My family moved to Austin, Texas the summer before my eighth grade year. On that first day of school as I walked through the front doors, I felt pretty isolated from the different cliques gathered around their lockers, and the overwhelming fear in my mind was whether I’d have someone to eat lunch with that day. My only solace in that moment was singing, “Jesus loves me” over and over in my head as I walked down that hallway with trepidation. Somehow I knew, beneath all of my fears and insecurities, I was not alone. Jesus loved me and walked with me down the corridor of my new school.
I imagine the disciples felt similar fears and insecurities whenever Jesus mentioned his departure to them. He was their team captain! He was their teacher, their mentor, their friend. Without him, their mission would not exist. But in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus promise his disciples that his physical absence will be overcome by the never-ending presence of an Advocate, the Spirit of truth. I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you. You will not be alone as you enter into new territories and situations.
God was with me on that first day of 8th grade. God was with me when I moved away from home for college. God was with me when I walked away from a long-term relationship in grad school. God was with my husband and me as we moved across the country, far from family and friends, in the first year of our marriage. God was with me in the long and lonely hours of laboring and delivering my first child. Are there lonely journeys that come to your mind from your own life? Walking into the hospital room of your child who has cancer, leading a line of cars in a funeral procession for your spouse. In all of those moments, God promised to be with us, and promises still: I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.
And this promise is significant as we look at the first reading and hear about Philip sharing the good news of Christ with the city of Samaria. This was a new phase in Christ’s mission, moving the Gospel beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria. At other points in the Gospel, the Samaritans had rejected Christ, so I can imagine Philip felt a bit uneasy as he set out on his travels. But in today’s reading, they accepted Christ with one accord. I love the line: And there was great joy in that city. I love the particularity of that. There was joy in that city, in the city of Samaria. Like Philip, we aid in the Spirit’s bringing of joy to a particular city, or person, or community. Philip’s fears – as well as our own - need not stop the efficacy of God’s Spirit.
And joy is the foundational marker of the Christian identity, isn’t it? Today’s psalm is bursting with joy, recounting the wondrous deeds God has done throughout salvation history. But we all know that a closer look at the psalms reveal that this joy is not a superficial emotion– there are some significant challenges in the life of faith, moments of fear and desolation. Saint Paul in the second reading certainly reminds us of that. The life of faith is not immune to suffering. Christ himself still suffered. But the continued gift of the spirit’s presence allows us to stay grounded and give an account of our hope even amidst suffering and fear, because we are not alone in our trial.
I love the old Quaker hymn, How Can I Keep from Singing? It so beautifully captures the reason for hope:
No storm can shake my inmost calm, While to that rock I´m clinging. Since love is lord of heaven and earth How can I keep from singing?
I had not yet learned that song in 8th grade, but despite my fears of entering a brand new school, I could not keep from singing.
So what does it mean to accept the Advocate, the spirit of truth? What’s the implication of today’s readings? We, too, are called to expand Jesus’ mission like Philip did in Samaria. We’re called to walk into new territories, brave challenging situations and accompany those who may be different from us. But we do not do this alone: we have been given the gift of the Spirit, accompanying us and advocating for us in our mission. So how can our voices, then, be a gift for others?
The spirit of truth demands that we stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized, persecuted, and forgotten and advocate on their behalf. The spirit of truth demands bravery and boldness in the pursuit of justice. The spirit of truth is very much alive in the margins of society, and in the messiness of our lives, demanding that no one be orphaned.
So as a Church, let’s use our voices and not stop singing.
Sarah Attwood Otto
Sarah Otto earned her Master of Divinity from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She graduated with a Religious Studies degree from Santa Clara University in 2007 and served a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Portland, OR post graduation. Her primary ministry has been with college students. She has worked in campus ministry at Boston College, Providence College and currently directs the Newman Catholic Center in Chico, CA. She and her family are preparing to move to the Atlanta area this summer where Sarah will be directing retreats and offering spiritual direction at Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center. She and her husband, Andy, are peers in ministry and just began the joyful ministry of parenthood together. Their daughter, Eva, is deepening their experience of the mystery of God in a myriad of ways.