John 14:15-21, 6th Sunday of Easter
Two months have passed since our lockdown in Zamboanga and other places in the country. And starting yesterday, we shifted to modified community quarantines. Many of us are very relieved. Still, we are asked to be very cautious, very careful, otherwise we will be forced again to go on stricter lockdowns and quarantines.
How are we doing after two months? Que tal ustedes? Kumusta tayo? How are we surviving? How are we coping in this overwhelming global life-changer we are in? How are we adjusting to this most difficult global crisis in the history of humanity? We answer these questions differently. Many will answer, I am ok, in general, thank God. Many will answer, I am worried and afraid of many things, food to eat, my job, my health, my family’s well being, our future. Many will answer, I can’t believe it has been two months already, and I am thankful we have lasted this long. And also, many will answer, I am very anxious, when will this crisis end. I continue to suffer. I am still struggling. When will I see the light in this very long, dark and depressing tunnel?
Que tal ustedes? Kumusta tayo? I am also sure that many of us will give an answer that is a bit longer. Many will share stories. Many will share a more nuanced answer, or narrative, like this: At first, at the beginning of the lockdown, I was afraid, I was worried, and helpless. Then after two or three weeks, I have learned to settle down, I have learned to accept things as they come, a day at a time. I have learned not to resist. I have learned to help others more in need than me. But I still continue to feel a sense of loss and longing: for our loved ones, for our usual lives, our sense of security. I still feel scared, but it seems that I have learned to adjust. Perhaps I am learning to let go. For many of us, I am sure the answer will be something like this. I feel stronger inspite of everything. I am learning to trust God that He is in control. In control of a future so uncertain. I have learned to trust more. I have learned to hope.
All these answers reflect what psychologists call resilience. Resilience, or the ability to adapt to, cope with, survive, even thrive, in difficult, unfavorable situations. Resilience reflects strength of spirit, fortitude, capacity to ride the winds of change, or battle the storms of life, or surf the giant waves of a turbulent sea, an unpredictable world. Many have observed that the pandemic is developing in us, this resilience. I am amazed at the resilience especially of our young ones in this pandemic, like how my nieces and nephews do not feel any worry at all, and spend their time doing creative things like baking, video projects, and dancing. Spiritual masters enrich this understanding of resilience by putting in the dimension of faith. Faith builds resilience. Our capacity to depend on Someone, stronger, wiser, more powerful, our God – this capacity is what resilience is about. Resilience is necessarily a power given by God to us, a grace, a gift, a blessing.
This may be the gift that St Peter writes about in his letter to the early Christians, in our Second Reading today: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” The early Christians suffered tremendously as they lived out their new faith in Jesus, and yet they were strong, they were courageous, they were steadfast. They were resilient. They had hope.
Where did this hope come from? In the First Reading, we hear of another story we have heard before: that the first apostles, like Peter and John, would visit the first communities who believed in Jesus, and would lay their hands on them, and the people would receive the Holy Spirit. The work, or the ministry of the first apostles has always been this: to share the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, to the people, so they, amid their suffering and trials and struggles, will be strengthened, will persevere, will carry on in faith, hope, and love, through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the reason for their hope.
And how does the Holy Spirit do this? What is the Holy Spirit? Who is the Holy Spirit?
Our Church helps us understand the Holy Spirit through some images: the fire, the dove, the wind. As fire, the Holy Spirit gives light to our lives. It is seen as a tiny spark of light, a small flame, a flicker in the darkness. But it can also grow and glow, flash and flare, into a blaze, a burst of blinding, burning light. As a bird, as a dove, the Holy Spirit is imagined as hovering us, embracing us like the skies above where the dove takes flight. The dove ascends to the heavens, soars high above us. Yet it also descends and flies low, wings gliding till it reach us down here on earth. As wind, the Holy Spirit surrounds and enfolds us, blowing as a gentle, soothing breeze, and yet it also blows like a gusty, turbulent storm, sweeping and tossing us out of balance.
In all these three images, as fire, as dove, as wind, we comprehend the Holy Spirit as dynamic, constantly moving, as active and alive. We experience the Holy Spirit as change, never static, never permanent. We see the Holy Spirit as flow, as fluid, as being with us, embracing us in the changes of our lives, good times and bad, peaceful times, crisis times, easy times, difficult times, times of growth, times of death, times of health and wellness, times of pandemics. The Holy Spirit stays. It flows with us, dances with us, changes us even, making us better, making us resilient, adaptive, strong, courageous. Giving us hope.
The Holy Spirit remains, and this is the reason of our hope. In our Gospel today, Jesus says goodbye to His disciples, and He tells them not to worry, because the Spirit will stay: “… you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you…” That even when He is gone physically, the Spirit will empower the disciples what to say, what to do, how to do it, where to go, everything. The Spirit shall move them, the Spirit will ever be present. He will never be absent.
When we greet each other these days, keep safe, stay safe, we say as well, may the Spirit keep you safe. May He, our Risen Lord Jesus, keep you safe.
We don’t know when the pandemic will end. We don’t know when or if our lives will go back to normal, if our lives will never be the same again. This is the era of living in the “great unknowns” of our lives. Yet, this is also the era of living the “great known” of our lives. That there will be days ahead good and bad, easy and terrible, happy and sad. That we will move forward, and also move backward. That in all these, the Holy Spirit remains, stays with us, helping us ride the winds of change, battle the storms of life, and surf the turbulent seas of a difficult world, empowering us to be resilient, adaptive, strong in faith. And we will survive, and we will thrive, and we will keep going. With the Holy Spirit, because of the Holy Spirit, the very reason of our hope.
*image from the Internet