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Paracletos

Thursday, May 14, 2020
Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)  |  Fr Bruno Clifton speaks of our need for friendship and points to the One who is called alongside us to be another Friend. 

So, we are well into Eastertide; and what an Easter it has been. Severe restrictions on movement, no possibility to gather to receive the sacraments and all the while feeling the distress and anxiety the threat of pandemic causes. There are many of us too that in this time have suffered the darkness of sickness and death, in contrast to the message of life that Easter brings.
Lent concluded in this desert experience. Yet the light of Easter did not bring an end to the Fast. It may, however, bring a new perspective of hope.

In the second half of Eastertide we are encouraged to turn towards the season’s culmination in Pentecost by thinking of the Holy Spirit. But, just as this year we continue to feel the Lenten desert in Easter, as we reflect on the Spirit the lectionary offers us Jesus’s words before he goes to his death.

So, we are to consider our risen lives in the Spirit through Jesus’s last teaching to the disciples before going to his crucifixion, from his address at the Last Supper. Placing these words in Eastertide invites us to see this teaching in the light of the resurrection. It is in the contrast between darkness and light that we learn what power the light truly has, which is an important theme in St John’s Gospel (Jn 1:6-9; 3:19-21).

Just as light and darkness are motifs in John, so referring to the Spirit as Paraclete is unique to this Gospel. Paraclete is a rich term that at its root, means ‘called alongside’. Hence, Paraclete includes meanings such as Counsellor, Advocate, Mediator, Helper, or Comforter. In other words, a friend that we could all do with right now.

Certainly a friend that the disciples, on the brink of seeing their Lord crucified, their hopes crushed and themselves scattered, will need if they are to experience and transmit the light of the resurrection to all humanity.

Importantly, Jesus’s promised friend is like him: he is to be ‘another paraclete (counsellor, advocate, mediator, helper, comforter)’ and in fact John refers to Jesus as a paraclete in his first letter (1 Jn 2:1). This Spirit is to be another friend, just as Jesus has been.

‘You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father’ (Jn 15:14-15).

This type of friendship, one of a dynamic of instruction and growth in knowledge of God, is also how Jesus characterizes the ‘Spirit of Truth’, because the presence of this friend ensures that we are not left as ‘orphans’ (14:18).

This expression is how disciples that have no instructor are described: so, we are not to be left without a Master, without a Lord, for the Spirit ensures that we remember Christ’s teaching (14:25-26). The Spirit guarantees that the Lordship of Christ endures for all who respond to his salvation.

So, the Spirit is a most needed friend and also one who allows the teaching and saving Lordship of Jesus to remain with his followers.

But finally, the Spirit’s presence allows all of us to see and know Jesus and experience his love and friendship.
‘Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ (14:21)

This is the most intimate role of the Spirit: he enables Jesus to show himself to the believer, just as he appeared personally present to the disciples after his resurrection. This is how we can know what the empty tomb means in apparent contrast to the incomprehension of Peter and the beloved disciple, ‘for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead’ (20:9).

The knowledge of God’s saving work by raising his Son is given to anyone who, across space and across time, loves Jesus. And, it is brought about by the Spirit, who ‘helps us in our weakness’ (Rom 8:26).

In this moment, when we need a light in the darkness and a friend when we cannot reach out and hold our loved ones, remember that the Spirit who ‘remains with and in you’ (Jn 14:17) is comforter, counsellor, and friend.


Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of light shining on the empty tomb of Christ in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Bruno Clifton O.P.

fr Bruno is Vice-Regent of Blackfriars Hall and Studium, Oxford, where he teaches Biblical Studies. 
bruno.clifton@english.op.org

Comments

Fr. Victor commented on 15-May-2020 05:31 AM
Thank you. Hard to find words for a homily these days. Appreciate it.
michael tate commented on 16-May-2020 12:37 AM
Dear fr Bruno, Love the point , often missed, that we have two Paracletes interceding for us before the throne of Mercy. My regards to all in Cambridge where I spent a year in the "mixed community " under the tutelage of fr David Sanders ,my friend for 50 years and my mini-paraclete at that time.

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