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Lectio Divina – Paraclete

Do you believe in ghosts? Growing up in the States in the 50’s and 60’s, the notion of invisible ghosts floating all over the place was frightful. While riding in the car we held our breaths, when we passed by a grave yard.

We had never seen anyone in a coffin or dead, so the notion of death was vague and remote. And the after-life? That was a distant myth in our consciousness. At the same time, cartoon characters like Casper the “Friendly” Ghost was on TV.  He seemed everywhere, and not just around Halloween. The mischievous ghost had magical powers, feet and charm as he whisked about with his other flying friends. The oxymoronic friendly-spook even had his own Saturday morning television show and theme song.

In those days mothers and dads told stories of angels and ghosts, which somehow intertwining religion with the idea of the spirit. However, at the time, all of their imagery seemed more like a postcard from Italy with dark and dusty churches decorated with fat, winged, cherubic babies. Their images were troubling…a tough concept for kids to wrap their heads around.

The Christian traditions of the Holy Trinity combined three deities into one entity. The Trinity consisted of God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Ghost. After Vatican II the name of the third triptych God was changed to the Holy Spirit, which was even more confusing. Spirits were IN and Ghosts OUT. The deeper truths were that the Christian God has three parts; however, belief in that triune God is an act of faith. It is one of the sacred mysteries.

The Holy Trinity, painted at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Stockbridge, MA.

In the Catholic calendar it isn’t until after Pentacost that the references to the Holy Spirit are understood to be tenets of faith. That said, there are biblical references to and hints of the holy spirit are all over the Old Testament. The spirit comes to David and Samson and Abraham.

In the New Testament, many of the references in the Gospels talk about the Spirit as a Paraclete. The word paraclete is an old one with various interpretations, referring to the entity as an advocate, intercessor, legal assistant, comforter, consoler, helper, encourager…the spirit is someone who refreshes us and makes us free.

In Luke 3:10-17, the Evangelist talks about the Holy Spirit as if it is guidance, strength, and support to all people. At the same time Luke says that ours is also a challenging God of Fire and Expectation.

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”  He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”  Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

   Now we are a people filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan – is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Luke’s “holy Spirit” is a spirit of justice and just desserts.

In other places the spirit is called the lightful spirit, the almighty breath, the lord of grace, and the giver of life. The images hark back to Genesis, where God breathes life into man, filling the world with His holy spirit.

In John 14:15-27 we have another image of the Holy Spirit as the Advocate…

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”  Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, “Master, [then] what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.”

“I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

I love the last line: do not let your hearts be troubleddo not be afraid. We have our God by us, with His rod and his staff he guides us.

The Holy Spirit gives us grace. It binds us to each other in marriage, it is the glue to our fidelity, it is the inspiration that comes to us, when we are afraid and do not know what we are going to say in a stressful moment. Suddenly the Spirit enlightens us and we know what to say or what to do. The Spirit is there to guide us when we need divine help and heart lifting experiences.

But circling back to the Pentacost, that occasion is the greatest fulfillment of the promise of God still with us to guide our steps, to give us courage, and to help us become persons of conviction and witness to greater truths.

Acts 2:1-41 “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”  They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome,both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine.”

 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, “You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.These people are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.vNo, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says,‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,vyour young men shall see visions,your old men shall dream dreams. Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy.”

“And I will work wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below: blood, fire, and a cloud of smoke.”

“The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and splendid day of the Lord, and it shall be that everyone shall be saved who calls on the name of the Lord.'”

 You who are Israelites, hear these words. Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know. This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it. For David says of him:  ‘I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.

Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh, too, will dwell in hope, because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

 My brothers, one can confidently say to you about the patriarch David that he died and was buried, and his tomb is in our midst to this day.cBut since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption. God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear. For David did not go up into heaven, but he himself said:

The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

Therefore the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter [said] to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.

We need the holy spirit more now than ever as we have an assault on our faith, our religion, and our traditions. That said, if all of the former and non-practicing Catholics in the US were counted today, that group would constitute the second largest religious sect in the country. People are leaving the Catholic Church in a ratio of 6:1, i.e. for every new member in the Catholic Church, six are leaving.

To stem the Exodus the Catholic Church must reform. The abuses of power, the passing of the buck, the abuse…it it time to come to grips with our need for the Paraclete. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us to the right choices for our faith. Now is the time for a Holy Spirit who refreshes us and makes us free. Sure we will be assailed by those with a different agenda. Who isn’t? The Holy Spirit can be our daily advocate, our wise intercessor, our legal assistant, our capable comforter, our compassionate consoler, our eager helper, and our constant encourager.

The spiritual, There is a Balm in Gilead, has a first verse that is perfect for the church today. The Catholic Church and clergy are certainly in search of a balm which can heal the sin sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.