I can imagine that it must have been very difficult for the disciples to accept, or even understand, these words. Here they were, listening to someone in whom they had put all their trust and their hopes. They had seen him performing miracles. They had listened attentively to his teachings. They had seen the crowds following him in their thousands. Meeting him must have been the best thing that ever happened in their lives. And now he is telling them not only that he must go, but that it is for their own good. Because if he does not go, the “paraclete” or “advocate” – whoever that might be! – would not be sent to them. The conclusion for the disciples must have been clear, and huge! This one who will be sent by Jesus when he goes will be even better than Jesus himself for them!
Jesus cannot stay physically with them. He is to return to the Father – a celebration which we celebrated last week. But, many times, he had promised that he would not abandon his disciples. And Jesus keeps his promises. He found a number of different ways how to do this. He founded the Eucharist, through which we believe he is always present for us. And he gave us his own Spirit. By receiving the Spirit, we have received a share of Jesus’ own being. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, which, literally, means someone who is called (kalein) beside/alongside (para). This Spirit is given to us, therefore, to accompany us throughout our lives. The Spirit is there to help us, to give us courage when it fails us, to enlighten us in times of confusion, to strengthen us when we feel week. Indeed, now we are now never alone.
What happened on that day of Pentecost when the disciples were locked in that upper room is truly amazing. These were people who, just a few weeks earlier, had run away full of fear. Having had some courage to venture out, Peter had soon discovered that he was probably scared more than the others. He forcefully denied in any way knowing Jesus. Now, after receiving the Holy Spirit they went out to preach, and nothing could stop them, not even the barrier of language. They found courage; they found wisdom to say the right things. They found energy within themselves, like a burning fire. The image of tongues of fire in this story is very powerful,
Unfortunately, we often tend to forget the beauty of this gift which we have received in our baptism. Jesus knows that, on our own, we cannot do much good. He knows our weaknesses, our limitations, our brokenness. That is why he gave so much importance to this gift when he spoke to his disciples about it. We too are often painfully aware of what holds us back from doing good, or from doing what we know we should be doing. It is precisely in those moments when we need to remember what power we have received. All we have to do is to humbly ask for help. We won’t be disappointed.