As I write, the song By My Side from the musical production, Godspell, is playing. In the opening lines the artist sings “where are you going? Where are you going? Can you take me with you? For my hand is cold And needs warmth. Where are you going?”
The composer of the song, Peggy Gordon, states that the song was originally a love song sung by one character to her love, But in Godspell it is adapted so that it represents the newly forgiven Mary Magdalene seeking the courage to follow Jesus from that day forward. Shy to make a full commitment and say ‘I will follow you’, she softens her statement and merely asks a question ‘where are you going?’
But in today’s gospel account, it is Jesus who introduces this issue of the disciple following his or her teacher. While Jesus marvels at their lack of interest in the journey he must now undertake, he also clarifies that in fact this is a journey they cannot accompany him on.
For this journey is to the Father and it is part of a much grander scheme whereby the presence of Jesus will be mediated now by the Spirit and that from this time on it will be the Spirit in each of us who will lead us into relationship with Jesus and guide our discipleship.
The resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost are mysteries and do challenge us. However, the early church tended not so much to separate these three moments in the exaltation of Jesus after the Passion, but rather to see them all as part of the one great reality ‘Easter’. All were aspects of the one movement of Jesus towards the Father and all were part of God’s plan for our salvation.
Nevertheless today our attention is drawn to the words of Jesus which promise the coming of the Spirit to be our Advocate – one who speaks in our defence.
The Spirit is named here as the one who will convict the world of guilt, but we must remember that the Spirit is also our defender. In truth we will see the Spirit as more than this and learn that the Spirit is counsellor, a comforter, a helper, a companion, teacher and witness.
All these potentials and actions are God’s gift to us. A presence whose mission is to keep us close to Christ, to be with him on our own journeys of discipleship.
Our journey may not be like that of Paul and Silas, we may not face persecution, rejection and punishment, but we will have many opportunities to offer witness through our example and our words.
While the first reading today stresses a dramatic intervention of God (the earthquake), our own witness may well reverberate too. It may not shake the foundations of buildings, but there are moments when others looking on and seeing a Christian act like Christ, is moved to his or her very depths. Witness, especially when it is close to an act of pure love, can move hearts and change whole lives forever.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.