In today’s gospel (John 14:23-29) Jesus promises his disciples that after he has gone the Father will send “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit will “teach” the disciples and “remind” them of everything Jesus has told them. This verse tells us a great deal about who the Holy Spirit is and what he does.
First, he is “the Advocate” (in Greek the “Paraclete”). An “advocate” would be one who came to a person’s defense in court. It’s as if the Spirit is to be the disciples’ attorney, standing at their side in the midst of trial. This makes perfect sense for Christians who were being arrested and even threatened with death for their faith. For us, it is a consolation to know that there is Someone who will be at our side, especially in moments of crisis or struggle. Here we can think of the Spirit’s gifts of counsel (knowing the right thing to do) and fortitude (having strength to do what is right).
The Spirit will also “teach you everything.” Here we can think of the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. The Spirit helps us to understand ever more deeply the truth revealed in Christ. We see this being played out in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The Church had to come to terms with whether or not non-Jewish converts had to adhere to all the stipulations of the Mosaic Law. Guided by the Holy Spirit the apostles in Jerusalem came to a decision regarding what was necessary to follow Christ. (See Acts 15 for the whole story.) Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Church continues to respond to new situations in the light of the Gospel.
Finally Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will “remind you of all that I told you.” The Holy Spirit ensures that the disciples of Jesus will not depart from his teaching, but proclaim the Gospel with fidelity. The memory of the Church is expressed in a special way in the liturgy, especially the Eucharist. The Mass is the memorial of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection: “Do this in memory of me.” And it is by the action of the Holy Spirit the “memory” is made real as bread and wine becomes the Lord’s Body and Blood.
That’s just scratching the surface! More about the Holy Spirit in the weeks to come as we approach the great feast of Pentecost.
PS. The Solemnity of the Ascension is transferred from Thursday to next Sunday, May 8. There is no holy day of obligation this week!