Homily May 28th, 2023

Pentecost Sunday – Option 1

            Dear brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, which literally means “the fiftieth day,” in this case, the fiftieth day after Resurrection Sunday. It marks the end of the Easter season and also the birthday of the Church, since the Holy Spirit comes down to strengthen Christ’s disciples so they can preach the Gospel to all nations.

            Theologians tell us that the Holy Spirit is the hardest member of the Trinity to wrap our minds around. We can grasp what a Father is, and that the Father created the world. We understand what a Son is, and we are blessed that the Second Person became man and dwelt among us. But that Holy Spirit . . . it just seems so removed, and so difficult to understand. So today, I just want to focus on one title that we give the Holy Spirit, one that is particularly useful in today’s world and for understanding who the Holy Spirit is: let’s see what we mean when we call the Holy Spirit “the paraclete,” “the paraclete”: we can look at this, in turn, in three different ways: first, what the word itself means, second, how this word is used in the Bible, and, thirdly, what this means for our daily lives. So, first, the word itself, second, the Bible, and third, our lives.

            First, in order to understand the Holy Spirit better, we first need to look at the word paraclete, since, as we will see, Jesus Himself calls the Holy Spirit this. “Parakletos literally means, ‘one who is called or appealed to’ or ‘someone who stands at your side’ (from the two words parakalein, ‘to call to one’s assistance’). So, the Holy Spirit is “the defender,” “the advocate,” as well as the “mediator” who “intercedes for us.”[1] In many languages, that word “advocate” is the word for lawyer, and, setting aside all the biases we might have against lawyers, we can see that a good lawyer would fulfill those three tasks: defend, advocate, and mediate. They would defend us against attacks and false claims, they would advocate our case and our rights, and, should we be guilty of a crime, plead our cause with the judge to lessen the sentence.

            This leads us to our second point regarding the Bible. That Greek word paraclete only appears five times in the entire New Testament, and all five times are related to Saint John: four times in his Gospel, all of which are in Jesus’s Last Supper discourse, and once in his first letter.

            Two of these show how the Holy Spirit continues Jesus’ mission: in Jn 14:16, Jesus tells His Apostles that “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you always.” This means, of course, that there must have been a first Paraclete, namely, Jesus Himself, which is exactly what John says in his first letter: “If anyone does sin, we have a paraclete with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one” (1 Jn 2:1). In other words, the Holy Spirit’s job is to continue Jesus’ work of redemption. “The mission of the Son, in a certain sense, finds its ‘fulfillment’ in the Redemption. The mission of the Holy Spirit ‘draws from’ the Redemption. The Paschal Mystery that brought us our salvation and the celebration of which is now winding down is totally carried out by the Son as the Anointed One, who came and acted in the power of the Holy Spirit, offering himself finally in sacrifice on the wood of the Cross. And this Redemption is, at the same time, constantly carried out in human hearts and minds – in the history of the world – by the Holy Spirit, who is the ‘other Counselor.’”

            From the Bible, we can see five roles of the Holy Spirit: He is:

  • a companion, who is always with the disciples: “[My Father] will give you another Advocate to be with you always” (Jn 14:16).
  • He is a teacher, who reminds the disciples of Jesus’ words and teachings: “The Paraclete . . . will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (Jn 14:26).
  • He is a witness, who gives “testimony” to the disciples and the world about Jesus: “When the Paraclete comes . . . he will testify to me” (Jn 15:26).
  • He is a judge, who “convicts the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation” (Jn 16:8-11); lastly,
  • He is revealer, who guides the disciples to the “truth” about God and Jesus (Jn 16:13-15; cf. 1 John 5:6-8).

            With all these roles, then, we see just how important the Holy Spirit is in our world today, and how important He must become in our lives, which is our third point. In Confirmation, we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, those seven gifts that the Holy Spirit can use to bring us to perfection. As some Church fathers explained, the gifts are like the sails on a boat: you can make the boat go forward by rowing, but that’s hard work. This is like the work of the virtues. Or, if the sails are in the right position, when the wind blows, it moves the boat forward with much greater ease than if the sailors rowed all day and night. This analogy was indicated in a way by Christ Himself when He said: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

            What’s most important, then, is that we unfurl our sails, that we become docile to the Holy Spirit. First and foremost, this is a grace that we need to pray for: we can make our own the prayer of Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” It also means silencing our hearts and our minds, allowing us to hear God’s voice. God doesn’t speak in the noise or violence of the world. Lastly, if we stay close to God in the sacraments, we will be near the source of grace, and thus closer to Jesus and His Holy Spirit.

Today, let us ask for the grace, through the intercession of Mary, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, for the grace to be docile to the Holy Spirit and trust in His ever-present guidance.  

[1] John Paul II, General Audience of May 24th, 1989.



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