Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29
God did not come to us in Jesus Christ and then go away leaving us orphans. No. God our Father loves us and will never abandon us. This teaching allows us to better understand what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel when He says “we” will come and dwell within the person who loves me. Jesus expands on that when He speaks of The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom He will send to His followers when He, Jesus, no longer walks among us as a human being.
There is an intimate, personal relationship between Jesus, God our Father, and the Holy Spirit, so close that whatever one does the others with him do as well. Whenever God acts He acts triunely The Father sent Jesus into the world, so through Jesus and with Jesus God our Father will send the Advocate, the One who will be with us, not simply alongside us, but within us. God calls us to be temples of the Holy Spirit.
Earlier in His discourse with His apostles at the Last Supper Jesus told them:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. (John 14:15-21)
We need to see that God’s gift of the Holy Spirit continues in many dimensions the work of Jesus. He is the “spirit of truth.” The role of the Holy Spirit is twofold: to inspire and to teach the disciples, and to remind them of what Jesus had already taught them. In his Gospel, St. John made it clear that the disciples do not understand what Jesus has been trying to tell them, even though they had been with him since He first called them. They need to face the future with peaceful hearts, secure in the knowledge of God’s love and with a clear sense of purpose and, more importantly, without fragmentation of the believing community. Even though Jesus will no longer be physically with them He will be with them in our communion of His Body and Blood… and God will continue to be present among them. As Jesus has been with them, they will not be left alone; He will continue to be with them in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who will continue teaching them, helping them to understand and to build on what Jesus has already taught them. The Advocate will bring no new revelation; God has already revealed Himself in Jesus. But the Advocate will deepen their understanding of that revelation of God in Jesus.
It is in this sense that they are not to be troubled even in the face great trials and difficulties. It is in the face of very real threats that Jesus promises these things to them. The ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the faith community will bring a security of God’s presence as the Holy Spirit reveals to them the implications of what God has done in Jesus. That is not security in the sense of physical safety, but security in the sense of knowing that they are carrying on God’s work. In that peace and security they will be able to meet any and all threats, threats soon coming to them.
It is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit that allays the troubled hearts of the disciples who cannot see a future without Jesus. This is the “peace” with which Jesus leaves them. Here “peace” is not just the absence of conflict, but rather the far deeper concept of shalom, the total well-being of the person and community. The promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will bring a peace that will quell their fears of the unfolding darkness ahead.
It is because of this that Jesus can tell them not only that they should not fear His departure, but that they should actually rejoice at the prospect. His departure would open up a whole new future for them, as well as allow Jesus to return to the Father. There are subtle end of time overtones here. The return of Jesus to the Father means that the future unfolding of God’s purposes are in process. Our eternal “home” is being prepared, and in God’s good time the return of Jesus can take place at the end of the world.
But this is not escapism. While the end of time dimension is there, the emphasis still falls on the present realities of living as God’s people, living in the church in an uncertain world filled with conflict and apostasy. Jesus continually told them of that future, but they simply cannot comprehend it. Yet, with the presence of the Holy Spirit filling the void in the community left by Jesus’ departure, John is convinced that the community will endure, will be faithful in its witness to Jesus Christ, and will be able to withstand the attacks of false teachers. From this conviction, John records Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit, as one of the last gifts the resurrected Christ was to impart to the disciples prior to His ascension into heaven.
All of this means that we cannot simply sit back and wait while doing nothing. Being passive does not give honor and glory to God. Nor does it give Him respect. No. All of this means that we must be prayerfully open to the Holy Spirit, to spend quiet, reflective time alone with God, and to actively discern His movements within us. Then we can act according to God’s will.
A great example for us to follow is St. Joseph. He was a skilled tradesman, a carpenter and builder by trade, active, busy, and engaged in providing for his wife, Mary. But busy and active as he was, he was a man who paid attention to the movements of the Holy Spirit within him. Moved by the Holy Spirit he took Mary as his wife even though she was already pregnant. Moved by the Spirit he took Jesus and Mary to Egypt in order to protect them from King Herod’s wrath. Later, after Herod’s death, moved by the Spirit, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Nazareth where Jesus was raised under Joseph’s guidance and tutelage.
What I am suggesting to you is that Jesus’ promised gift of the Holy Spirit is a promised gift to you and me, no matter how much we must pay attention to the affairs of this world, engaged as we all are in making a living and providing for those whom we love. God did not leave His disciples orphans. God has not left us as orphans either. God’s promise gave those members of the early Church the peace and security of the Advocate, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit. God continues to give us that same presence with His peace and security in the midst of all of our modern day trials and fearsome events.
Allow me now to say it again: we cannot remain passive and simply sit back and wait for God to act. No. We must develop eyes to see and ears to hear the promptings and whisperings of God’s Holy Spirit and discern His movements upon us and within us. A promised gift remains just a promise until we receive what is given. When we actively receive it then it becomes a gift, a gift not only for our own benefit but likewise for those around us.
In a few moments we will receive Christ in His Body and Blood. With Him we also receive His Holy Spirit. May He inspire you all the days of your life.
About Charles Irvin
Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”