by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“…the Father will give you another advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows that Spirit of truth.” John 14: 15-21
I don’t know whether it was by design or accident that today’s gospel-reading was chosen because of its appropriateness to both the sixth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s Day. Let’s simply say that it was providential. The idea of Mother’s Day was first conceived by a social activist from West Virginia, Anna Maria Reeves-Jarvis, who mobilised mothers to work together to overcome childhood diseases and to advocate for adequate public sanitation. To help them to improve their effectiveness, Reeves-Jarvis devised the notion of Mother’s Day Clubs in which women organised themselves to assist in educating mothers in matters of child health and home sanitation. When the Civil War broke out, the Mother’s Day Clubs extended their outreach to soldiers of both sides of the conflict, who were debilitated by contagious diseases that had spread through military camps. Moreover, Reeves-Jarvis was horrified by the possibility that young men from the same family could end up fighting on different sides and unknowingly kill each other. So, she composed a prayer for mothers. After her death in 1905, her daughter Anna embarked on a campaign for the establishment of a national day of observance to honour the contribution mothers were making to the life of the American nation. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution of Congress establishing the second Sunday of May as national Mother’s Day.
This theme of Mother’s Day resonates with today’s gospel reading in that the Holy Spirit’s role of advocacy is a role shared by mothers the world over. From our mothers, most of us learned truths that enabled us to live upright and decent lives, respecting ourselves and the people we encountered in the places of our work, study and social activities. They also modelled for us down-to-earth practicality, wisdom and sound common sense. They were and are agents of God’s Spirit.
In modern parlance, today’s extract from Jesus’ last-supper discourse might be appropriately described as Jesus’ risk-assessment strategy. Jesus, entirely confident that God’s Spirit would reach out to the disciples to support them in the loss, grief and disappointment they would soon experience, set about encouraging them to open their hearts to welcome the Holy Spirit, who, he promised, would be their advocate. The risk that confronted Jesus was that he had no guarantee that his disciples would welcome God’s Spirit into their lives. Their human frailty had already prevented them from comprehending some of his teachings and from coming to appreciate who he really was. Moreover, he had anticipated that, when the going got too tough for them, they would desert him in the hour when he most needed their support. He had no guarantee that they would be receptive to the promptings of the Advocate who would stand by them. But he took the risk of trusting that, eventually, they would come good.
Like Jesus, who repeatedly instructed his disciples with the message of the mercy, love and forgiveness of God, mothers walk beside their children presenting them with values for living decent, moral and upright lives. Mothers are not sure when their children are listening or whether they are absorbing the teachings they are offered. Like God’s Spirit, mothers are advocates for truth. Like God’s Spirit they do not tire of repeating their promptings. We are well aware that fathers and teachers and other significant adults share in these roles, too, but mothers are likely to be our first and most insistent advocates and mentors.
In today’s gospel-reading, we learn how Jesus went on to state to his followers that the people among whom they were living (the world) were unable to recognise and accept the truth he himself proclaimed. He predicted that the Spirit of truth, whom he promised to send, would likewise be ignored. The message Jesus had consistently proclaimed was about God’s insistent and unconditional love for humanity and God’s invitation for humankind to reflect that love to one another. Jesus, in speaking to his disciples, made the point that the world is all too quick to set aside its capacity for loving, to ignore the manifestations of God’s love present in the people around us and in creation itself. In today’s gospel-reading, Jesus proceeds to remind his disciples and us, too, that God’s Spirit dwells deep within us, reminding us of the true shape of love for which we have all been created. We all know that we are meant for love, and we all know when we fall short of that essential part of our truth.
The Spirit Jesus promised his disciples is still alive and active in our world, nudging or advocating us to do what we know is just and right and good each day of our lives, even when what we try to do is scorned, ridiculed and rejected. John’s Gospel and New Testament letters speak of love as something greater than emotion and sentiment. According to John, loving as Jesus loved is coming to reverence God present in everyone we encounter. As we pause today to reflect on that and to remember the love of our mothers, let’s remember that it is love that is the glue that holds our families and communities together. That’s the kind of love that is of God.