Gospel Reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – 14th May 2023 Written by Fr Brian Maher OMI
It is the height of arrogance, I know, but you will understand what I mean when I say that I have always felt just a little bit sorry for the Holy Spirit. Of the three persons of the Trinity it is the Holy Spirit who is least known and least talked about. Sure, at Pentecost, baptisms, and confirmations the Holy Spirit is front and central, but for the rest of the year it is the Father and the Son who generally get the limelight.
Growing up, the Holy Spirit was still the Holy Ghost and like any ‘ghost’ was a kind of nebulous figure who came at confirmation bearing funny sounding gifts that were never really explained to us.
I know, of course, that each of the seven gifts have their basis in Scripture and have a rich theological meaning, but why we persist in thinking that children or early teens can understand, or even be interested in, these weighty ideas beats me.
How wonderful might it be if we replaced “wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord’ with the beautiful words and sentiments of today’s Gospel? If we did that we would meet a Holy Spirit who is sent by the Father, simply because the Father loves us; a Holy Spirit who is a helper and protector; a Holy Spirit who will never leave us alone or lost; a Holy Spirit who keeps the risen Jesus alive to us when he is no longer physically with us; a Holy Spirit who lives within us, uniting us with the Father; and above all else, a Holy Spirit who teaches and shows us the true meaning of love.
For me, the central difficulty we have in understating the Holy Spirit is that far too frequently we do not see the Spirit as a ‘person’, in the same way as we see the Father and the Son as ‘persons’. For many of us the Holy Spirit is little more than ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ – a type of appendage to Jesus that keeps alive his memories.
Anyone familiar with computers will know how many of the key programmes we purchase, like Office or Adobe, etc. come with lots of ‘add-ons’ – small, usually insignificant, additions to the main programme. The add-ons may help us make full use of the programme but we would never make the mistake of thinking that the add-ons ARE the programme. In the same way, if we see the Holy Spirit as a kind of ‘add-on’ to Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will never have any great significance for us. One look at today’s Gospel shows us just how sad that would be.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet….” – words written by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. For the second time in this reflection I will have to succumb to arrogance and say that I think he was wrong in this.
It seems to me that the name, ‘Holy Spirit’, does nothing to personalise the Spirit for us. While not quite as bad as ‘Ghost’, ‘Spirit’ still has that otherworldly, and slightly eerie, connotation.
Just suppose for a moment the Fathers of the Church, in those early years, had named the Holy Spirit, “daughter”. Then we would have Father, Son and Daughter, and we could never mistake ‘Daughter’ as anything other than a distinct, separate person we can relate to. If it sounds strange when we say it, and I will admit it does, isn’t that primarily because we are so unfamiliar with it? If we grew up learning of nothing other than, Father, Son and Daughter, it probably would sound perfectly normal to us. As an aside, of the three Person of the Trinity, the Spirit is the one who, for me, embodies what we might call ‘feminine’ qualities. The spirit is intuitive, creative, empathic, and sensitive. The Spirit is also collaborative – seeking to make of us ‘one body’ with ‘many parts’, as St. Paul tells us.
John, in today’s Gospel, is very clear that the Holy Spirit is a distinct, unique person. He tells us that Jesus will ask, and the Father will send “another” Advocate, the word ‘another’ here clearly meaning a totally other person.
The Holy Spirit is not a part of Jesus, a kind of ghostly memory which remains after he is gone. The Holy Spirit is a full and distinct person, who is sent to be with us, living within us, making it possible for us to live as Jesus lived and love as Jesus loved.
In “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis says this: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” (EG 3). The key words here are ‘personal encounter’. The unique and unbelievable invitation we have as Christians is to be allowed to have a personal relationship with our God. It is a privilege beyond anything we can understand. The God of Creation – of the entire, vast, and mysterious cosmos – wants to have a personal relationship with me!
The God of the Old Testament wanted that, creating man and woman in ‘his own image and likeness’, and a God spoken of by the Prophet Isaiah and others, as ‘a mother, holding her newborn child in her arms’.
When Jesus came, he brought the same message, only now he not only told us, he showed us how God wishes to be in relationship with us. “Come to me….and I will give you rest.” “I no longer call you servants; I call you friends….” These are words, beautiful words but still only words, until they are supported by actions. Jesus washed his disciples feet, he exhausted himself healing others and his final act of love, he died for us.
The Holy Spirit, like the Father and the Son, wishes to enter into a personal relationship with us. The Holy Spirit, like Jesus, calls us ‘friend’. Today’s Gospel puts this friendship into words; words of sheer, undiluted, love.
The Holy Spirit comes to us, individually and personally, and lives within us. Nothing can be more personal or more intimate than that. The promise made by the Father at the very beginning of creation, and shown to us in the life of Jesus, comes to fulfilment in the Spirit, who lives within us.
There is a beautiful symmetry in this. It brings full cycle what God wants for each one of us; a deep, personal relationship of love and friendship. It is the Holy Spirit who makes this possible.
The words of the Gospel are deceptively simple, but we must not overlook them or take them for granted: “…he is with you, he is in you.”
We could sit with just these words forever. Don’t they explain what Jesus said in last week’s Gospel, “…do not let your hearts be troubled…”? and don’t they make sense of Jesus’ constant refrain, “…do not be afraid…”?
“I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you….”
What I find so wonderful about this Gospel is that it avoids all of the learned, difficult language of theology. In this Gospel, the Blessed Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit), is not presented as some deep, obtuse, mystery only to be understood by those who have studied for many years. No! It is talked of as something profoundly natural and to be expected. Anyone who understands personal relationship and friendship will have no difficulty understanding the closeness of “…I am in my Father and you in me and I in you”. A married couple, who have lived together for many years, know what it is like to “live in one another”, because that is what they do. For them it is not a mystery. It is just what happens as relationship and friendship deepen.
Anyone who has loved or been loved knows exactly why Jesus says, “…I will love him and show myself to him…”. This is what love does; this is what love is. It reaches out in response, giving and receiving in equal measure, “…you will see me, because I live, and you will live…”.
Pope Francis, again in “The Joy of the Gospel” says, “A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody.” (EG 266).
Imagine being able to say that I am ‘in love’ with Jesus. There are implications to being “in love with” that must cause us to pause before saying it. It implies a mutual relationship and a friendship. It implies knowing and wanting to know the other person. It implies spending time with the other person and it implies a willingness to give as well as take from the relationship. Pope Francis again says it so nicely: “What kind of love would not feel the need to speak to the beloved.” (EG 264}
Somehow, I feel sure that Pope Francis understands what it is to say, “I am in love with Jesus.” Somehow, I also feel sure that Pope Francis is aware of the Holy Spirit living within him.
It is only in the Holy Spirit that we can truly be ‘in love with’ Jesus. It is only in the Holy Spirit that we can fully enter into this Gospel.
It is a Gospel, not for the learned who wish to use big words and abstract concepts, but for the person who has experienced relationship, friendship, and who knows what it is to be loved. In other words, it is a Gospel for everyone.
It is a Gospel not to be lost or forgotten. When we recognize that the Holy Spirit – a person just like Jesus and the Father – actually “lives in us” and “will be with us forever”, we need never “let our hearts be troubled…”
Isn’t that wonder-full?
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments. I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you. In a short time the world will no longer see me; but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him.’
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