The Pentecostal Promise of Easter
Gospel Reflection for May 14, 2023, the Sixth Sunday of Easter - John 14:15-21
If you love me, keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever.
The spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him: but you shall know him; because he shall abide with you, and shall be in you.
I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.
Yet a little while: and the world seeth me no more. But you see me: because I live, and you shall live.
In that day you shall know, that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them; he it is that loveth me. And he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:15-21 DRA)
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Christ in His Farewell Discourse completes His revelation of the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead. Last week, He showed that He is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity; now, He reveals the Paraclete as the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Trinity: “Comforter, the title of the Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Trinity, the Apostle applies to God: God that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us. (2 Cor. 7:6) The Holy Spirit therefore Who comforts those that are cast down, is God.” (Augustine, Catena Aurea; Jn 14:26) Although the Holy Ghost’s divine identity became clearer to the Hebrews throughout the Old Testament, (Ps 50:13, Sir 1:9) He was not understood as a distinct person until Christ revealed Him as such.
While Christ is our Savior, no person of the Trinity ever acts alone; Christ was sent on His mission by the Father, who remained with Him and spoke through Him always, and the Holy Ghost overshadowed the Blessed Virgin at His conception to cause the Incarnation, just as He once hovered over the waters at the creation of life (Gn 1:2) and would lead Christ into the desert to be tempted. (Mt 4:1) The giving of the Holy Ghost to the Church is thus in a real sense the culmination of Christ’s mission of salvation, since the Paraclete is the one who confers God’s presence within us and conforms us to Christ, divinizing us for perfect union with God in Heaven. This is also the comfort promised by Christ in last week’s reading, to the apostles who mourned for His departure, and for us who now live by faith rather than by sight:
The Spirit does not depart even at death. [Christ] intimates too that the Holy Ghost will not suffer death, or go away, as He has done. But that the mention of the Comforter might not lead them to expect another incarnation, a Comforter to be seen with the eye, He adds, Even the Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him. (Chrysostom, Catena Aurea)
The Pentecostal promise of Easter is further clarified in the first and second readings for this Sunday. In Acts, St. Philip the deacon is able to baptize and to exorcise demons, yet he cannot complete the grace of Baptism through the Sacrament of Confirmation; only the apostles can do this, and so Sts. Peter and John come to lay hands on the people. Why is this necessary? Don’t we already receive the Holy Ghost at Baptism? Yes, but secretly and imperfectly; we are given the gifts and fruits of the Spirit and His sanctifying grace at Baptism, but we are not yet filled with Him as we should be, nor is our communion with the Church perfected and our entrance to the Eucharist permitted until this final seal of Confirmation. (cf. Acts 19:6; Lumen Gentium, 14) This is why, although the apostles before Pentecost exhibited the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, persevering through many trials, they lacked the boldness, charismatic power and divine wisdom which they showed after Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost filled them and worked openly through them. As Augustine explains,
It remains for us to understand, that he who loves has the Holy Spirit, and by having Him, attains to having more of Him, and by having more of Him, to loving more. The disciples had already the Spirit which our Lord promised; but they were to be given more of Him: they had Him secretly, they were to receive Him openly. (Catena Aurea)
The Pentecostal promise of Easter is practically applied in the second reading. All Christians are called by St. Peter to the work of apologetics, to provide a reason for the hope that is in us. Just as St. Paul gave a Christian foundation for proving the existence of God through reason, (Rom 1:20) St. Peter here commands that we use reason in harmony with faith to explain and defend the Gospel. But this is not done by our own power: “And when they shall bring you into the synagogues, and to magistrates and powers, be not solicitous how or what you shall answer, or what you shall say; For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what you must say.” (Lk 12:11-12) This is why true Christian apologetics is not merely a matter of academic knowledge or rhetorical skill, though these are important, but also requires a profound interior life of prayer, works of charity and participation in the Sacraments, so that the Holy Ghost can fill us and guide our works.
Christ also shows us how, in our apologetic defense of the Faith, to view those with whom we dialogue: like orphans. As Christians, we are not orphans, since Christ remains with us in the Spirit; but non-Christians are indeed orphans, the children of Adam who abandoned God the Father and so are separated from Him by sin. This should inspire both a deep gratitude for our own faith and a compassion which corrects any pride, competitiveness or bitterness in our apologetics. We should strive to love others as Christ loved us, coming to us when the whole world was orphaned and giving us the undeserved gift of Himself; this is the gift we now offer to the world: “The Greek word ὀρφανοὶ signifies ‘wards.’ Although then the Son of God has made us the adopted sons of the Father, yet here He Himself shews the affection of a Father towards us.” (Augustine, Catena Aurea) This task is far from easy, especially when we dialogue with family and friends or with those who are openly hostile to the Faith, but we must look inside ourselves to see that following Christ is not easy, especially with the distractions of the modern world and the pains of loss. It requires rising above the visible world to the spiritual mysteries of God, which is why the world “seeth him not, nor knoweth him,” and this must be our primary goal in apologetics:
The Holy Spirit kindles in every one, in whom He dwells, the desire of things invisible. And since worldly minds love only things visible, this world receiveth Him not, because it rises not to the love of things invisible. In proportion as secular minds enlarge themselves by the spread of their desires, in that proportion they narrow themselves, with respect to admitting Christ. (Gregory, Catena Aurea)
The Holy Spirit that Our Lord promised would contain His Spirit (cf. John 14:18). The incarnate Christ could only be imparted at Pentecost because He had not died and ascended at that point. I don’t see how any impartation of the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost could have included the incarnate Christ. This is probably why there was no full salvation possible before Pentecost, because the results of the Redemption could only be realized by us when Christ is within us. Our profound interior life requires us to walk in the Spirit in order for us to benefit from the graces of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:16-25).