This week we commemorate the Ascension, when the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus cease so that he may become more immediately present to all who wish to receive him into their hearts. He has prepared his disciples by promising them another “advocate” — he is the first — which they will learn is the Holy Spirit.

“Advocate” is an English translation of the very subtle Greek word “παρ?κλητος” (paraclete), which is variously rendered “comforter,” “counselor,” or even “defender.” Literally, it means “called to one’s side,” someone who shows up when you are in need of support — like a good coach.

A coach is key to a sports team. What do we expect of a good coach? Somebody who is on our side, who is there for us. A coach is often the first responder when an injury occurs but, even more importantly, is a steady presence in the training process. If the athlete follows the coach’s instructions, practicing and exercising with discipline and persistence, the risk of injury can be greatly diminished.

An essential task for the coach is to fire the team up at the beginning of the game, and sometimes midway, if things are not going so well. Typically, this involves three specific action steps that engage both coach and team. The players have to huddle together and “tune in,” first of all. The first thing to be done — any team that is going to go out there and win a game, or turn the tide when things are not going their way — is for the team to focus, get tuned in to what is going on and what they need to do together.

The second thing is to “listen up.” Once the coach has their attention, they have to listen to the message. Usually a coach is going to have something to say, some corrective maneuver, some strategic advice, or even a disciplinary warning. Someone may be asked to move to the sidelines and take a break. Everyone has to pay attention.

Finally, the coach will say play ball or “fall out,” a military term which means take your positions. So they leave the locker room, the security of the mother ship and launch into action. Everyone is clearer on what they are to do, how they will work together, each in their proper place, edified now by the coach’s advice and encouragement.

Now this three-step process takes place in a lot of sports and even in corporate settings, but it’s not a bad model for forming Christian disciples, of effective evangelization, how we live our everyday lives and bear witness to the gospel in the world. So how do we do that?

The first thing we have to do then is to tune in. Which is another way of saying you have to pray. This means taking a pause and putting distractions — really anything else but the Lord — on the back burner for a while. Tune in to the voice of the Lord or, as it is said, “Let go and let God.” Now it sounds very simple though it often takes an effort to get started. The hardest part of prayer is often the first two or three minutes, at least in my experience. Silencing that phone, turning off the TV, uncluttering the mind. It gets better after five minutes. Some people may start with a centering prayer like, “Lord Jesus, I trust in you,” repeated over and over, or “Come, Holy Spirit.” Just focus on the Lord.

This can be done any time of day. On arising — before the surfing and texting start — or at any moment of the day, a work break, waiting online or for an appointment, taking a walk. Monks even do it during meals!

Once in listening mode, the second thing to do is to listen to the Lord’s voice. What does God want to say to me? This is how the Holy Spirit helps us, first getting us to focus and then to help us make the connections we need to have, with God, with others, maybe even our own heart. The Holy Spirit is the master of relationships! So we should not be surprised if a name or two pop up in our minds while praying.

God is always trying to get through to us — against all the other competition — and sometimes other people are. The Holy Spirit may be trying to help us make that connection. It may be that the Holy Spirit, that advocate or coach, may be inspiring us to listen to things, people themselves in need, whom we may not be ready to listen to. Somebody’s name may come to mind, as often happens to me. Maybe that’s the person I need to call today. Prayer always leads to action.

True. Taking the time to tune in and to listen in prayer, adding supplications and praising God with thanks and accolades are certainly actions. But then comes the time to “fall out,” to assume our positions. And what is the Lord asking me to do today?

This is the rhythm of evangelization. It always begins in prayer, where we focus on the Lord, tuning in to hear his voice. Then the next step is always taking the time to listen. Doesn’t have to be a long time, 10, 15 minutes, but just to give God some quality time to hear his voice. Jesus promised us he would come to us. This is the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is real. We can count on it.

At times we may feel the light of faith in our heart is just a flicker. The Holy Spirit can fan that little flame into a fire that can light up the world. It’s the same flame that welled up in the hearts of the greatest saints, that gave the martyrs their courage. Inspired by that word that we heard in our hearts, we take it to the next person we encounter — or we open our hearts to the person who encounters us, and who needs a space in our heart. But whenever or wherever it happens, we will know.

This is how the Holy Spirit works. You can count on it. Jesus promised it. This is the Holy Spirit, our great coach in life, who prompts us to tune in, to listen up and to fall out — to do what we are called to do, to take the Gospel into the world.

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