26 May 2019
I once heard a very moving story about a boy who had a warm and close relationship with his father. They would often go for long walks together, and one of the boy’s favourite times was when they would sit on the beach on a warm, clear night looking up at the stars. The boy’s father would point out some of the stars by name and talk about the God who had created this amazing universe with so many wonderful things in it like the stars. And he would point to one particular bright star and explain to the boy how in the old days sailors would navigate by the stars, and that this was a perfect picture of life: we have to have a star to follow and make sure that we set our course by it each day to avoid getting sidetracked into directions we don’t want to go.
The time came when the boy’s father fell ill and it was clear that he was dying. Just before he died, he handed his son a small package, telling him to open it after the funeral. Inside the boy found a beautiful silver star in the form of a brooch that he could wear on his clothes, a perfect symbol and reminder of all that his father had been to him and the advice that he had given him about finding and following his star.
And it’s something like that that Jesus is saying to his disciples and to us in today’s Gospel, except the reminder he gives us is not something we wear on our clothes, outside, it’s something or rather someone who lives in our heart, the Holy Spirit, given to us in baptism and especially in Confirmation.
In a marvellous way the Holy Spirit both reminds us of Jesus’ words to us, especially his new commandment that we should love each other and love God above all things, and at the same time he is that love, stronger than all our unloving ways. After all, by telling us to love one another as he loves us, Jesus obviously means more than the natural human love we have for our families and friends. We don’t need him to tell us to love them.
He is talking about the kind of love he showed himself, forgiving enemies, putting up patiently with wrongs and misunderstandings, going the extra mile to help someone, putting other people’s needs before our own pleasure. This is a marvellous ideal, but without the help of the Holy Spirit, who could live like that? Lots of people admire the teaching of Jesus, but how many actually live by it? As Chesterton famously remarked, the problem isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but that it hasn’t been properly tried, and we can only attempt to live that way if Jesus’ spirit, the Holy Spirit, lives in us.
Like the star the boy’s father gave him, the Holy Spirit keeps our minds constantly fixed on Jesus. By a kind of inner sense, we just know that certain thoughts, words and actions are not in line with the words of Jesus. He puts before our minds what Jesus was really like, just as the star reminded the boy what his father was like, and gives us both the desire and the power when we feel weak to pick ourselves up again and live like that, no matter how many times we fall. After all, the sailor needs the star to steer by especially when the sea is rough, and we need Jesus and his Spirit more than ever when we experience our sinfulness or lose our sense of where we are going.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux once said, ‘Even if I had on my soul all the crimes that could be committed, I would lose none of my confidence in God. Rather I would hasten, with my heart broken by sorrow, to cast myself into the arms of my Saviour. I know how greatly he loved the prodigal son and how lovingly he spoke to Mary Magdalen, to the adulterous woman and the Samaritan.’
That is the mark of the Holy Spirit in us: a heart humbled by our weakness, but full of confidence in our Saviour, whose love is like a furnace burning up all our rubbish. What a wonderful faith we have: let us humbly ask the Holy Spirit to help us live by it.