In conjunction with Fr. William O'Malley's article in the current issue of America, we will be posting a few of his homilies to "The Good Word" this week. Fr. O'Malley is a noted homilist and author who has taught high school students for over forty years. You can read some of Fr. O'Malley's other homilies here (registration required).
Pentecost, Year A, June 12, 2011
Literally, a paraclete means anyone “called in” to help. So the translation that appeals to me most is “comforter.” Less pugnacious, dominating, “masculine” than “advocate,” just as connotations of “caregiver” are different applied to a doctor (male or female) or to a nurse (male or female). The doctor aggressively challenges; the nurse compassionately comforts.
The Holy Spirit manifests what Carl Jung called the “feminine” aspects of the one God: intuition, creativity, inclusiveness, mercy, unconditional love. Aspects also associated with ignition and the fire in the hearth the mother guards. We see it here in Jesus’ lovely sensitivity: “I will not leave you orphaned.” God doesn’t want us lost, dislocated, alien, rootless.
Yahweh has that same expansive empathy for the alien and the orphan, responding to the desolating sense of abandonment that the crucified Jesus felt, the alienation slaves–-Hebrew or African--sang of: “Lord, do not forsake us in the wilderness” and “Sometimes ah feels lak a muthahless chile, a long wa-ay from home.” Each of us has felt it, when nothing makes sense anymore, when nothing seems worth challenging anymore, when paralyzing winter seems to have taken up permanent occupancy in one’s soul.
Our first encounter with such traumatic dislocation was birth. For nine months, we’d been as close to paradise as we’ll ever be on earth–-warm, floating, fed, without a worry because we couldn’t think. Then we were rudely ejected into cold and noise, and our first gift from life was a slap to set us screaming. The prime task of the caregivers was to get us as quickly as possible back next to that heartbeat that had been our assurance for nine months. Mother.
Later, when we’d awaken from nightmares in the dark, alone, disoriented, without any landmarks, we cried out–and in an instant, she was there, flipping on the light, wrapping us in her arms, crooning, “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay.” And it was okay. Mommy meant meaning, healing, connection--not only with everything outside us but everything inside, too. Before we had a reasoned philosophy of life–-far more important–-we had “Mama,” assurance of belonging, being valued, being “at home.”
A spark of God’s Spirit lurks within each of us (Hindus and Buddhists teach that, too) and propels us upward from other animals, tries to civilize us, makes us grasp at least in some dim way the sacredness of our souls, wrenches us away from the animal drives within us to degrade ourselves and others, triggers a discontent with mediocrity, pettiness, hypocrisy. I suspect God’s Spirit in us is the irritant we feel when we’re tempted to settle for ordinary, small lives.
During this week, if you really listen, you might sense whispers along the back corridors of your soul, a voice not unlike Obiwan Kenobi’s calling Luke Skywalker from safe anonymity. I’m daring you to listen. Quite likely it’ll murmur something discomforting, like “Is this all there is? Is that all you want? Just to have survived?” If you hit a patch where tedium shoves you back on your heels, wondering which way is up and how the hell you ever got into this cement mixer, that disquiet is quite likely God’s Spirit trying to convince you that you were born for better than rat races, that discovering a felt purpose for the tedious tasks ennobles them–-and you. The Spirit’s waiting (if you have time to sit with her) to help you reconnect the disparate pieces of your life, re-weave all those seemingly incompatible priorities into an organic self, establish within you the realization that, yes, within this skin you are “at home.”
She sits outside our doorways, patiently waiting, to help us claim our life’s inheritance: being sons and daughters of the God who is the aliveness within everything that is.