An Advocate to Be With You Always (John 14:15-21)

Sixth Sunday of Easter

In this reading, Jesus promises his disciples that after he has gone, they will not be alone: the Holy Spirit will come to dwell with them and in them, and not just with them but with disciples through the ages. But it will require some movement on the disciples’ part too — on our part — to know the Holy Spirit and work with him. Jesus tells them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (Paraklētos) to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.”

The word usually translated “Advocate,” “Counselor,” or “Helper” (Paraklētos) comes from the root verb parakaleo, which has a broad range of meaning: to urge, encourage, ask, console, comfort, and even summon or invite. Because of the multitude of ways that the Holy Spirit works with us — including all of the above — it seems very fitting that the word used to describe the Spirit would be so versatile.

The way that Jesus speaks about this makes it clear that the Holy Spirit, who like Christ is part of the Personhood of God, is not simply going to whir away in the background accomplishing things while not involving us in any way. Jesus tells his disciples, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name — he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26). Jesus connects the Holy Spirit with the active result of loving him: keeping his commandments. Through knowing and participating with the Spirit, we will be much better able to keep the more difficult commandments of Jesus, the ones that ask us to subordinate our automatic tendency toward self-focus and to love others with a willingness to sacrifice that self-focus.

When we act on Jesus’ teachings out of love for him, we are transformed. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23). How does this happen, and what is the role of the Holy Spirit? Saint Paul writes that, among other things, the Holy Spirit helps us to pray, and thereby to come closer to the same God of whom the Spirit is a part, to know him and to feel him within our depths.

When we sit in quiet prayer, listening to whatever God might have to say to our hearts with his mercy and love, or reflecting on a Scripture passage, or holding other people before our mind’s eye in prayer for them, the Holy Spirit is stirring within us. In this stirring he is helping us to pray, and when we respond with our love and our prayer, he stirs and orients our being toward God all the more. Over time, if we cooperate in the unfolding of this process, a charitable spirit toward others overcomes more and more of our innate selfishness and we become configured to Christ. When this happens we can feel, like Paul, that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Perhaps we might feel peace, or a desire to pray still more. But inevitably and irresistibly, we will also experience the urge to be a more positive presence in the lives of others — even in seemingly small but actually big ways like practicing more active kindness and compassion, both for strangers and for people we know well, both for people we like and people we don’t. It is for the latter that we must rely even more on the stirring of the Holy Spirit within us. For Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?… But love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing in return; then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).

We will know that we’re working with and being transformed by the Holy Spirit when we notice “the fruits of the Spirit” in our being, manifesting themselves in our actions. Paul describes these fruits as “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, modesty, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). To the degree that we can willingly grow in these through our cooperation with the Holy Spirit, we become more like Christ. And this is what he wants for us, not only for the good of others whose lives will inevitably benefit from our becoming more like Christ, but for our own good. There is nothing better for our souls than to become as closely united to the Source of our very being, the Source of all love, as we possibly can. Only in that Source do we discover our truest selves, the people that our Creator sees in us and wants us to be.

Holy Spirit, Paraklētos, one of the three Persons of the united God, help us to pray, to know humility, to work with you to become more like Christ who is the Way, and thereby to radiate outward the love that we feel in God.

Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Keck

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