May 17, 2020. The Sixth Sunday of Easter. John 14:15-21
In today’s gospel, Jesus promises us that he will ask the Father to send us an Advocate. This word “advocate” is a translation of the Greek word “parakletos”, which we sometimes translate “paraclete.” Our tradition has identified this term with the Holy Spirit. It is very important for us to understand what this term tells us about the Holy Spirit, because all too often our understanding of the spirit is incomplete. The most common image for the Spirit is that of a dove. All too often we limit our understanding of the Spirit to only “dove-like” qualities: gentleness, consolation, support and beauty. All of these qualities certainly apply to the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit is indeed the means by which God conveys gentle consolation to us. But the Holy Spirit is much more than that.
The term “paraclete” helps us to expand our understanding. What does paraclete mean? In Greek, it is a legal term and is probably best translated as “defense attorney.” A paraclete is one who stands with a person to defend them when they are under attack or in crisis. We could certainly use a paraclete as we face the onslaught of the coronavirus. What today’s gospel is telling us is that God is sending us an Advocate, a Paraclete, who will stand with us as we face this pandemic.
What will the Holy Spirit as paraclete provide for us? The same two things that every good defense attorney provides. The paraclete will help us build our defense and negotiate a settlement. In other words, the Holy Spirit as shows us how to judge and how to compromise.
There are many things we have to judge as we face this virus. We have to decide what voices will we trust. What expert opinions will we believe. What actions should we adopt. Should we wear a mask or not wear a mask? Should we social distance with our extended family? Should we go shopping or stay at home? All of these judgments on our part are important. The Spirit, as our defense attorney, helps us make the the decisions which will most effectively protect us. The Spirit helps us prepare to face the virus.
The Holy Spirit also helps us to negotiate a settlement. In our dealing with this virus, as in many legal cases, we will not be able to achieve all that we want. We will have to settle for less. We might want to interact with our family face to face but we will have to settle with a more distant contact through FaceTime or Zoom. We may have been planning to have a large graduation party or wedding reception but will have to settle for something much simpler and then move on with life. We may have been looking forward this summer to attending sporting events and concerts but will have to settle with watching the Indians in an empty stadium and listening to recordings of previously performed music. As we look at all of the things, we can become disappointed. The Holy Spirit as our advocate says, “This is a good compromise. It is a just balance between safety and freedom. It’s a good deal. Take it.”
As we face the battle with the coronavirus, it is important that we open our hearts to let in the Holy Spirit in. The guidance of the Spirit can lead us to judge rightly, to assemble a defense that will work. The presences of the Spirit can support us when we have to settle for less than we would prefer. Now engaging in such strategies and compromises is not easy, but the hope is this: If we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, we will in time come to a day when we can announce that the battle with the coronavirus is over. The case is finished, and we did not lose. We won.