Happy Ascension Day! Jesus’ ascension into heaven translates into his saving presence for everyone who looks to him for help. That’s what Jesus teaches in his farewell discourse when he says, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Paraklete [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
Let’s start with the Paraklete (also spelled “paraclete”). In John 14-16, Jesus refers repeatedly to the Holy Spirit with the title “Paraklete.” A paraklete is someone who answers a call for help, so the Holy Spirit as Paraklete is the third Person in God answering our call for help by coming alongside us in order to give us exactly the grace we need. In his inspired book Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John; Jean Vanier celebrates the Paraklete by observing: “What a beautiful name! God is the one who answers the cry of the weak and those in need. A mother is a “paraklete” for her child when she answers the cry of her little one, holds and loves him or her. Every time we look after a person in need and answer their cry, we become paracletes. Jesus was a paraclete for his disciples.” (p. 260)
Jesus continues as Paraklete for us by sending the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts portrays the risen Jesus as appearing to his disciples over a period of forty days in order to show himself alive and to teach them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3) Before being taken up into heaven, Jesus instructs his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. Ten days later, on the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples with astonishing signs and great power. (Acts 2)
Sometimes, we associate the Holy Spirit primarily with spectacular deeds and wonders. In John 14-16, Jesus teaches us to experience the Holy Spirit also as One coming alongside us to take “away the anguish of loneliness [and to bring] presence, security, peace, and communion.” (Vanier, p. 260) On the great but largely neglected holiday of the Ascension, you can call on Jesus for both enthusiasm to do great deeds and also consolation in times of anguish. Every day, our Lord waits eagerly to come alongside you as the Paraklete in order to give you just the help you need.
In the Bible there are images of God, comparing him to earthly beings. It gives us a better understanding of God's traits when we imagine him as our loving father, or like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings (Luke 13:34), or a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13), even a bear (Hosea 13:8), a lamb, a shepherd, and others. Since we are images of God, we share those characteristics, too. We share those names.
This reflection is on Paraklete -- "what a beautiful name!" as Jean Vanier wrote. It's a name for mothers, and not just mothers, all of us who "look after a person in need and answer their cry." It's a name for God, the Holy Spirit, the third person of God. Praise God for the Parakletes of this world -- the Holy Spirit he sent us, who walks alongside us, giving us "just the help we need"; the mothers many of us were blessed with and tried to be, who heard the the cries of their children and held and loved them; and the many others in this world, who look after their fellow persons in need, answering their cries.