I have had many great teachers over my many years of learning - grade school, high school, college, several graduate programs. Two men stand out for a unique kind of teaching that they gave me that had nothing to do with academics, though both were very well equipped academically. The kind of teaching I am referring to is mentoring. A mentor is someone a little older than the self, or someone with more wisdom and experience than the self, who gives us emotional, spiritual and relational intelligence that one cannot get at school.
Jerry was such a mentor. He is a priest who now lives out of state. I met him in my early 20's. He taught me how to pray as an adult. I had all the rote prayers and prayer formulas that any pious, south-side Irish guy could have. But Jerry witnessed to me and taught me how to talk to God from my heart, how to be totally myself with God. He introduced me to the unconditional love that God has for me and for all of creation. This new understanding of God and prayer radically changed my life. Jerry blessed a rather anxiety prone person (myself) with a great inner resource; the ability to connect with God on personal/interpersonal levels.
I also met someone I will call Doctor Z. in my early 20's. He was my counselor for many, many years. He taught me how to go into myself and name my feelings. He taught me to not be afraid of or ashamed of any emotions. He taught me the value of gaining insight into one's self and one's development. He taught me that the way people grow is essentially by changing behavior. He was patient and loving in the face of my mistakes and weaknesses. He totally accepted me as I was, and challenged me to do better with my life. The last I heard of him he was very, very ill.
I have come to believe that mentoring is essential for healthy adulthood. As we move through our adolescent and young adult years, it is very important for us to interact with adults other than our parents and relatives, who help us to create the first version of our adult life structure. I am grateful that I was the recipient of such wonderful mentoring. I am concerned about adults, young and older, that did not receive such guidance and direction. Life is or will be hard for them.
Human mentors are but a reflection, however, of another kind of mentoring going on in each of our lives. In the Gospel today from John 14, Jesus promises us that He is going to send us an Advocate. This notion of advocate is somewhat similar to a mentor. The Greek term for advocate is parakletos or paraclete. The Greek notion of paraclete comes from a role in Greek law. The paraclete was a mediator, a helper for the person. Jesus has promised us that we will never be alone in life. Rather, He is sending the Advocate, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to be with each of us and all of us, as individuals and as a community.
What does the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, do for us? In a real sense, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is God for Us. Sometimes we all have days when we feel life is working against us. The reality of the Advocate is Jesus's promise that God is always working for us.
- Offers divine, unconditional love; total acceptance of who we are.
- Offers us divine intimacy; everlasting communion with God.
- Offers us encouragement, especially in the face of life's problems and difficulties.
- Offers us protection. The Spirit is all around us defending us from evil.
- Offers us empathy and forgiveness. The Holy Spirit always extends understanding to us as we are, and forgives our mistaken and sinful ways and patterns.
- Comforts us when we are in pain, sadness or hurt.
- Helps us when we experience our own talents and strengths as limited.
- Gives us wisdom, breakthrough kinds of insights in the face of life's mysterious ways.
- Inspires us to reach beyond the here and now to connect with forces beyond us, greater than we are.
- Challenges us. The Spirit is the voice of conscience within us, beckoning us toward that which is truthful, right and good.
Thus, there is a great mentoring force at work in us always the Spirit, the Advocate, the Paraclete. What a great blessing, what a great gift Jesus has left for us. As Dr. Wayne Dyer has written in The Power of Intention: Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way, we need to be deliberate in trying to connect with this Spirit or Advocate. Great power, in the best sense of the word, Divine power, is waiting for us. And that Divine Power can spontaneously overtake us, but often the Spirit is waiting on us to make deliberate attempts to connect with the Spirit.
I believe that Jerry and Doctor Z. were relationships that connected me with the Spirit. Through them, connecting with the Spirit became a habit of my own heart. The Holy Spirit is transmitted relationally. That certainly is the message in the Acts of the Apostles today, where we see a dichotomy between ritual and the experience of the Spirit. Some people in Samaria are baptized, but the baptism did not impart to them the experience of the Spirit. Rather, Peter and John had to go to these people in Samaria, go to them, spend time with them, pray with them, and lay hands on them before they had a heartfelt experience of the Spirit.
In the second reading from 1 Peter, we are encouraged to always be ready to give an explanation of our faith. Being able to explain one's faith is technically referred to as apologetics. Sometimes that term is interpreted negatively, like we are apologizing for something. No. Apologetics, technically, in terms of faith, is being able to explain and/or defend our faith. Evangelicals and Protestants actually memorize explanations of their faith as part of their training for every day, ordinary evangelizing. Catholics need to learn how to do this also. Just think of the wonderful gift all of us could give to others, as Jerry and Doctor Z. did for me, by introducing people to a personal, prayerful relationship with God, in the Spirit.
As others have done for us, let us make it our mission to introduce other people to the wonderful, ever-loving, life-giving Advocate, the Holy Spirit.