Reflection for the 6th Sunday of Easter

We continue our reading from the Farewell Discourse as recorded in the Gospel of John which we began last week. Today we hear some very reassuring words from Jesus. He tells us that he will ask the Father to send us an Advocate to remain with us. When we use the word Advocate, inevitably we think of lawyers, one who is assigned to represent and speak on behalf of his or her client. For us in our Christian context, this is, of course, none other than the Holy Spirit who will continue to lead and guide us and give us comfort in times of distress.

The Scriptures assign several different names to the Holy Spirit, identifying Him as the Consoler, the Advocate, the Sanctifier, and the Paraclete. As the bible presents Him, the Holy Spirit protects and defends us against our Ancient Enemy. He is our Advocate, the One who stands with us particularly when we feel worthless, useless, and of no value in God’s eyes. His consolations strengthen us when we feel weak, inadequate, and powerless.

The word “Paraclete” in Greek translates into English as “to be beside one”. The Holy Spirit stands beside us; He is our Advocate, our Counsellor, and our Guide. Jesus bids us to look to the gifts of the Holy Spirit to work within us – Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, and Reverence for the Lord, Strength, and so forth. For us, He is the Empowering One given to us by the Risen Christ. The Evil One seeks to weaken us; the Holy Spirit strengthens us.

The Holy Spirit vivifies us and animates us, that is to say He enlivens us; He gives us a sharing in God’s life. He is beside us to defend us when we are depressed. When we are besieged by the attractive temptations of the devil,  the Holy Spirit is our Advocate, our Counsel in order that we might defend ourselves. I would like to focus a little on the opening words of today’s text, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.’ Notice how this sentence is phrased; it says that if we love God we will keep his commandments. This is opposite to the way we would ordinarily think which is that obedience to the commandments is a precondition to our loving God. We tend to think that we can only truly love God if we are already following his commandments. But this is not how Christ sees things.

According to him having a deep love for God means that we want to please him and so we are filled with the desire to do his will and to follow his commandments. This means that our motive is not fear of a God who will punish us if we disobey him. Our motive is solely one of love and the consequent desire to please God.  We need to be constantly aware that the basis of the Christian faith is love. Of course, we understand that love is what God is all about; we realise too that the only way to achieve harmony with God is to live a life filled with love. It is love which needs to be our motivating force; we need to put our whole energy into living as truly loving persons.

The ethical teaching of Jesus provides us with definite instructions for everyday living. It stresses the need for correct and respectful relationships with God and with one another. It teaches us that we cannot separate our relationship with God from our various relationships with other people. This means that we cannot have a straightforward vertical relationship with God without also having a horizontal relationship with God through our relationships with the people we meet in everyday life.

The fundamental message of Jesus’ moral teaching is that we are obliged to love God and our neighbour. We cannot love one without the other. It is impossible to compartmentalise God and people such that they remain unconnected. Our dealings with others have implications for our friendship with God. This is how, in practice, we connect love and rules. If we love God, we will keep his commandments. If we love our neighbour, we will not treat him/her unjustly.

Nowadays, many people dismiss moral imperatives as being irrelevant to modern life. They are often viewed negatively because they are judged to be imposing limitations on our freedom. However, that is not so. Faithfulness to Jesus’ commandments enables us to live freely in the presence of God who cares for us. Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of Jesus’ moral demands is to enable us to appreciate the freedom of living according to God’s will. It is not to make our lives miserable. Faithfulness to his commandments is the benchmark of our love for him and, in fact, for ourselves and our neighbour.

The teaching of Jesus offers us clear instructions to enable us to be to be faithful to God’s will. It summarises what is required in order to live a wholesome life that reflects God’s truth and beauty. Its purpose is to rid our lives of selfishness and self-centredness so that we can learn to put God and other people first, and ourselves last.

When our consciences are formed by Jesus’ teaching, we know the difference between what is right and wrong. When we live according to his teachings, then we can be ensured of genuine happiness in this life and eternal happiness in heaven.

The path you and I are treading is a well-worn one and there are many guides, but the best guide is the one within each of us is the Holy Spirit poured out on us at our baptism and Confirmation. There will be certainly times when each of us will feel lonely and isolated in matters of our personal life and faith; we might even be going through a period of spiritual dryness and be experiencing a real sense of loss. It is then we need to turn to the Holy Spirit and ask him to be our Consoler, to be with us in our loneliness. It is then that we need to tell him our story and explain our troubles and unpack our feelings.

But these things take time, time spent with the one who understands us better than we do ourselves, real quality time. And we achieve this principally through prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit constantly to inflame your heart with the love of God and his word.

God bless,

Fr Gerardo.