Even after the Lord’s Ascension, which we’ll celebrate this week, the Lord promised that we’d always have an Advocate to look out for us and help us: the Holy Spirit. Today’s reading remind us that the decisions made by the Church are always done with the help of the Holy Spirit, whom we’ll be remembering in a special way on Pentecost Sunday in two weeks.
In today’s First Reading there is a dispute at to whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity are required to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law of Jewish converts to Christianity. At first the apostles did not preach the Gospel to Gentiles (non-Jews), but Paul and Barnabas, when they saw Jews rejecting the Gospel, started to preach the Gospel to anyone who would listen. Some disciples in Antioch did the same, and soon Gentiles were embracing Christianity as well as Jews. A debate arose about how Jewish the converts to Christianity needed to act, whether Jews or Gentiles. The first Church council was convoked, the Council of Jerusalem, to discuss the matter. When the decision was made, and a letter was drafted to communicate it, the apostles don’t say they’ve reached a decision on their own: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…” The Church listened to the Holy Spirit and decided based on what the Spirit had to say. She still does.
In today’s Gospel the Advocate is promised by Jesus to the Apostles to help them in caring for his Church. The Advocate is the Holy Spirit. In St. John’s account of the Last Supper discourse Our Lord knows his disciples will need help when he is gone, and that help comes in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we’ll celebrated in two weeks on Pentecost Sunday. A recurring theme in St. John’s Gospel is that there were some things the disciples did not fully understand until they were helped to do so by the Spirit. For example, John 7:39: “Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” On the eve of the Resurrection Jesus breathed upon them and gave them the Holy Spirit (see John 20:22). At the start of today’s Gospel the Lord promised that he and the Father would come and dwell in those who keep his word, and just a few verses earlier (see John 14:17) he promises that the Holy Spirit would dwell in us too. The Holy Spirit helps the Church through her shepherds to remain faithful throughout the ages to the Lord’s word.
John in his First Letter puts us on guard about just blindly following whatever spirit presents itself: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). A lot of people offer advice, but you must examine the spirit behind that advice to avoid false prophets. A feeling or intuition that seeks to influence your decisions may non necessarily have a good spirit behind it in a world that advocates doing whatever feels good and worrying only about yourself. If a choice implies self-renunciation and sacrifice there’s a good chance the Holy Spirit may be behind it, trying to help you accept God’s will, simply because the thought of that choice is costly to you. It may be a choice to be more disciplined, or a choice to be less demanding on yourself or others. The Holy Spirit wants to help you be objective about yourself.