Four-year-old Marion West shouted and jumped for joy each noon when her mother came home from work on her lunch break. Her mother would pick her up at the neighbor’s. They’d hurry home, eat lunch, and play together. But Marion would become hysterical when her mother left again after lunch.
One day her mother stopped coming home for lunch. Marion was saddened. She wondered why her mother stopped coming. She wondered why her mother stopped eating and playing with her. She wondered if her mother still loved her as much as she once did.
Years later Marion learned that her mother still came home each noon. She sat at the kitchen window, eating her lunch and watching Marion play in the neighbor’s yard. All the while she longed to be with Marion. She longed to hold her close, especially when she cried. But it was for Marion’s good that she didn't.
Eventually Marion adjusted to her mother’s absence.. , and grew up in a healthy way. Looking back on it now, Marion sees why her mother stopped coming. It was for her own good, for her own growth and development.
That story has something in common with today’s gospel. For in today’s gospel, Jesus says in effect to his disciples: “You are sad that I tell you I must leave you. You are distressed and fearful. But I tell you, it is better for you if I go. For then my Father will send the Holy Spirit to help you grow and develop in a new way.”
In other words, Jesus is saying to his disciples that it’s time for him to leave them for a while. It’s time for them to begin a new phase in their spiritual growth. It’s time for them to grow and develop in a new way.
What is true of four-year-old Marion and what is true of the disciples of Jesus is also true of us. There come times in our lives when God seems to abandon us. There come times in our lives when God seems to leave us for a while.
Take our prayer, for example. Perhaps there was a time when we experienced deep peace from prayer.
But now we seem to draw little from it. Or take our faith. Perhaps there was a time when our faith was strong enough to move mountains. But now it can hardly move a molehill.
Or take our religious commitment. Perhaps we once derived great satisfaction from working in Marriage Encounter, in RCIA, or as a eucharistic minister. Now we derive very little joy from it.
It’s as though God has abandoned us. We begin to wonder if God still loves us as much as he once did, just as little Marion began to wonder about her mother’s love. The truth is that God loves us very much. He loves us as much as he always did. He still longs to hold us close. But God knows that it’s for our own good that he doesn’t. God knows it’s time for us to begin a new phase in our spiritual growth, just as little Marion did and just as the disciples of Jesus did.
For example, it’s time for us to realize that prayer can take place without feeling on our part. In fact, the best prayer often takes place when our heart seems to turn to stone and we have no feeling at all.
For it is then that we truly pray with faith. It’s time for us to realize that faith is not a feeling. It’s a commitment. It’s a surrender of ourselves to God. It’s saying yes to God, even though we don’t sense or feel his presence, just as little Marion didn’t sense or feel her mother’s presence.
Finally, it’s time for us to realize that the motive for our religious involvement does not come, primarily, from the satisfaction we get from it. We get involved because Jesus asked us to. We get involved because Jesus taught us to. We get involved because Jesus himself did.
A certain man was a collector of moths. One day, while walking in a park, he saw the cocoon of a rare moth hanging from a tree twig. He clipped the twig and took the cocoon home. A few days later he saw movement inside the cocoon, but the moth didn’t emerge. The next day he saw movement again, but again nothing happened. When it happened a third time, the man took a knife and slit the cocoon.
The moth crawled out. But to the moth collector’s dismay, it was undeveloped and soon died.
Later a biologist friend explained why. He said that nature has arranged it in such a way that a moth must struggle to escape its cocoon. It’s this struggle that causes it to develop and makes it strong enough to survive. When the moth collector tried to make it easy for the moth, he destroyed its chances to grow and develop. Something like that happens with us.
God programs struggle into our lives. It’s his way of helping us grow spiritually. God arranged things
so that at certain points in our prayer life we must struggle. He arranged things so that at certain points in our faith life we must struggle. He arranged things so that at certain points in our spiritual life we must struggle. And all the while we are struggling, God is close at hand, just as Marion’s mother was close at hand when little Marion was struggling. God knows that it’s for our own good that we struggle for a while. For it’s through this kind of struggle that we grow and develop spiritually into mature Christians.
Let’s close with a familiar poem that we’ve used on other occasions. It sums up what we have been trying to say.
“For ev’ry pain we must bear, For ev’ry burden, ev’ry care,
There’s a reason.
“For ev’ry grief that bows the head, For ev’ry teardrop that is shed, There’s a reason.
“For ev’ry hurt, for ev’ry plight, For ev’ry lonely, pain-racked night, There’s a reason.
“But if we trust God, as we should, It will turn out for our good. He knows the reason