Acts 8:5-8,14-17, 1 Peter 3:15-18, John 14:15-21
On the Gospel, The Paraclete: Our Divine Coach
Roald Amundsen, the great Norwegian explorer who discovered the South Pole took a homing pigeon with him on his trip. He told his wife that if he reached the end of the world, he would release the pigeon. His wife sat for hours, all alone in their big house looking up the sky for the promised pigeon. One day she looked out the bedroom window and saw the pigeon circling in the sky above. “He’s alive!” she cried, “My husband is alive!”
As Jesus gets ready to leave his disciples, he promises to send them the Paraclete who is often depicted as a dove. But there are enormous differences between the pigeon that Amundsen sent to his wife and the Paraclete that Jesus sent to his disciples. The pigeon is merely a sign that the traveller has reached his destination. Beyond that the pigeon can do nothing more. The Paraclete that Jesus sent to his disciples, on the other hand, means to them everything that Jesus himself meant for them while he was with them. Jesus was a Paraclete to the disciples, and he promised them “another” Paraclete: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete” (John 14:16).
What is a Paraclete? Many words have been used to translate this word into English. They include: Advocate, Comforter, Counsellor, Helper. The Greek Paracletosliterally means someone who is called to stand beside a client. In legal terms that would be your attorney. But a Paraclete is much more than an attorney. Probably the English word that we use today that most nearly captures the meaning of Paraclete is the word “coach.” The Paraclete 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 could, to defend us and fight for our rights when the judges are unfair to us. In short, the Paraclete means for us all that Jesus meant for the disciples.
Why do we need a Paraclete? For the same reason that athletes and sports people need coaches. No matter how good they are, sports people always need coaches. Even Tiger Woods has a coach. Left on our own, we are prone to mistakes and errors. Without God we can do nothing. In the 5th century ad there was a British thinker called Pelagius who taught that human beings have the natural ability to fulfil God’s commands if they so choose. The church condemned his teaching as a heresy, insisting that human beings always need God’s grace in order to please God. Pelagianism is the belief that we can fulfill our human destiny just by being ourselves, and that we do not need the grace of God that comes through faith, prayer or the sacraments. Many people today are Pelagians without even knowing it. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that we all stand in constant need of divine help. We all need the divine Helper, the Holy Spirit who stands always by our side, the Paraclete.
How then do we receive this all-important Spirit Helper? It is by striving to live according to the law of Christ which is love of God and love of our neighbour. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever” (John 14:15-16).
After the Ascension of Our Lord, the disciples “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” (Acts 1:14) retired to the upper room to wait and pray for the promised Paraclete. We cannot do better than follow their example. Next Thursday is Ascension Thursday. Between Ascension and Pentecost the church invites all her children to a period of prayer and waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us observe this period as a special period of prayer just as the disciples did because we need the Holy Spirt today as much as they needed it two thousand years ago.
On the Epistle, Accounting for the Hope in Us
One thing that strikes and fascinates visitors to Nigeria is the phenomenon of street trading. Everywhere in the cities you see men, women and children traders who carry their goods in their hands or on the head trying to sell them to passers-by and motorists. You could buy anything from the window of your car: iced water, soda, clothes and electronic gadgets. One thing we have learnt from street trading is that success is often determined not by the quality of the goods but by the ability of the traders to advertise and get themselves noticed. No matter how precious the goods one has to sell, if you keep your mouth shut and do not advertise it to prospective customers, no one will notice and no one will buy. Something similar happens in the business of evangelisation. No matter how precious and true our faith is, if we do not tell others about it, they will not know about it and they will not embrace it. In today’s second reading from the First Letter of Peter we have a wonderful teaching on how to share our faith with others.
“But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15a). This instruction is directed to those who are not “zealous for what is right” for fear of being harmed. How many times do we fail to speak up for what we believe to be right and true for fear of being ridiculed or called names by others? Rather than fear people, we are urged to fear and sanctify Christ who dwells in our hearts as the supreme Lord. In other words, we are asked to abandon our timidity and follow the example of Peter and the apostles who said to those who wanted to silence them: “We must obey God rather than human authorities” (Acts 5:29). Fulton J. Sheen once said that we are God’s chosen people but often we behave like God’s frozen people.
“Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (verse 15b). How do people make this demand? People make this demand on believers on a daily basis, both explicitly and implicitly. We all know when someone explicitly asks us why we hold certain beliefs and hopes. But do we recognise when they make the same demand in implicit and indirect ways? At times when people turn hostile and contradict you, insult you or even simply ignore you when you try to take a faith stand, what they are saying in not so many words is: “Why should I believe you? Why should I believe that going to church is not a waste of time? Why should I pray to God rather than solve the problem in my own way?” Are we prepared to answer the spoken and unspoken questions of people today, especially those of the younger generation, who are growing up in an increasingly confused world?
But how can we be ready to defend the truth of our faith, you may ask? The simple answer is: Be grounded in the faith yourself and then you can share it with others.Nemo dat quod non habet: You can’t give what you don’t have. We must make effort to know our faith more by knowing the basic documents of our religion, the Bible, the teachings of the church, the Catechism. It was St Jerome who said: “Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ.”
“Yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (verse 16a). Virtue stands in the middle. What we see mostly among believers today is bashful timidity on the one hand and ill-mannered incivility on the other. A drop of honey attracts more flies than a jar of vinegar.
“Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame” (verse 16b). Action still speaks louder than words. We can conclude with the inspired words of St Francis of Assisi to his friars: Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.