Sixth Sunday of Easter. Fr Martin Ganeri preaches on the manifold workings of the Spirit.
I have said these things to you while still with you, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.
It’s important to know the wider context of a passage from the Gospels in order to understand fully what that passage is telling us. The passage we have for this Sunday is from the Farewell Discourse in St John’s Gospel, set on the eve of Christ’s Passion. The Farewell Discourse begins with Christ washing the disciples’ feet and is Christ’s final conversation with his disciples before his death. Christ prepares the disciples for living as a Christian church after he has departed from the earth and his return to the Father in heaven.
In the passage we have for this Sunday Christ tells the disciples that he will send them another Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Christ has been the first Advocate during his earthly life, the one who has revealed to them the deepest truth about who God is and what God wants for human beings. He has taught them that at the heart of God’s relationship with humanity is God’s love for them and God’s desire to give them eternal life, which is a share in God’s own life.
But the time will come when Christ will no longer be present as a physical human being on earth. And, so, he promises his disciples another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will be with them and will continue to teach them the truth about God and will give them the gift of eternal life.
The Spirit makes Christ present for us, even though Christ is absent physically. The Spirit makes Christ present for us especially when we come to celebrate the sacraments of the Church, above all in the Mass, when Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, giving us his body and blood and the life which these can bring about within us. We call the Spirit down upon the bread and wine so that they may become the body and blood of Christ anew each time we celebrate Mass.
Yet, the Spirit makes Christ present for us in many other ways as well. The Spirit guides us, when we listen to the words of Scripture, to understand and to believe in the words we are hearing. The Spirit guides us, when we are trying to work out what the right thing to do is in our lives, and comforts us when we experience difficulties and loss in our lives. In all these ways, the Spirit makes Christ present as the one who teaches us in the truth about God and about ourselves and who offers us life.
We might think that the Spirit is only active within us, only if we experience a profound moment of conversion. But the reality is that the Spirit is active within us whenever we come to see the truth of what Scripture tells us or whenever we make the choice to live well rather than badly, to be loving rather than selfish, to have courage rather than to give in to despair.
Christ tells the disciples, ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.’ Christ is the Word of God and so to love him and to keep his words, which are the self-expression of what he is himself, are intimately bound up with each other. To keep the words of Christ is to treasure everything that Christ is. And it is the Spirit of Christ who enables us to do this and it is the Spirit present and dwelling in us who makes the Father and the Son present in us, loving us as we love them. The Spirit is the love of God, present within us.
In whatever way we find ourselves drawn to Christ and come to see the genuine value for us of Christ and of the life he offers, we do love Christ and do get drawn into the love that God has for us. Every moment when we recognise the value of our Christian faith is a moment of love, a moment when Christ does show himself to us, when Christ is present to us, made present for us in our lives, when the Spirit is active within us.