• Acts 15:2-2, 22-29
• Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
• Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
• Jn 14:23:-29
“A gift is freely given,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas, “and expects no return. Its reason is love. What is first given is love; that is the first gift. The Holy Spirit comes forth as the substance of love, and Gift is his proper name.”
The Holy Spirit is the gift given by the Father, Jesus told the disciples in the Upper Room. This gift given in Jesus’ name is called Parakletos, which is translated in various ways: Counselor, Advocate, Helper. It means, literally, “one called alongside of” to aid, exhort, and encourage. He is, remarked the Jesuit priest and poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, one “who stirs up, urges forward, who calls on … what a trumpet is to a soldier, that a Paraclete is to the soul…”
The name appears five times in the New Testament: once in 1 John, where it refers to Jesus as the advocate before the Father on the behalf of sinners (1 Jn. 2:1), and four times in the Gospel of John, referring to the Holy Spirit. Those four references are in the Last Supper discourse (Jn. 13-16), during which Jesus prepared his closest companions—the future leaders of his Church—for his death, his Resurrection, and the sending of the Gift. That sending, of course, took place on Pentecost, and today’s readings help prepare us for Pentecost by having us contemplate the work of the third Person of the Trinity.
The Greek word was used in legal settings to refer to an attorney making a defense in court on behalf of someone accused. The Holy Spirit strengthens those who belong to Christ, standing beside them in support as they battle temptation, endure the trials of this world, and rebut the accusations of the devil, “the accuser” (Rev. 12:10). But the Holy Spirit is not just beside us, but resides within those who have been baptized; he is, as the Creed states, the “giver of life.” The life he gives is the divine life of God, who is perfect love—an eternal exchange of divine love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Whoever loves me,” Jesus told his disciples, “will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” Filled with the Trinitarian life, we are made temples of the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know,” St. Paul asked the Corinthians, “that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16; cf. CCC 782, 1197)
The Holy Spirit would be sent, Jesus explained, to teach and to remind. This was a specific promise to the apostles, who were granted definite authority from Jesus, including the authority to teach, to govern, and to forgive sins in his name and by his power (cf. Jn. 20:22-23). Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a significant example of this authority, a description of the Council at Jerusalem, which convened in A.D. 49, some fifteen years or so after the Resurrection. The Council consisted of “the apostles and the elders” who had gathered together to look into the dispute over the necessity of circumcision for Gentile converts, and come to a solution regarding the growing tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers.
The key phrase written by the apostles—in reflecting here on the power and work of the Paraclete—is this: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us…” There was no conflict between the apostles and the Holy Spirit, for they had been given the Paraclete in order to teach, to lead, to guide, and, when necessary, decide.
In making a decision involving the relationship between the old covenant and the new covenant, the Apostles were participating in Christ’s work of love and peace. Granted authority by the head of the Church, they protected the Church from division—not due to their natural abilities, but because of the One who counsels, consoles, and advocates. He is Gift, who comes to guide “into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13).
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the May 9, 2010, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)