Acts 8: 5-8. 14-17, 1 Pet 3: 15-18, Jn 14: 15-21
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
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 at 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 traveler 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 Paracletos literally describes 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 there was a British thinker called Pelagius who taught that human beings have the natural ability to fulfill 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 neighbor. “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 Sunday is Ascension Sunday. 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 Spirit today as much as they needed it two thousand years ago. Amen!
Peace and all good!
Fr. Valery Burusu