FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 26, 2019:
There was a man who wanted to tell soldiers on a military base about Christ's love for them. But, he was prohibited from going on the base to spread his message. So instead, he came up with a creative solution. He had several thousand hand mirrors delivered as gifts to the soldiers. On the back, was the message from John 3.16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” A message below that text read, “If you wish to see whom God loves, turn to the other side.”
In our Gospel today, Jesus also gives us a mirror of sorts to remind us of His love for each us. As Jesus nears the events that will lead to His death on the Cross and Resurrection, He reminds us that He will never leave us alone. Instead, He will send an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will always be by our side. Jesus says these words in the sermon that we find in John’s Gospel during the Last Supper. He announced His impending departure and this left the disciples nervous, anxious, even afraid. But, Jesus made sure they knew that what He had begun in them would continue – through this gift of His Holy Spirit.
And He gives a specific name to the Holy Spirit. He tells them He will send “The Advocate.” This names comes to us from the Greek, Paraclete which literally describes someone who is called to stand beside a client; what we would think of as an attorney. But this Advocate is much more than an attorney. Probably the best word that we use today that captures the meaning is “coach.” The Advocate is our coach, always by our side, to instruct and correct us when we make mistakes, to encourage and motivate us when we feel down, to challenge and inspire us to be the best we can be, to defend us and fight for us when the world is unfair. In short, the Advocate is for us what Jesus was for the disciples.
Why do we need an Advocate? For the same reason that athletes and sports people need coaches. No matter how good they are, athletes always need coaches. Even Dustin Pedroia, JD Martinez, and Mookie Betts – all need a coach to help them be the best players they can be. The same is true for us. Left on our own, we are prone to mistakes and errors. Without God we can do nothing. We need an Advocate who brings out the best in us, and keeps us on the path that God wants us to be on.
In the 5th century, there was a British thinker named Pelagius who taught that human beings have the ability to fulfill God's commands all by themselves. The church condemned his teaching as heresy, insisting that we always need God's grace in order to fulfill His will. Pelagianism is the belief that we can fulfill our destiny all by ourselves, and that we don’t need the grace of God that comes through faith, prayer, the sacraments, or the church. It’s obvious today that Pelagnianism isn’t relegated to the 5th century. It’s alive and well today. Many people today are Pelagians without even knowing it. Too many people today think they can live their lives without God, without the sacraments, without the church. Pope Francis addressed this last summer. He said, “Prevalent in the church are many new forms of Pelagianism. There is no room for God and God’s grace in this framework. Salvation and holiness get reduced to our own power, success, and action.”
Jesus reminds us that we stand in constant need of divine help. We all need the divine Helper, the Holy Spirit who stands always by our side, the Advocate. We receive this all-important Advocate by striving to live according to the law of Christ, as He said today, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our dwelling with them.” After the Ascension of Our Lord, the disciples “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” retired to the upper room to wait and pray for the promised Holy Spirit. We cannot do better than follow their example. We must do as they did and invite this Advocate into our lives. The Holy Spirit will not enter uninvited. He waits for an invitation. But, once invited, He will lead us into truth. He guarantees we are God's children. He helps us pray. He offers us hope. He empowers us to help other believers. He aids us to be like Him. He gives us spiritual strength.
Pope Francis said, “Holiness is the most attractive face of the Church. The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.” God wants us to be saints, and He sends us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to lead us and guide us and inspire us on that journey to holiness.
A poet sums up the Spirit well: “Eternally the Holy Spirit is love between the Father and the Son but historically the Holy Spirit is love between God and the world.” Come, Holy Spirit, the Advocate, into our lives and help us to be saints!
May the Lord give you peace.