Year A: Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Advocate

John 14: 15-21

Jesus said to his disciples: “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.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where do you experience keeping the commandments as becoming more a consequence of your love for God, rather than your personal efforts to be obedient? How are these different for you?
  2. Do you think of Jesus as remaining with you and dwelling within you? If so, how does this belief affect your prayer life?
  3. Do ever you pray specifically to the Holy Spirit? What do you consider the Holy Spirit’s role in your prayer life?
  4. Share a time when you have experienced the guidance of the Advocate– (Holy Spirit) in your life? What tells you it is the Spirit’s presence?

Biblical Context

John 14: 15-21
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

In today’s Gospel John returns us to our seat at the Last Supper. After calling on the disciples to trust him beyond all else, John has Jesus proclaim: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate.” That might make us think someone is impersonating Jesus at the table. It’s as if Jesus were saying, “If you behave yourselves I’ll ask God to send you help.” That is one way to interpret this Gospel fragment; it focuses our attention on the relative merits of our behavior with the hope that we can demonstrate enough virtue to pass muster. But that interpretation flounders when Jesus goes on to speak of a Spirit of truth that the world cannot perceive. With the idea of putting in great effort, pulling your own weight and earning everything you get is exactly the system of the world — so the world should understand it quite well. Jesus must be speaking of something else.

When we listen carefully, we hear that Jesus isn’t talking about obedience but about loving him. He’s talking about the transformation that happens when, as Jesuit Pedro Arrupe is to have said, we fall in love with God “in a quite absolute and final way.” Falling in love with another person changes our perspective, we see the world differently and understand everything in relation to the beloved. People who love one another often take on some of the characteristics of the other. Long-time married couples often even start to look like each another. Such love points toward what Jesus described here.

The love Jesus is talking about is devotion to the one who loved us first, whose love for us is immeasurable. This love is a commitment to the one who offers us a future of life beyond our imagining. The love Jesus is talking about orients absolutely everything else in our life. So when he says “If you love me you will keep my commandments,” we could easily rephrase that to say, “If you love me you will share my perspective and desire.”

John presents Jesus as saying this in the context of his farewell address to the disciples. Jesus knows, as do we the readers, that they are frail followers. If they haven’t been able to comprehend him already, they will need even more help when he is no longer physically with them. John had all of us in mind as he recorded the rest of this conversation. Jesus promised the disciples he would ask the Father to send them “another advocate,” the Spirit who would continue his role with them. Jesus described this Spirit as the Spirit of truth whom the world neither sees nor knows. The clear implication is that disciples do somehow see and know the Spirit.

To “see” implies a sense perception. Seeing is more than passive. “Seeing” involves taking in sensory data and organizing it, focusing on some things and ignoring others to give meaning to the light and shade and varied shapes within our range of vision. “Knowing” is non-material, it refers to the dimension of the mind and the spiritual. To know someone is not just to recognize a face or to be able to call her or him by name. Knowing involves relationship. To know others is to be connected with them. It implies that we understand the person from his or her own perspective. Knowing someone necessarily implies a degree of empathy, of feeling together. When Jesus states that disciples see and know the Spirit it’s simply one more way of drawing out the implications of their love for him. To the degree that they love him, they see as he sees and want his Spirit to animate them, to help them remain true to who he is calling them to be.

The role of the Spirit in the life of disciples is expressed quite beautifully in Eucharistic Prayer 4 which says: “That we might live no longer for ourselves but for him … he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe, so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world, he might sanctify creation to the full.”

Loving Christ opens us to the Spirit who empowers us to bring Christ’s work to completion. Or as Jesus said so simply, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.”

Dancing Beyond Death

By John Shea

William Shannon, a Thomas Merton scholar, wrote a very direct letter to a woman who had lost her sister.

I hope you have been able to come to grips a bit more with your feeling about your sister’s death. I realize how very hard this is for you. You need to keep reflecting on the fact that, while in one sense death sepa- rates us from the loved ones, in another and more ultimate sense it deepens our spiritual union with them. When there is only that, then that becomes most important. And of course, it should really be most important at all times.

We are one with one another, because whatever of us there is that is really worthwhile is from God and in God. And that is something that death does not and cannot change—though it appears to do so, since we are so accustomed to think of a person solely in terms of her empirical ego. Death is the end of the empirical ego, but not of the person. We are all eternally one in the love of God. (“Thomas Merton and the Quest for Self-Identity,” Cistercian Studies 22, no. 2 [1987] 172)

This seems to be very close to what Jesus is telling the disciples. The scenario is not: Jesus is going to God and when they die, they will go to God and be reunited to him. The scenario is: once he has died and is no longer physically among them, he will not be gone. He will be present to them in and through the Spirit in the depth of their own beings. They are not being encouraged to hope for life after death. They are being instructed in a consciousness change, to become aware of spiritual presence without physical manifestation.

The ongoing presence of Christ or any loved one is a truly consoling thought, but it is also a very difficult thought to accept. Part of the difficulty is that we are of “the world,” and Jesus says the world does not know this level of reality. The world is alienated from the spiritual, partially because it is addicted to sense knowledge. When the physical sights and sounds of people are not present to us, we assume, as “worldly beings,” they are gone. Both Jesus and William Shannon are questioning this assumption, and both acknowledge the difficulty of shedding this assumption and entertaining another possibility of presence. But both also insist that it has to be done.

Shannon thinks that “reflecting on the fact that, while in one sense death separates us from the loved ones, in another and more ultimate sense it deepens our spiritual union with them” will help. My guess is this type of reflection must be akin to T. S. Eliot’s advice in The Four Quartets, “We must be still and still moving / Into another intensity / For a further union, a deeper communion . . .” But what should be the path of reflection? This strange possibility is outside the range of our everyday consciousness. When we try to ponder it, our mind blocks; how should we unblock it in order to go further?

The path of pondering should follow the clues of relationality. Human living is best appreciated from the perspective of relational flow rather than individual separateness. From Jesus’ words I sense the deeper, inner world he reveals does not honor the boundaries of the surface world. God, Jesus, and the followers of Jesus are not separate realities. Certainly, they can be distinguished, but they seem to mutually define one another. If this is so, our way into this dimension of spiritual communion is to ponder the centrality of relational flow. This pondering will not jeopardize our individuality, but it will bring into consciousness the relational ground out of which our individuality emerges.

On the physical level, we come into being in the meeting of a sperm and an egg. Then we live through our mother’s blood for nine months, before we are born into a larger womb of air that our lungs breathe in and out. This symbiotic relationship with the universe deepens as we eat food and drink water. We may forget we are essentially connected to the material world, but upon reflection we must acknowledge that our bodies are established and sustained in relationship with all other material reality.

On the social-psychological level, we are cared for by others and internalize their influences. There are many theories of social-psychological development, but all of them stress the relational context of how we become ourselves. Most of the words we use to describe ourselves name relationships: son, daughter, mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister. Although at times we conceive ourselves as “pulling ourselves up by our own boot straps,” this self-reliant caricature cannot stand up to scrutiny. When the sense of “I” is pursued, we always find it grounded in an interdependent “we.”

On the spiritual level, the relational flow is a wild ride. Spirit is that reality that can be present in another reality without displacing any of that reality in which it is present. Therefore, spirits can interpenetrate one another. And if the Creator Spirit is distinguished from created spirits, the picture is one of the Creator Spirit continuously present in the created spirits—sustaining them in existence and filling them with its life. The reality of this communion is eternal, and therefore it is not subject to losses associated with time. It is a dance that survives death.

Christian theologians have characterized the inner life of the Trinity as “perichoresis.” Perichoresis is a dance, a life-giving movement that goes round and round without beginning or end. This is the love and the life of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit. Jesus, the Son, revealed that this Trinitarian dance is not for divine persons only. God invites human persons into this dance. This is the love and life that Jesus reveals and imparts to his disciples. This dance is going on right now, right beneath the surface of our worldly eyes. Music is playing just beyond the range of our worldly ears. But as we listen to Jesus console his disciples, our consciousness opens ever so slightly, and our feet begin to tap on the vibrant earth.