This homily is based on John 14:15-21.
Here are names of famous people and characters. Try to guess what they have in common: Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Cinderella. Snow White. Wolverine. 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.
I lost my father when I was just a boy. It signalled the end of the world as I knew it then. When I look back, I can’t help but be awed by how much my life was defined by that traumatic event, and at the same time by how I had, with God’s help, managed to survive it.
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; tradition tells us that he himself lost his foster father, Joseph, before he even 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 sometimes 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 give his disciples assurance 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.
To make sure that we always have access to him, our Lord also established the Sacrament of the Eucharist that same night, 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.
Today we are invited to be grateful for the gift of our Lord’s continuing presence both through the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Sacrament–something we tend to take for granted. Let us celebrate this truth today: Whatever happens in our lives, we will never be orphans because Jesus will always be near us, like an ever-watchful and loving father.