Have you ever been in a waiting room for so long a time that you began to think that “they” had forgotten that you were there? With all of your patience evaporated, you have to decide whether to stay or to go. Leaving isn’t a good idea, because then you will never be seen by the doctor, the repair technician, or whomever you had been waiting for. This feeling – so common to many who are living under the restrictions imposed because of the global pandemic – can lead to reckless behavior, behavior that is triggered by the feeling of isolation or abandonment, feelings so many are experiencing these days.
Sheltering in place is for the common good, but it becomes more difficult as the months pass. There are temptations, as evidenced in the news every day, to resume our normal activities, to be about our business and our play, as if the pandemic has passed and the dangers are no more. We are warned that this behavior is reckless, yet some people act as though they have been forgotten, abandoned, and so they take risks that they should not. For those risks endanger not just those individuals, but especially the most vulnerable in their homes, neighborhoods and society.
The promise that Jesus makes in this Sunday’s gospel passage (John 14:15-21) can offer us consolation and hope. In it, Jesus promised the disciples that he would not leave them as orphans, that He would not abandon them, even though He would soon suffer and die.
Jesus’ promise was not just to those who ate with Him at the Last Supper; it was an assurance, a pledge that the Lord gives to us in the year 2020.
Jesus’ promise may seem “other-worldly,” and that is exactly what it is, for from that other world would come the Spirit through Whom the Lord would continue to be present. The Spirit (of the Father and the Son) would teach and remind Jesus’ followers about all that the Lord had taught and commanded them (John 14:26). It is through the Holy Spirit that God continues to live in our world and within each one of us. It is the way that Jesus continues to fulfill His promise that He would never leave us alone, never leave us as orphans, never abandon us.
The power of the Spirit fulfills Jesus’ promise to be in the midst “wherever two or more of you gather in my name” (Matthew 18:20). At Mass, we pray that the same Spirit will come upon our gifts of bread and wine so that they might become the Body and Blood of the Lord; and we pray that the power of the Spirit will make of us, “one body, one spirit in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer III). Through the working of the Spirit, the Eucharist is the way Jesus is really and truly present even in what seems to be His absence. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is called upon in the celebration of all of the sacraments, as the abiding Presence of God in our lives.
The hope that we all desperately need today also comes from another world. Hope comes from believing in the God Whom we cannot see and in reaching out in compassion, love and care to the people we can see. Hope encourages us to put the common good above our individual desires. Too often, people who profess their faith in God and their deep love of God find it difficult to love one another. This is a flaw in Christian life, one we must strive to correct each and every day of our lives. And the Spirit of God will teach us, guide us and assure us that we are not alone.
Almost 50 years ago, James Taylor sang a song that was written by his good friend, Carole King. Its lyrics are encouraging and consoling. I doubt that this song is known by younger generations today. It is probably too slow, too quiet for some, yet it can help us to reflect upon our feelings of loss and abandonment as we continue to cope with life during a pandemic.
I offer a few lines from the 1971 song, “You’ve God a Friend:
When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand
And nothing, whoa, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me and soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest nights
You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running, oh yeah baby, to see you again
Winter, spring, summer, or fall
All you got to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah
You’ve got a friend
If the sky… above you should turn dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind should begin to blow
Keep your head together and call my name out loud now
Soon I’ll be knocking upon your dooring at your door
No, we are never alone and each of us has in ourselves the power to be such a friend to others, loving them as God loves us, even in the “darkest nights.”