Sunday reflection: John 14:15–21

posted at 10:01 am on May 25, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussionPrevious Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here For previous Green Room entries, click here.

This morning’s Gospel reading is 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, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he 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.”

As we approach Pentecost, Jesus prepares his apostles for the Holy Spirit, through which the Church will be built and the nations converted. Jesus speaks of the Advocate, the “Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept.” What is the Holy Spirit, and why did the world refuse to accept Him?

There are probably as many answers to the question of “who is the Holy Spirit” as there are people reading this post, because it’s difficult to define the infinite. (We’ll get to it shortly, though.) And that is indeed one reason why when Jesus spoke these words that “the world cannot accept” Him. Jesus tells the apostles that the world, which focused so intently on the material even in spiritual matters, could not accept the Holy Spirit because it hadn’t seen Him or understood Him. The teaching of Jesus that each person’s heart would become the temple of God through the surrender to the Holy Spirit was a revolutionary concept. The central focus of worship in Judaism was the Temple, where God dwelled among His people on Zion.

What Jesus proposed was the end of the temple system — presaged by the upending of the marketplace on his arrival and His teaching to open hearts to God rather than offer empty sacrifice. What the Father truly wants a sacrifice of a humbled and penitent heart, in order for the Holy Spirit to find its dwelling there. Twice in Kings II (22:19, 34:27), the Lord hears the cry of those who humbled himself before the Lord with true penitence and answered their prayers. In Romans 2:4-8, Paul warns that “God’s kindness” is meant to lead us to repentance, which necessarily involves humbling of heart and opening it to God’s love. Psalm 51:17 teaches that “a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Jesus himself urged his followers to ponder this: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:12).

The heart, then, becomes the sacrifice the Father wants, in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit. To understand why requires a clear comprehension of what the “heart” is in Judeo-Christian teaching. The heart is not just the wellspring of emotion, as is the popular conception in modern times. The heart is the seat of decision-making, where the intellect and the will meet. Far from being just a waterfall of “feelings,” it is the core of our being as humans made in God’s image. By offering up our hearts as a sacrifice, we are humbling our entire selves before God and asking Him to lead us, in order to use our reason and gifts to serve His will rather than our own.

And why? We do this out of love and trust. Caritas is a love that wills the good of the other; it is the love that God has for all of us, which takes form in the Holy Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and the Son. The gift of the Holy Spirit includes us in their Trinitarian life here in this world, and is but a glimpse of that life in the next. It wills the good for us, and we respond by accepting His love and surrendering to His will for all of Creation. This necessarily requires humbling and repentance on an ongoing basis. This is how we truly love God, in the caritas (or agape) sense of the word, and how that love responds and grows in the exchange.

Jesus remarked that “the world cannot accept” (or “receive” in some translations, such as Ignatian) this teaching at the time He spoke to His apostles. It’s not easy to accept two thousand years later, either, even though the culture of Christianity has always been a personal relationship with the Trinity through the Holy Spirit. Many of us feel comfortable giving their “love” to Jesus on the emotional level, but very few of us can consistently surrender to the Holy Spirit and trust in His goodness and superior will by living our lives as people of faith. This is why Jesus stresses at the very beginning of this passage that true love and trust in Him starts with surrendering hearts so that we may choose freely to keep His commandments to love one another with the same love that God gives us — the caritas that always wills the good of the other, not just feels sappy about them.

What happens when we live our lives in that kind of love and surrender? Our first reading today tells of how Philip converted the Samaritans through his proclamation of Christ and the marvelous signs he worked through the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17). Philip baptized them, but Peter and John followed up with a confirmation, through which the Samaritan Christians fully received the Holy Spirit (“Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit”). In our second reading (1 Peter 3:15-18), Peter stresses that we must “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” before evangelizing for Him. We must make the temple of the Holy Spirit — the intersection of our will, intellect, and gifts — His and His alone. When we do that and rely on hearts formed by the Holy Spirit, we act out of “gentleness and reverence … so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” The caritas of God will be unmistakable, and provide evidence of His love to others.

Nothing about this is easy, of course. It’s simpler to compartmentalize faith as just an emotional response, while still living our lives through hearts that refuse to be humbled. Lord knows I’ve certainly struggled with that. Giving up control to God requires a leap of faith and trust that has to overcome a fear that is almost elemental in our nature — the fear of loss of control. Being a parent is actually good training for this, in a strange way. When our children are very small, we think we can plan for every possibility and make them into perfect beings. By the time they hit adolescence, we realize how little true control we actually have. There is almost nothing more humbling than parenthood in the long run. Trusting in our own lights alone seems laughable and foolish in retrospect.

I love my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters with imperfect reason, will, and gifts, and yet still have that true caritas love for them. Imagine how much more wonderful is God’s love for all of us, expressed in the Holy Spirit. That’s not just a Hallmark card occasion, but the love on which we can entirely trust, as long as we truly offer our hearts to God as His temple within us.

Today’s image is a depiction of the Holy Spirit in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.


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Thanks, Ed.

oldleprechaun on May 25, 2014 at 10:14 AM

“The caritas of God will be unmistakable, and provide evidence of His love to others.” This is what evangelism is truly about. When others see and know the belief and love you have for God, when they notice what a difference this makes in your life, and when they come to realize, in the words of the hymn, that what the world has to offer is but “sinking sand”, then they, too, want to know and believe in the Lord.

The Church needs to get out of the “numbers game”. Throughout Her history, whether the Church has flourished or floundered has its basis in whether the people are truly disciples who keep the Lord’s commands or are simply “members” who only giving a passing acknowledgement of “something other” than themselves. We pray that the Lord would grant us such faith, trust, and such love.

VALman on May 25, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Well done, Ed.

pambi on May 25, 2014 at 10:22 AM

the Holy Spirit is the abnegation of our own human will and instincts and inculcation and acceptance of God’s Will as our prime director and decision maker……….not to be confused with bible-babble

clandestine on May 25, 2014 at 10:34 AM

I love these reflections. Thank you.

ORconservative on May 25, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Thank you, Ed.

Here again is the edge of the blade. Not only must you believe, but you must act as you believe.

And loving your family is part of loving God. We are told by Jesus to love one another, and such a sentiment does not exclude family.

Look at St. Monica, and how she loved St. Augustine in spite of his sinful ways.

unclesmrgol on May 25, 2014 at 12:13 PM

I love the end of verse 19.

“…because I live, ye shall live also.”

It’s personal – ‘ye’
It’s certain – ‘shall’
It’s positive – ‘live’

The contrast between life and death is so simple and so profound.

To conquer death, Jesus had to die.

Bigbullets on May 25, 2014 at 12:29 PM

Thank you, Ed.

Here again is the edge of the blade. Not only must you believe, but you must act as you believe.

And loving your family is part of loving God. We are told by Jesus to love one another, and such a sentiment does not exclude family.

Look at St. Monica, and how she loved St. Augustine in spite of his sinful ways.

unclesmrgol on May 25, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Would you say that faith produces works?

Or works produce faith?

Bigbullets on May 25, 2014 at 12:30 PM

thanks Ed.

CoffeeLover on May 25, 2014 at 12:48 PM

Keep up the good work, my friend.

SC.Charlie on May 25, 2014 at 1:58 PM

Thank you, Ed, for this wonderful reflection.

PatriotGal2257 on May 25, 2014 at 3:12 PM

What an incredible weekend so far. Kids butchered in Santa Barbara, people killed in Myrtle Beach, certainly some wounded in Chicago yet to be reported. There is no love in these people, but self centered passion. Not for others but only for themselves.

The true love did emerge with Pope Francis inviting middle-East parties to come to the Vatican next month…to pray together. And the principals agreed!! Blessed indeed are the peacemakers. No guarantee there will be peace in the Holy Land, but a good start from a better perspective.

But then there are our lost veterans of which my brother was one. A Marine Corps Aviator in Vietnam, died years later from complications of agent orange exposure late in his tour. He was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses for saving a bunch of Marines pinned down by the North Vietnamese Army during two different battles.

The Holy Spirit knocks on our hearts to be let in. How many of us simply ignore the call? It is sad that some don’t; but many do answer the door and invite in the Spirit, the Advocate for us all and to the Father. Can we not just humble ourselves and let him in? The world could be a better place if so.

Yours in Christ,
Michael.

Michael Harlin on May 25, 2014 at 3:17 PM

Would you say that faith produces works?

Or works produce faith?

Bigbullets on May 25, 2014 at 12:30 PM

God’s grace produces both.

inviolet on May 25, 2014 at 4:41 PM

“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift.” Ephesians 2:8

Both “grace” and “faith” are feminine nouns; whereas, “this” is neuter. “This” cannot be a referent pronoun for either.

“This” refers to salvation.

I am not saying that grace and faith are not gifts from God, just that this verse cannot be used to support such an understanding.

davidk on May 25, 2014 at 5:55 PM

Would you say that faith produces works?

Or works produce faith?

Bigbullets on May 25, 2014 at 12:30 PM

.
God’s grace produces both.

inviolet on May 25, 2014 at 4:41 PM

.
Faith comes before ‘corresponding action’ (“works”).

All of us are ‘imbued’ with a degree of Godly faith, at conception. This is reflected in what we call natural born gifts and talents.

All subsequent faith comes by hearing/reading/ “absorbing into our mind and spirit” the word of God. [Rom 10:17]

listens2glenn on May 25, 2014 at 8:53 PM

I struggle daily with this since the loss of my husband. My heart rebels against this loss and questions God’s wisdom and the necessity of this sacrifice. I know that my husband and I were God’s gifts to each other, but our time together was far too short.

Now He’s taken that away and I – well, I resist and my heart is not open, even though it’s been broken. I feel adrift and abandoned, even as my in-laws draw together to support me. They, too, are a blessing that seems overshadowed by my loss.

disa on May 26, 2014 at 4:54 PM

disa on May 26, 2014 at 4:54 PM

I wish I knew the words that would make it all better. My sister lost her husband last July. I can’t imagine what she, and you, are going through.

davidk on May 26, 2014 at 5:08 PM

Matthew 14:22-33 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Walking on the Water

22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. 23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. 24 But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. 25 Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”

29 “Come!” He said.

And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1m_sWJQm2fs

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown, where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep, my faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours, and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed, and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours, and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours, and You are mine
I am Yours, and You are mine
I am Yours, and You are mine
I am Yours, and You are mine

davidk on May 26, 2014 at 5:37 PM

Would you say that faith produces works?

Or works produce faith?

Bigbullets on May 25, 2014 at 12:30 PM

Better: Faith must produce works, or it is empty — a nullity.

You will note that I used the word belief — not faith

I submit that belief and the necessary works which must follow from belief comprise faith. Faith is the deliberate and complete submission of one’s personal will to the known desires of God.

Works consist of praying, reading scripture and other literature designed to enhance one’s knowlege (inform one’s conscience) concerning God’s Will. It consists of then deliberately doing the things we know through our informed conscience are pleasing to God.

Now, the big question is: what starts belief?

Belief is a composite of human desire to know God, aided by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

You see, we have free will as to accept or reject the grace offered by the Holy Spirit as we please, and if we accept that grace — we submit ourselves to God — then we have faith.

Again, we must hold our hands up, and God holds His hand down. When those hands are joined, grace and its exterior manifestation of faith follow.

Here’s how the Catechism of the Catholic Church put the whole thing

It’s actually pretty simple once you see it laid out. But there is a catch. At any time, a person can withdraw their hand from God’s; by the nature of free will — the intellect which is one of our gifts from God, God must let go too (so that the gift of free will can be completely realized) — but continues to hold His hand out in case you change your mind. This is one reason why Catholics believe that Salvation is rarely given before death. It is the final state of the soul at death which determines one’s suitability for Salvation. Indeed, Jesus tells us “He who endures to the end will be saved”. Such endurance must be an effort on our part — if we remain locked into the Holy Spirit entirely, there is no effort at all, just as there is no free will. Jesus has given to us the means of our Salvation, but we must do something, no matter how ill-made, to merit it. It is certainly possible to unmerit Salvation — just ask Adam and Eve, or examine closely the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is possible to fall away from God.

The Parable illustrates the issue most succinctly — that a sinner, even given the bountiful offering of the Father, can spend it down to nothing through repeated sin; to do that, he moves away from the Father. But the filling station is available — one must come penitently back to the Father and ask. In the act of submission, the regaining of faith one obtains all of the Father’s apportioned wealth.

Satisfactory?

unclesmrgol on May 26, 2014 at 6:09 PM

Ed:
The heart is not just the wellspring of emotion, as is the popular conception in modern times. The heart is the seat of decision-making, where the intellect and the will meet. Far from being just a waterfall of “feelings,” it is the core of our being as humans made in God’s image. By offering up our hearts as a sacrifice, we are humbling our entire selves before God and asking Him to lead us, in order to use our reason and gifts to serve His will rather than our own.

Absolutely beautiful.

Thanks so much, Ed.

Elisa on May 26, 2014 at 6:32 PM

I struggle daily with this since the loss of my husband. My heart rebels against this loss and questions God’s wisdom and the necessity of this sacrifice. I know that my husband and I were God’s gifts to each other, but our time together was far too short.

Now He’s taken that away and I – well, I resist and my heart is not open, even though it’s been broken. I feel adrift and abandoned, even as my in-laws draw together to support me. They, too, are a blessing that seems overshadowed by my loss.

disa on May 26, 2014 at 4:54 PM

I am very sorry for your great loss.

You will be in my prayers.

If you cannot yet open your heart to God for His peace and love and comfort and healing, that is human and entirely understandable at times.

May I suggest you talk to God anyway. Open up the line of communication (if not your heart yet) and give Him all your resentment and questions and accusations. There is a way to pour out your heart to God of all these things, as well, without it being disrespectful to God.

He is a big boy and He already knows what is in your heart. Tell Him how mad you are. How unfair it is. How it doesn’t make any sense.

Tell Him your heart is closed to Him and that one day you hope that changes and that He give you the grace for that, when the time is right.

You may feel adrift and abandoned now, but He is there “waiting like a lover.” You don’t need to grab hold of God yet, if you aren’t ready. But maybe it may give you comfort to know that He is waiting to hold you close to His Most Sacred Heart and every hair on your head is counted. Truly you aren’t abandoned. Even if it feels that way.

One day. One day the pain will lessen a bit.

Know that your husband can pray for you, if you ask him to pray for you. He is in a place where he can see things more clearly than you can. And he is near to the Lord. Ask Him to pray for you.

Elisa on May 26, 2014 at 6:40 PM