this Spring we had all of the maple trees around the church and rectory pruned of dead and low branches, and the ones hitting against the buildings. The day after the work was done I was outside raking on the west side of the rectory. I heard all of this commotion above me. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but then I realized it was a pretty upset squirrel. The squirrels have a highway system that runs from the maple trees around the church, through the pine trees between the church and the rectory, then over the rectory roof, and finally to the large maple tree on the west side of the rectory. When they cut back the branches on that last maple tree so that they wouldn’t hit against the rectory, the highway stopped at that point. The squirrel could see where it wanted to go, it just couldn’t get there any longer, and that squirrel was none too happy about it.
I told you last week about our trip to the Adoration Society Convention in Central Falls, RI. After about an hour and a half of driving, we were only about a hundred feet from the road we needed to turn on to so that we could get to the church, but because of a charity race taking place, a police cruiser was blocking our way. I got out of the car and asked the officer how we could get to the road I could point at. He had no idea. I, like the squirrel, was none too happy when our road just stopped.
Today we read in the Gospel about the Advocate, the Spirit of truth. The church is getting us ready for Thursday’s Feast of the Ascension when Jesus returns to His heavenly glory, and then ten days later for the Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descends upon the believers. The Advocate or the Spirit is what enlivens the church and her members. The Spirit is the connection between God and us. The Spirit as our Advocate makes sure that our own limitations are not where the road stops. When we can’t figure out how to get from here to there, to take the next step forward, when our road ends, we still have the Advocate on our side. This is one of the most profound promises that Jesus ever makes to us. And yet we often seem to take the offer less than seriously.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day. They say there are an awful lot of foxhole conversions in war, that when danger is very real so is God. This doesn’t mean that the soldier stands-up in the middle of a firefight and thinks he’s invincible. He does the best that he can on his own to do his duty and also to stay alive, but it doesn’t hurt, nonetheless, to say a prayer to God, to get a little extra help. In other words, they go as far as they possibly can, and then all things beyond their own control, they turn over to the Almighty. That’s what foxhole conversions are all about, when I can do no more, I trust God to take me farther. And there’s more to it than this. When the experience of God is that real, life is changed.
I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan. At the end of the movie, Tom Hanks’ character has been mortally wounded. With his last words, looking right into the eyes of a young Private Ryan, after all that had been endured so that Ryan could return home to his family, he speaks two short words to him: “Earn this.” And he dies. The movie then takes us to the military cemetery where the body of Capt. John H. Miller, Tom Hanks’ character, is buried. Decades later, the now elderly James Ryan stands on those sacred grounds, with family gathered silently behind him at a distance, and he asks his wife if he had led a good life. She can’t even begin to comprehend why he would ask such a thing. He’s been a good husband and father, a decent man throughout, but she can’t know what that silent grave means to him. She can’t know that other lives were lost so that he could have the opportunity to be a good and decent man, to fulfill the charge of “Earn this.” When the road comes to an end and a person can go no farther, and then the exceptional takes place, people are changed.
And it’s the same when God is our Advocate, the one who stands-up for us and helps us forward when we can’t. Think about Thursday’s Feast of the Ascension. Whenever and however it took place is not the most important part of this mystery. What is important is that the resurrected Jesus at some point returned to heaven to be seen no more among us. His followers were then left to themselves. They didn’t do so well after Jesus’ arrest. They fell apart, they disbanded, they gave up. But something mysterious and powerful happened that I don’t think was really as neat and tidy as the Bible lets on to us. Somehow Easter, Ascension and Pentecost happened. Jesus was no longer a tangible presence, but the Spirit made Him real. These same followers who had given up all hope become the source of all hope. The ones who were afraid to mention the name of Jesus went out into the world and told everyone about Jesus. They had reached the end of their road, they could not see how to move forward, but then God intervened through the Advocate, and they were changed. From that moment on each believer understood the charge: “Earn this.” And that experience was undeniably real, and we’re the proof. We would not be here if not for the Advocate, and for those first believers who accepted the charge of “Earn this.” When they recognized that God had intervened, it changed their lives, and they fearlessly did the work of God that allows us to be here today.
Maybe our encounters with God are not as clearly defined as a foxhole conversion or an Ascension Day, but we’ve all had times when it has seemed like the branches were cut, the police car was blocking the road, and we didn’t know how to get where we needed to go. Life is too complicated and mean for it to be otherwise. And God has been our Advocate. Then, out of gratitude or responsibility, we should hear the charge of “Earn this.” God is active in our lives. He is our Advocate. That we may realize this and act accordingly, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo