Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
Jesus said, “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 forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
“The Lord is my shepherd,” yes, familiar. How would you feel if you heard someone say “The Lord is my defence lawyer?” Yet that is the basic meaning of the word ‘paraclete’. It has many different connotations, of course, in John’s gospel: spokesperson, mediator, intercessor, teacher, comforter, consoler…. Everything except accuser. There is hope for us all.
If this sounds new to you, then you may have been thinking of God all along as your enemy and accuser. Don’t be surprised: millions are in the same boat.
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,” Jesus said; clearly, he himself is the first. He is explicitly called that in 1 John 2:1, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just one.” Sadly many Christians feel that Jesus too is their judge rather than their defence lawyer, spokesperson, mediator….
The other Advocate or Paraclete promised by Jesus is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is a witness to Jesus; he will continue the work of Jesus, mediating the divine presence to the disciples; he will remind them of what Jesus taught them, he will continue to interpret Jesus to them.
At the end of volume 1 of his 3-volume book on the Holy Spirit, Yves Congar, one of the greatest of 20th-century theologians, has a section entitled ‘Substitutes for the Holy Spirit.’ He quotes the severe criticism by a P. Pare who claimed that the Catholic Church has three substitutes for the Holy Spirit: the Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Virgin and the Pope. Congar writes, “This criticism is certainly exaggerated…. Nonetheless, Pare is criticising something not entirely fanciful.” Congar then goes on to quote hair-raising statements by popes, cardinals and bishops of the past that gave rise to Pare’s criticism. It shows clearly that when we leave the Holy Spirit out of the picture we damage not only that particular doctrine of the Faith but all the other doctrines as well. Congar continues, “Vatican II was explicit in giving the Holy Spirit its rightful place.”
Pope Pius IX (pope from 1846 to 1878), wrote, “The beginning, root and indefectible source of the unity of the Church is the supreme authority… of Peter and… his successors on the Roman throne.” But Pope Paul VI wrote in a very different vein, “It is the Holy Spirit who animates and sanctifies the Church. He is her divine breath, the wind in her sails, the principle of her unity, the inner source of her light and strength. He is her support and consoler, the source of her charisms and songs, her peace and her joy, her pledge and prelude to blessed and eternal life.”
What the soul does for the body the Holy Spirit does for the Church. “Without the Holy Spirit,” said Ignatius of Laodicea (Orthodox Metropolitan, at the third assembly of the World Council of Churches at Uppsala, in 1968) “God is distant, Christ is merely an historical figure, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is just an organisation, authority is domination, mission is propaganda, liturgy is only nostalgia, and the work of Christians is slave labour. But with the Holy Spirit, Christ is risen and present, the Gospel is a living force, the Church is a communion in the life of the Trinity, authority is a service that sets people free, mission is Pentecost, the liturgy is memory and anticipation, and the labour of Christians is divinised.”