From my years of having to organise large events, I have found this endeavour tiring and energy-sapping. One does not realise the fatigue until the event is over and suddenly the body feels like “crashing”. Yet if it is a joyful event, even in that tiredness, there is something more than just adrenalin that pushes me ahead. That sense of excitement and also expectancy gives the added boost to work towards it. I am sure many of you may have had similar experiences. That sense of expectancy is real because we can imagine what it would be like and look forward to it
In these remaining weeks of Easter, the gospel passages at Mass are going to turn towards Jesus’ promise of the Advocate. When Jesus tells His disciples ‘I shall ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate’, they probably did not have a clue as to who, what, why, when, and how. That is probably why when Jesus was crucified, they lost all sense of hope and no sense of expectancy because they could not imagine anything more than the physical presence of Jesus which was no longer with them. If they had understood, they would not have felt “orphaned” seeing Jesus die on the cross.
The gospel today is part of Jesus’ long farewell discourse at the Last Supper. The final words of Jesus in preparing them for their future tasks will swing ‘back and forth between two understandings of Jesus’ ‘going away’ and ‘return’.’ This discourse of Jesus must have sounded all too abstract for His simple-minded disciples – one minute He is going away and the next minute He is coming back? What is all this? However, this will only be understood by the disciples after the Pentecost event, as illustrated in our first reading today.
The Advocate (a.k.a. Paraclete, depending on the Greek or Latin origins of the word) that Jesus speaks about to His disciples simply means someone ‘called to one’s side’ as a helper – similar to a defender in a lawsuit. Jesus promises an ongoing presence in the absence of His physical presence. The Advocate will not only testify Christ but also enable the disciples to testify Christ to the world.
We can say that the presence of the Holy Spirit is expressed in two ways: firstly, in the ecclesial presence – the Church as a whole and secondly, the individual presence – each one of us by virtue of our baptism. That is why Paul will speak of the universal Church and the individual person as the ‘temples’ of the Holy Spirit.
Through the ecclesial presence, Christ is present, especially in the liturgy, where He ministers through the priests, speaks through the Scriptures, and sanctifies us through the sacraments. While through the individual presence, Christ ministers to a wider world through the baptised who cooperate in sanctifying the world. At a time when our churches are closed and inaccessible, the ecclesial presence may seem weak especially when we are not able to be present physically but only virtually, but the individual presence must now step up to make God real and accessible to all. As we move towards the final days of the Easter season, we are reminded that the giving of the Advocate is intended so that each of us can testify Christ to the world. Our testimony of Christ is proved by works founded on love and not merely words: “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). Our Christian identity does not find meaning in only talking but has everything to do (complemented) with doing. There is a saying, ‘we will never change the world by just going to church; we will only change the world by being the Church’ (Anon). The promise-expectancy of the Advocate is to help us BE THE CHURCH. Amen