Acts 15:2-2, 22-29
Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
“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 companionsthe future leaders
of his Churchfor 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 lovean 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 apostlesin reflecting here on
the power and work of the Paracleteis 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 divisionnot 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.)