This homily was delivered on 25 May at the Santacruzan de Mayo in Wembley Park and based on John 14:15-21.
I will recite names of famous people and characters. Try to guess what they have in common: Batman and Robin. Spiderman. Wolverine. Tarzan. Clark Kent. Cinderella. Snow White. James Bond. Frodo Baggins. Luke Skywalker. Santa Claus. Harry Potter. Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort).
They all have one thing in common. Can you guess what it is?
They are all orphans. They all grew up without one or both biological parents. If you know their stories, you can imagine how their lives would have been so different if they had not been orphaned. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson became the crime-fighting duo, Batman and Robin, because both their parents had been murdered. Cinderella would never have needed her fairy godmother’s help, maybe never lost a shoe, and never married her Prince Charming if she hadn’t been an orphan who was maltreated by her stepmother and stepsisters. Likewise, Snow White would never have required the kiss of her Prince if she hadn’t been poisoned by her wicked and jealous stepmother. Clark Kent would never have been a Superman had his parents not sent him away to escape the destruction of their planet Krypton. Harry Potter would not have become an invincible wizard if Voldemort never killed his parents, and who knows what would have happened to Voldemort if he hadn’t grown up an orphan? And so on and so forth.
At whatever age it happens, becoming an orphan, losing a parent–or both of them–changes us and, whether we accept it or not, marks the end of our world as we know it. No matter how mature we are, losing a parent is a life-changer.
In the Gospel reading today, our Lord promises his disciples–and us as well–that he will not leave us orphans. He knows what he is talking about, for he is no stranger to loss and pain. He understands what it feels like to be an orphan since tradition tells us that he himself lost his foster father, Joseph, by the time he started his Public Ministry. So when he tells his disciples that he will not leave them orphans, he isn’t giving us some empty, secondhand platitudes like the ones we find ourselves saying when we go to someone’s funeral. He knows what he is talking about because he has “been there, done that.” He wants to assure his disciples on this night of his arrest, the night before his death. This early he is already promising them that his absence will not make them orphans because he will send to them–and to us–his Holy Spirit.
This coming Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension, when we recall how our Lord returns to heaven to take his place at the right hand of the Father. But his Ascension does not mean absence because his Spirit continues to be with us.
And just as importantly: To make sure that we always have access to him, our Lord established the Sacrament of the Eucharist, so that we could be in his presence whenever we come together in church for worship or even when we just visit the Blessed Sacrament to pray on our own. We should be grateful for this gift of our Lord’s continuing presence in the Blessed Sacrament–something we tend to take for granted.
Our celebration today of the Santacruzan, part of the Filipino traditional May devotion to our Blessed Mother, is a reminder of our Lord’s continued desire to be present to us. As we know, the Santacruzan, is a pageant held in honor of Helena of Constantinople, the mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great. Helena was appointed by her son Constantine to look for holy relics, and so she traveled to the Holy Places in Palestine in the years 326-28 AD.
According to tradition, when Helena arrived at the site of Jesus’ tomb near Calvary, she found a temple built by the previous Roman emperor, Emperor Hadrian. She ordered the demolition of the pagan temple, and began an excavation project in the site. There they found three different crosses, one of which could be the True Cross, but nobody knew which cross was actually the one where our Lord was crucified. To find out, Helena had a dying woman brought near the crosses. When she touched the first and second crosses, nothing happened, but when she touched the last one, she suddenly recovered from her illness. This miracle convinced Helena that it was the True Cross of our Lord, and it was parts of this cross that she brought back with her to Rome among other relics, where they can still be found today. Where the cross was discovered, her son ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Today, a 12th-century building sits on the remains of the 4th-century church and is the only church in the world where six Christian denominations visit and worship in the same place. It is also the place where the Holy Father, Pope Francis, will be holding a unity meeting with other religious leaders during his visit today.
So on the very day that we remember the discovery of the Holy Cross, the Holy Father himself is visiting the very place where that relic was found. Let us thank God for our faith, but most of all for the constantly faithful and loving presence of our Lord symbolized by the True Cross discovered by the Empress Helena, and continually available to us in the Eucharist.
Whatever happens in our lives, we will never be orphans because Jesus will always be near us, like an ever-watchful and loving father.