I’m reminded of this at this time of the year when we are in the midst of confirmations within the Archdiocese. A wonderful chance to talk about the role of the Holy Spirt in the lives of each of us.
I am also reminded of this as we prepare for the first session of the Synod in October. While some might dismay about the state of the Church, my experience is that the Spirit is directing, shaping and moulding us in the direction God wants, not what we might prefer.
To understand the Church better, we need to understand the Holy Spirit. To forget the Spirit is to reduce the Church to a simple association of like believers or club, or something that is only about ‘me’. To remember the Spirit is to recognise that ‘she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty’ (Wisdom7:25).
To understand the Spirit is not something of the mind only, but it is a whole way of living. To ‘live in the Spirit’ is the way by which we live the Christian life, not simply on our own strength, but through the power of God whose indwelling impels us to ‘Communion, Participation and Mission’ (the theme of the Synod).
Right from the very first page of the Scriptures we see that the Holy Spirit seems to like chaos. We read of the Holy Spirit ‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’. (Genesis 1:2) Drawing forth from that a marvellous diversity that draws into a harmony. The Spirit is dynamic, unpredictable and always driving us toward deep communion with God our neighbour, our deepest self and the whole of creation.
In a world determined to be more individualistic, the deep Christian drive to communion can at times seem counter cultural. Yet it reveals at the deepest level who we are, who we claim to be, who we seek to be. We are instruments of communion with God, ourselves, our neighbour, and indeed the whole of creation. It is the Holy Spirit of God who enables us to live our lives ‘in the Spirit, in Communion’.
We often think, quite rightly, that at the Last Supper Jesus gave us the sacrament of service, (foot washing) and love (gift of His Body and Blood). Two complementary dimensions that equip us to be missionary disciples of Christ.
Sometimes we might forget that at the Last Supper as well, he told his Apostles many things about the Holy Spirit, such as: ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[a] to be with you for ever. 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.’ (John 14:16-17). In another moment during the Last Supper, Jesus even said to the Apostles: ‘Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate[a] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’ (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit’s presence with the Apostles, disciples and entire Church throughout the centuries is always meant to be a comfort, leader and guide to Jesus’ missionary disciples.
Only in St John’s Gospel is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send, called ‘the Advocate’ or ‘the Paraclete’. Both names have the same derivation and meaning, the former is formed from the Latin word, the latter from the Greek. It means someone ‘called to one’s side’ as a helper, principally as a defender in a lawsuit.
The word ‘Paraclete’ also suggests comfort and strength, as implied in the quality paraclesis or perseverance. In the discourse after the Last Supper, when Jesus is preparing his disciples for their future task, there are four separate sayings about the Paraclete.
The Paraclete is sent both by Jesus and by the Father, but always from the Father’s side. The Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, will teach the disciples everything and lead them into all truth, witnessing to the Father. The Paraclete will make Jesus present when Jesus is no longer physically with them.
How often do we forget that the Paraclete is at our side?
We are blessed that the Vatican Council has recalled for us the necessary and essential role of the Holy Spirit in the life of each believer and the Church. We neglect that at our peril.
The role of the Church is to be the Advocate, the Paraclete, called to the world’s side’ as a helper, and as a comfort and strength for others, as implied in the quality of perseverance.
Amado Nervo a Mexican Poet and mystic once wrote:
Alone we are a spark, but in the Spirit we are a fire.
Alone we are only a string, but in the Spirit we are a lyre.
Alone we are only an anthill, but in the Spirit we are a mountain
Alone we are only a drop, but in the Spirit we are a fountain.
Alone we are only a feather, but in the Spirit we are a wing.
Alone we are only a beggar, but in the Spirit we are a King.
As an Archdiocese may we not be cowered by fear, but drawn by hope, knowing the Spirit of God hovers over us, and is at our side, as Lord and Giver of Life.
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