Father Anthony Oelrich composed a series of five reflections on the promises in the Gospel of St. John. Beginning today, he will share one each Sunday through Pentecost.
In addition to Easter being the season of resurrection, it is also the season of the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit. These two—resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit—are really only two aspects of a single event. St. John tells us that it was on the evening of the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection that is, that Jesus came to his disciples, breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22). In a certain sense, Easter Sunday is also Pentecost Sunday. To be more precise, the Feast of Pentecost is the liturgical celebration of the truth that the Easter mystery is not simply about Jesus, but is also our sharing in his new and eternal life through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
As we prepare for the Church’s celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, on the last Sunday of Easter, I would like to offer some reflections on the five Holy Spirit promises in St. John’s Gospel. You find these promises in John 14:16-17; 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11; 16:12-15.
The first promise reads:
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Paraclete 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.
This passage introduces us to the central subject of this promise as well as the four that will follow, that is the Paraclete. To be precise, it is the promise of ‘another Paraclete.’ Jesus, only here in John’s gospel, is identifying himself as a Paraclete. The Greek word paraklētos is multivalent. It means one who councils, assists, defends, stands up for, comforts another.
Before the lies and darkness of the world, Jesus has stood with his disciples as a paraclete, defending them with the truth of the Father and assisting them to embrace the light and life that comes by loving God and their neighbor. Jesus himself is this ‘truth of the Father’ precisely in his being the Son of God, which is to say in his relationship with the Father. It is this relationship of complete gift and receptivity existing for all eternity between the Father and the Son that is the truth of our existence as human beings. Jesus Christ in his humanity is the revelation of this truth.
Now Jesus promises the disciples that when he leaves this world, they will be given another paraclete. The Spirit will help them in the face of assaults from the world to live the truth, to live in the relationship that the Son shares with the Father from all eternity and which will be theirs because of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection.
Notice, from the last verse of this promise, this Spirit has already remained, has been with the disciples. Jesus’ historical existences has been permeated with the presence of the Holy Spirit, for he came in “grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). The promise, however, is that once Jesus has passed through death to life at the Father’s right hand, the Spirit will come to dwell in the disciples. “A new mode of presence and action of the Spirit is here promised by Jesus for the time to come: an action or presence most intimate, most interior, and therefore most immediate; the Spirit will act from within their hearts” (Ignace de la Potterie, La Vérité dans Saint Jean, Tome I, 360).
Imagine a very dear friend of yours. You admire in this friend her enormous capacity for compassion and kindness. You have experienced this compassion and kindness first hand from your friend and have even been encouraged to grow in compassion and kindness yourself from her example. What if, by an act of the will, she could simply bestow her very own capacity for compassion and kindness upon you? That would be precious indeed!
This is something of what Jesus is extending to his disciples in this first promise. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus places within us his very own capacity for living the truth of his relationship with the Father. The intimacy, the trust, the assurance and peace that we see in every aspect of the life of Christ because of his all-encompassing trust in God, this intimacy, trust, assurance, and peace comes to live in us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
John, in his first letter, speaks of this indwelling of the Spirit as a gift in ‘seed’ (3:9). As a seed, it is not yet the full-grown plant. Still, a tomato seed, well cared for, becomes nothing other than a tomato-bearing plant. This seed of the Spirit, promised us by Christ and bestowed in baptism, if tended well, will increasingly become in us the truth of our shared relationship of intimate love with Jesus for God the Father in the communion of the saints.
Now that is a promise, I would say, worth embracing. And to think, it is only the first of five such promises from our Lord.