The Holy Spirit is not a consolation prize. Whenever Jesus speaks of his departure, his ascension, he mentions the Spirit in the same breath: “For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus isn’t just cushioning the blow, but promising something better. Of course the disciples want to hold on to Jesus. He has walked with them, he has healed them, he has taught them. They are safe in his presence, they know which direction to take, they have confidence because he is there. Losing him, they fear losing everything. But if Jesus goes, in a strange way, he will be even closer: “[The Spirit] will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” Though physically absent, Jesus is nearer through the Spirit. Now he lives in them and they do his works.
Jesus’ absence was not pure loss. Instead, his separation from them was the source of the greatest fruit. It is as though his departure left a space in their lives, a space in their hearts, which then the Holy Spirit filled and made fertile for good works. We witness this at times in those who have lost a loved one. That separation leaves a wound in the heart, a unique wound that no one else can fill. It is painful. There are tears and deep longing to be reunited. But if the one grieving is open, the Spirit will eventually make that wound fruitful. The Spirit will take the love that would have been given to one person and distribute it to many. Of course, there does not have to be loss for the heart to be expanded in this way, but that is how it happened between Jesus and his disciples.
Working within our wounds, the Spirit heals us as well. There are plenty of examples of the suffering seeking consolation in the flesh. Wounded by some separation, pained by some loss, many give themselves over to indulgences and sin: “immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” These things never heal us. They only create bigger wounds. However, when the hurting give themselves over to the Spirit, when they place their trust in him, the fruits are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These things are always a salve for our wounds. They also sustain and guide our life in the Spirit: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” These fruits of the Spirit are the sustenance of those who live in him.