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A reflection for Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Find today’s readings here.

When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.
And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning. (Jn 15:26-27)

Before you move on from a place, choose two or three people with whom you want to maintain close friendship, because otherwise you will lose connection altogether. This was the advice I received from a dear Jesuit friend very early on in my Jesuit life, when I was moving back to South Africa after philosophy studies in London. In my 15 years as a Jesuit, I have lived in four countries on four different continents. The painful truth of these words has come to bear.

When that advice was first shared with me by a Jesuit responsible for my initial formation, with whom I had become very close—shared many hours of conversation, tears, laughs and ministry—I vowed then and there that he would be one of the three people with whom I would keep close contact; it wasn’t to be. When I moved to philosophy studies, I made a similar list. I’ve barely kept up with two. I’ve maintained even looser bonds with friends I left behind in Brazil. Now, I can’t deny that when I’ve returned to some of these places and people, we were able to pick up the friendship where we had left it years prior. And yet, most of my experience has borne the much more piercing truth of Heraclitus: “No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”

One of the greatest disappointments of my life was returning to a place where I had lived some of my happiest days to find all had moved on; the love I once felt, the places I once frequented. “There is a solve to this problem,” many people have told me. “Keep shallow roots; don’t become too attached.”

The justification for this conviction is often further cemented—by those wishing to help me deal with the heartache of moving on as often as we Jesuits do—with the reminder of an ideal from my own spiritual tradition: that of Ignatian indifference.

The principle of indifference developed in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is erroneously applied in this context. Indifference can often be understood as a practice of shelving one’s feelings to make a dispassionate decision. Instead, the exercise is a much more demanding one. Ignatius invites us, over and over, to take account of our feelings and passions, to consider the people and the places wherein we find ourselves and, even feeling the wholehearted love or anger we do, to choose what needs to be done and go where one is sent, or to obey God’s calling in us despite our strong feelings for or against a particular proposition.

Indifference can often be understood as a practice of shelving one’s feelings to make a dispassionate decision. Instead, the exercise is a much more demanding one.

Jesus is again being sent on a mission by the Father in today’s Gospel, but this time it is to places where his disciples cannot go. He will first return to Jerusalem where he will endure his Passion and experience profound loneliness and abandonment—even the absence of God’s very self in him; the core of his being, his raison d’être. Then he will complete his earthly mission and return to the heart of God, his father. He knows that he is in the last days of his time with his friends and he wants to prepare them for what is to come, but they do not see it. Or, at least, they are reticent to accept the truth they know is to come. It was much the same for my Jesuit sage, who tried to prepare me for what I know is true today. He had experienced this in his bones. I think he, like Jesus, wanted to wean me gently into the hard depths of the reality of moving on from a place after planting deep roots, and falling in love with people and places. He knew the map and terrain and wanted to prepare me for some of the eventualities, conscious that though we would cross the same river the waters would have shifted and we were different people.

When Jesus says he is returning to the Father, and promises us that from there he will send the Spirit of God—paraklētos in Greek, the “Advocate” as it is rendered in the translations here in the U.S., or the “Helper” or “Comforter” as others have translated the same word—he says that it is a spirit that will testify to the truth; to attest to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and make God’s Word known in the world. Perhaps surprisingly, Jesus invites us to testify to that same truth, “because you have been with me from the beginning,” as he tells his disciples.

There is a pledge, again and again, in the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit of God will give the disciples the courage to testify to God in the world, that they are, in essence, now the embodiment of God’s spirit and truth alive and active in the world. By extension, this is our role today. In Jesus, we too have the road map and know the terrain of discipleship and the sacrifices this Way demands. But how we make sense of it is up to us and God’s Spirit at work, alive and active, in each of us. Our hearts are ready and God’s Spirit has come to dwell in us.

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