I will not leave you orphans

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6th Sunday of Easter, Year A: May 25, 2014
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Ps 66; 1 Pet 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

There’s something interesting that we should notice in our first reading, from the Book of Acts, especially during this season when so many of our students are receiving confirmation. And that is a clear, very early, example of the sacrament of confirmation—though it is not named as such.

In Acts chapter 8, it is only about 3-5 years after the Day of Pentecost: very early in the Church’s history. And Philip—not the apostle Philip, but one of the seven deacons chosen in Acts chapter 6, St. Stephen and the six others—the deacon Philip is preaching the Gospel in Samaria, the land of the Samaritans. Many people believe; they respond in faith. They are baptized: their sins are washed away, they are joined to the Church. But we notice that they did not receive the Holy Spirit. And so that this might happen, what do they do? They call two of the apostles, St. Peter and St. John, to come from Jerusalem and lay hands on them—to give them confirmation, so that they might receive this strengthening by the Holy Spirit.

So we have this very early example of how baptism and confirmation, though closely connected, are two separate sacraments; and that it is the apostles, and their successors the bishops, who give that sacrament.

And when they do, they are fulfilling that promise that we heard from Jesus in the Gospel reading to send the Holy Spirit.

Now, what is going on in the Gospel reading? Jesus is speaking at the Last Supper. In the Gospel of John, what he says at the Last Supper goes on for almost four chapters, and our Gospel reading today is part of that. And he is preparing his disciples for his leaving. What leaving is that? Well, two leavings, really:

  • That very evening, he will be captured in the Garden of Gethsemane, put on trial, condemned the next day, Good Friday, crucified, and will be buried. So he is preparing the disciples for that first leaving.
  • Then he will rise from the dead, and he will be with them again for 40 days. But then will come the day when he will ascend to the Father, and thus he will again leave them. And we are in that same period: after his Ascension, before his Second Coming. So in a real sense he is speaking to us.

And as Jesus speaks about his leaving, this might seem all too familiar. Because in our society today, leaving happens all the time. Divorce is rampant: a husband leaves his wife, a wife leaves her husband. And maybe the couple didn’t even marry, but lived together or were in a long-term relationship: a man leaves a woman, a woman leaves a man. And perhaps worst of all, a father leaves his children, even a mother leaves her children. This has affected so many people. When I help people with the Unbound method of deliverance, how very often we see that they are under spiritual pressure from abandonment and betrayal. They have experienced it; and they have done it to others. The spirit of abandonment, the spirit of betrayal, are rampant in our society. You might call us a Generation of Orphans.

And isn’t this just one more example of this—Jesus about to leave his disciples? They have gotten to know him and love him. They have spent three years with him, traveling, listening to his words, seeing his miracles, sharing meals with him. And now he is just about to leave them behind, to abandon them, like everyone else?

No! He will never abandon us! And we know this already, even before we listen to his words, because he is true God. And God is faithful! Though his People are not faithful to him, he is always faithful to them. We remember his words to Joshua: “I will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Josh 1:5) And through the prophet Isaiah: “Can a mother forget her infant…? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isa 49:15) We can count upon the faithfulness of God.

And so we hear the words of Jesus: “I will not leave you orphans.” He is returning to his beloved Heavenly Father—and he is blazing the trail for us to follow. But he is not abandoning us. And he tells us two things to explain this.

First, he says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.” Who better to take the place of the Second Person of the Trinity than the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit? And he calls him the Paraclete: one who is called in to be with us, to instruct us, to counsel us, to strengthen us, to comfort us. In baptism, we are given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us; in confirmation, we are specially strengthened by him. The Holy Spirit is always with us, always within us. We are not left orphans; we are not alone.

Second, he says: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” And he will return at his Second Coming. But not only then. He is with us even now:

  • He is with us in his Word. We can listen to his voice in the Scriptures and in the teaching of his Church.
  • He is with us in his sacraments. In baptism, in confirmation, in confession, in the other sacraments, he acts directly upon us, transforming us and giving us grace by his power.
  • But, above all, he is truly with us in the Eucharist. Here he makes himself really present to us, Body, Blood, soul, and divinity. And he stays with us in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle.

As he promised right before his Ascension: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20) We are not alone. The Holy Spirit is with us; Christ is with us. And if we ever feel that we are separated, then we need to ask ourselves: have I cut myself off from him? Do I need to return to confession? To reading and reflecting upon the Scriptures? To prayer? To Mass? To Eucharistic adoration? He said he would not leave me an orphan; do I need to receive the gift he offers me?

And isn’t this Good News that the whole world needs to hear? A Generation of Orphans, abandoned and betrayed, again and again: don’t they need to know about this promise of Jesus never to leave us? Doesn’t this give us a hope that they might recognize and ask about? And so we take note of those words we heard from St. Peter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” The Good News that we have to live and to share: the Good News of Jesus, who is always faithful.

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