At the Last Supper, Jesus spoke to his disciples so openly about his imminent sufferings that they were deeply disturbed. Thus one of his concerns on that holy night was to console them and strengthen their faith. As we read last Sunday, he told them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Today we continue to ponder Jesus’ words of spiritual encouragement.
He speaks once again about his departure, after which the world will see him no more. Because this is likely to give the disciples the impression that he is abandoning them, he reassures them with a two-fold promise: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” This promise is also addressed to us today, for Jesus is speaking to us now through the Scriptures. His statement, “I will come to you,” fills us with joy, for this promise was already fulfilled on Easter Day when the Lord came back to us from the dead. The endless joy of Easter is the fruit of his triumphant return, the Resurrection. Jesus’ promise to come back to us also fills us with hope, for it is directed toward the future, toward his Second Coming. We know that he will come again in glory, and we look forward with hope to that day.
The other part of the promise is, “I will not leave you orphans.” This consoles us for a different reason. Here Jesus is telling us not about leaving and then returning but about remaining with us always. How can he remain with us even when he goes to the Father? By the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one who fills our hearts with the conviction that “Jesus is Lord,” and strengthens our faith-knowledge that Jesus is indeed still with us. The Spirit “communicates to us, intimately and personally, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son” (CCC 683). Jesus promises that the Father will give us the Spirit, who will be with us always. This is why we can never truly say that we have been orphaned or abandoned by God. The Spirit we received in Baptism is both with us and within us, giving us life, filling us with divine love, empowering us to live in communion with God.
Receiving the Holy Spirit is an essential part of the Christian life. This is clear from the account of Philip’s ministry in Samaria. The people who heard Philip proclaim the Gospel “accepted the word of God.” Many were set free from evil spirits and many were cured, so that the whole town was filled with joy. But when the Apostles Peter and John arrived, they discovered that something was still missing. The people had not yet received the Holy Spirit! We learn from this an important lesson in evaluating our own experiences of rejoicing. Rejoicing because we have received some special favor or have witnessed some astonishing sign, even if our emotional high is one of “great joy,” is not the same as living in faith. When the sign is no longer visible and the emotion subsides, we can feel quite empty – as if God has disappeared without a trace and left us orphaned. In order to persevere in the life of faith, we need the divine Gift who makes it possible, the Holy Spirit. Thus, Peter and John are not concerned with performing more miraculous signs; instead they impose hands on the people so that they can be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “another Advocate” (some translations use the Greek word, “Paraclete”). The Spirit is another Advocate because Jesus himself is the first. For our sake he passed through death and rose again. In today’s second reading, St. Peter reminds us of the powerful advocacy of Jesus Christ: “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” He is still our Advocate, interceding for us at the right hand of the Father (cf. 1 Jn 2:1). The Holy Spirit, always in perfect union with Christ and the Father, brings the power of Jesus’ sacrifice to bear fruit in our lives. The whole Christian life is “life in the Spirit.” The Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life.”
The Holy Spirit cannot be seen, but he can be known. Jesus tells us, “You know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.” Peter describes one of the ways we can recognize the action of the Spirit. He refers to the sometimes difficult work of speaking openly about our faith. “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” It is the Spirit who gives us the capacity to bear fitting witness to Christ before men. We must be ever ready to reply, but that does not mean we have to worry ahead of time about what to say, for we can rely on the power of the Spirit who dwells within us. And when, as sometimes happens, we are rejected and insulted for our way of life in Christ, it is the Spirit who gives us the strength to persevere with a clear conscience. Thus, in all circumstances, we can rejoice in the Lord because of his Spirit dwelling within us. “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!”
In my daily walk with the Lord, how do I experience his spiritual encouragement which consoles and strengthens my faith? Am I open to the Holy Spirit who will give me the capacity to bear fitting witness to Christ before all men? Do I always rejoice in all circumstances because I know and have experienced his Spirit dwelling within me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.