First reading Acts 8:5-8,14-17
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 65(66):1-7,16,20
Second reading 1 Peter 3:15-18
Gospel John 14:15-21
“I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees him nor knows him…” (Jn 14:16-17).
As we draw near to the great feast of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover, our readings begin to point us toward the coming of the Holy Spirit. Curiously, while the Bible tells us many things about the Holy Spirit and what he does, whenever Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit, he calls him by one of three names, two of which we hear in the Gospel today: besides The Spirit, or The Holy Spirit, our Lord calls him by the name Advocate, or in Greek, Paraclete (παράκλητος). This is an unusual term, and quite a rare word in the Bible. It literally means “one who is called close to one’s side” and is usually translated as “advocate”, “helper” or “comforter”. The image is of one who comes and stands beside you to assist and encourage or to defend. In Greek literature the word often has legal undertones, as in a legal defender or advocate in a court of law. This stands in striking contrast to the name Satan, which literally means “accuser” or “adversary” in Hebrew. If the devil is the adversary and accuser who tries to hinder the salvation of human beings, the Holy Spirit is the one who stands by our side to defend us and help us along the way to salvation.
How does he do this? Well, the Scriptures describe many powerful operations of the Holy Spirit, but in order to answer our question, we ought to consider his other name in today’s Gospel. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit under the title, “Spirit of Truth.” I want to suggest, brothers and sisters, that this is crucial. This not only describes the operation of the Holy Spirit, but the identity of the Holy Spirit, and therefore what we need for salvation. Quid est veritas? These are the words of Pontius Pilate, who uttered them in conversation with Jesus as he stood before his accusers and received the death sentence for our sins. Quid est veritas? “What is truth?” This was the question of Pilate’s day, which the ancient philosophers earnestly sought and, in many ways, is also the question of our day, from which so many people now flee!
Truth, strictly speaking, is reality. It is what is. Any genuine search for truth, then, involves the search for what is; the uncovering of reality not as we would like it to be, not as we feel it to be, but as it exists. Throughout the ages human beings have found ingenious ways to avoid reality, to flee from truth, because truth is demanding, reality is unrelenting. So, we create an artificial and virtual reality by which we may to some extent, escape truth. Summer is uncomfortably hot? We turn the aircon on. Winter is uncomfortably cold? We turn the heater on. The silence and stillness is lonely and oppressive? A lack of interiority brings on boredom? Our creeping thoughts frighten us? We turn to the TV screen. Or the computer screen. Or the mobile phone screen. There are endless ways in which we as individuals and as a human race are divorced from reality in an attempt to create a more comfortable and convenient one, for better and for worse. Of course, many of these alternative realities have little to no moral value and are innocent enough, such as turning the heater on. But I do wonder, collectively, the web of artificial reality we have created to make our lives easier and more comfortable, do they not also serve to divorce us from the deeper Reality and Truth that underlies natural reality? This is becoming more and more the case today as countless people live lives in the city, cut off from the natural world. Very many people too spend large proportions of their lives looking into a screen. Some people are on the computer much of the day as part of their work. So many people, and I’m guilty as charged, fill the gaps during the day looking at their phone. And then, how many people waste their evenings (and their brains) gazing into the television screen? That’s to say nothing of the frightening fact that the source and formation of most people’s opinions and ideas of truth come largely through the TV screen unchecked, as if the ABC news were the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It doesn’t take long to brainwash an entire nation when it lives and moves and has its being in a virtual reality constructed by human beings.
Aside from this ideological colonisation, the problem I’m getting to is this: The natural world, reality, what is, in all its beauty and harshness, mediates a greater Reality. For something to be, it must receive its be-ing. Nothing can come to be on its own. Something cannot be without a cause. This is illogical. How did that pocket watch get there? It just appeared there on its own, did it? It brought itself into being? No, clearly someone had to have made it and placed it there. It’s the same with our world. But you don’t ask questions like that if you’re not in touch with reality. When you live in an artificial world, and ask such a question, the answer is always “man made it”. “Human beings created it.” You see, a virtual and artificial existence that is out of touch with nature divorces us from the author of nature, and renders one blind to the ultimate Reality behind reality. Why do you think all peoples and cultures prior to the industrial revolution had a deep religious and spiritual sensibility? It wasn’t because they were dumb primitive people who didn’t know any better! They were in touch with natural reality, and so could not help but perceive the traces of the divine! But then, as human beings began to quickly build their tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), we’ve become increasingly divorced from nature and reality, and therefore ever more atheistic.
One could be forgiven for wondering whether artificial reality were something of a machination on the part of the Adversary to alienate us from the higher Reality that lies behind natural reality. “I am who am”, says God to Moses in the burning bush (Ex 3:14). God is the one who is. In other words, as ultimate Reality, the uncaused cause, God is Truth in its most fundamental sense. Hence Jesus can say, as we heard last weekend, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me…” For Jesus is the physical incarnation of the one who is, the only revelation and access point to Truth himself. This is the great irony of Pontius Pilate’s question. “What is truth?” – quid est veritas? Truth was staring him right in the face, and he stared Truth in the face, and yet perceived it not. Jesus says in the Gospel today that the world “can never receive” the Spirit of Truth, that is his own Spirit, “since it neither sees nor knows him…” The world, which is kind of personified in the person of Pontius Pilate, is unable to receive the Spirit of Truth whom we need for salvation, why? Because it neither sees nor knowshim! The world fails to recognise what is staring it in the face! For it is blinded by the spirit of this world, the work of the accuser, the adversary, and is divorced from ultimate Reality! The spirit of this world would have us live in a self-made world, a tower of Babel devoid of faith.
To see and to know, to contemplate and recognise the Truth, dear brothers and sisters, we need the eyes of faith, illuminated by the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate. In other words, we need the Holy Spirit to get to heaven, dear friends! You’ve had the singular privilege of receiving that same Holy Spirit, that same Advocate in the Sacrament of Confirmation! “He is with you” and “he is in you” as Jesus says in the Gospel today. Get to know the Holy Spirit! Invoke him every day of your life! And, dear friends, let us be very careful with and use wisely the things of this world so as not to become sucked in to a virtual reality that alienates us from our Creator. Come Holy Spirit, give me the grace to see! Enlighten the eyes of my mind that I may know Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life and so enter the Father’s embrace.