By: Fr. James Gross
Imagine that you are standing in a packed courtroom. You are the defendant in a case, and you’re trying to prove that you are innocent of the charges brought against you. The folks in the gallery may have already made up their minds about you. The judge or jury members might not be very sympathetic toward you. But there is one person on whom you can count, the person who’s standing right beside you—your defense attorney.
Jesus assures us that the Holy Spirit will dwell in us and remain with us. The term he used to describe the Holy Spirit is translated in today’s gospel reading as “advocate.” One of the meanings of the original Greek word that St. John used here, paraclitus, was that of a defense attorney at a trial. To use the term of “advocate” implies a level of friendship and optimism. My advocate is willingly there by my side. He genuinely cares about my well-being, and isn’t going through the motions.
Jesus is leading us to ask ourselves something: what does the Holy Spirit do for me personally as my advocate? Maybe he informs my conscience. Maybe he gets you moving to pray and work when you might not be inclined to do either. Maybe he opens the door of your heart to divine grace and pushes you to become better.
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” In our modern-day culture and its love of short sound-bites, that verse works remarkably well. Behind St. Peter’s advice in today’s second reading is the expectation that his readers ARE ALREADY immersing themselves in the Word of God, and that their love for Christ is so strong as to be outwardly visible. He expects that his readers count on the Holy Spirit to be their advocate, in both good times and bad.
To speak of the Christian life without being fortified and confirmed in the Holy Spirit leaves out a big piece of the puzzle. Saints Peter and John knew that when they rushed to the city of Samaria. Those newly baptized members of the faith needed the Holy Spirit’s gifts in order to participate completely in the mission of Christ, to persevere in their confession of faith, and to grow in love. In only a couple of weeks the Church will celebrate Pentecost. These teachings of Christ that we heard today are a great reminder that we are sent to extend the Pentecost event into the world. To do this we need the fire of the Holy Spirit burning brightly in our hearts.
I like to use the following example. Let’s say you decide to have a swimming pool installed in your back yard. You need to have an excavation team dig the hole, put in the tub, fill it with water, buy all the accessories and cleaning equipment you need, and you landscape the area beautifully. You’ve completed all the work and spared no expense. Now picture yourself, day after day, spending whatever free time you have sitting at the edge of the pool, dipping your bare feet in up to your ankles. St. Peter’s words to us today imply a certain challenge. How many of us never dive into the pool? The person who forever sits at the edge of the pool doesn’t have to think about swimming across it. Have we gotten so used to pushing our hope farther out on the margins, to places hardly anyone else can see? Are we “playing it safe,” and never choosing to dive in?
I have experienced a lively, Spirit-filled community at St. Anthony’s. That doesn’t mean that we demonstrate this in showy, external gestures: in these parts we don’t take on the “Holy Roller” appearances. But our fervor and concern for one another are still evident. What difference does the Holy Spirit make in our lives? The Church makes a big deal out of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, so as to witness to and, if need be, suffer for Christ. If we blend in and assimilate in the world too completely, people will not notice anything distinguishing about us. And if there’s nothing distinguishing about us, people will fail to identify the hope that animates our hearts. Someone first needs to notice that I’m filled with hope in God in order to ask me why I have that hope.
Recall our Lord’s words during the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” Anyone who claims Christ as their light cannot fade into the background. As a saint of the early Church once put it, for a Christian not to be salt and light for the world is as unnatural a thing as if the sun were not to shine.
St. Peter is quick to urge us to conduct ourselves with gentleness and reverence. When we display confidence in our faith and share it with those we meet, we do not have to “prove” our position in a pugilistic or obnoxious way, as though the goodness of Christ’s teachings require our imposing them in order to be good.
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” When we use the word hope, we do not refer to mere wishful thinking, or a chance that maybe things will work out okay for us. Christian hope is the most realistic thing there is. The Church has often used the symbol of an anchor to describe hope. As the anchor keeps a ship from being tossed about at sea, the virtue of hope is what attaches us to God in a world that tosses us about. Hope is about substance, not luck. When our hope is strong, we find God and root ourselves in Him, because He is the advocate who always pleads our cause.