Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the coming down and the movement of the Holy Spirit that resulted in the birth of the Christian church. It is a fine day to have young people make their profession of faith and join our church.
One of the great Hispanic traditions is that of padrinos and madrinas, godparents. We generally think of padrinos and madrinas for baptisms, weddings, and confirmations. One ancient reason for padrinos and madrinas was to provide a couple who could help finance the education of a child, especially if the parents died or became unable to provide for the child.
There are other important reasons for godparents. Godparents who take their role seriously are mentors to the children they sponsor in a baptism or a confirmation. Mentoring means providing wisdom, guidance, and experience to a child. A great breakdown in our society is the loss of mentoring. Years ago, village and town elders mentored young people, teaching them specific skills to support themselves. Today, many young people receive little or no mentoring, no direction as to how they should live and have meaningful employment.
Another important role of godparents is listening in an unbiased way. Parents sometimes have a difficult time listening to their children. Parents often have a difficult time being nonjudgmental toward their children. Godparents are a step removed from being the parental authority and so have a better opportunity to listen in an nonjudgmental way. How wonderful it is to have someone listen to us in an accepting way—not that they will agree, but that they will really listen and take us seriously. Sometimes relationship gaps develop between parents and their children. When such gaps develop, godparents can step in and offer love, advice, friendship, companionship, acceptance, and support in critical moments of a young person’s life.
Sometimes parents get weary to the point of total exhaustion. Godparents then can offer encouragement, motivation, and inspiration to a young person who needs a bit of prodding. Godparents help their godchildren in their weakness. Godparents also pray for their godchildren. Godparents pray with gratitude when children do well. Godparents pray for children having problems or some difficulty in life.
Godparents pray for children who are ill physically, emotionally, and spiritually. How wonderful to know that someone who cares about you and loves you is praying for you. That is what good godparents do.
Today’s scripture is about the greatest godparent of all, the Holy Spirit. Listen to verses 26 and 27 from Romans chapter 8:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
In these two verses, Paul tells us two important things about the Holy Spirit. First, Paul states that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Often we are weak. Even when we think we are strong, we are weak. We are weak physically, emotionally, rationally, and spiritually. Ungodly forces such as arrogance and materialism easily tempt us.
An ancient church father, Origen, said, “The weakness that the Spirit helps us with is the flesh. Whenever the Holy Spirit sees our spirit struggling with the flesh and being drawn to it, he stretches out his hand and helps us in our weakness” (Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VI, Romans [Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1998], 229). What a blessing that the Holy Spirit remembers us and helps us in our weakness.
Second, the Holy Spirit prays for us. The Spirit intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit advocates on our behalf that God may have mercy on us and bless us with God’s love. We are spiritually fragile and vulnerable to temptation and distractions that lead us astray from our journey with God.
We cannot journey alone in a time of spiritual confusion and darkness. We need someone to help us who knows us, remembers us, and cares for us. How wonderful it is to know that the Holy Spirit intercedes and prays for us!
A devout Christian woman had a brilliant but incorrigible son. She took him to church, she read the Bible to him, all to no avail. For many years, she prayed for him. She asked family and friends to pray for him. She asked the bishop to pray for him. Meanwhile her son seemed to get further and further away from God. He doubted the word of God. His lifestyle was unconventional and contrary to church teachings. Yet, his mother never wavered in her praying. God answered her prayers. One day the Spirit of God touched this young man’s life and he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.
The young man became a devout Christian and in time became one of the church’s greatest theologians. The Spirit of God helped him in his weakness and interceded on his behalf. For us too, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us. We do not have to be lost and wallow in spiritual darkness and misery. The Spirit of God brings light and life to us, if only we ask for it, if only we desire it, if only we choose to be children of God. My prayer and hope is that you will let the Spirit of God help you in your moments of weakness and intercede on your behalf. Let the Holy Spirit be your spiritual mentor. Let the Holy Spirit be your spiritual guide. Let the Holy Spirit be your true godparent. Let the Holy Spirit pray for you. Let the Holy Spirit be your celestial intercessor. If you do, you will be blessed beyond your greatest hopes. (A slightly different version of “A Celestial Intercessor” was published in Apuntes: Reflexiones teológicas desde el margen hispano, vol. 23, no. 1:29-32, Spring 2004.)