The Spirit of the God who’s near

How will the 21st-century’s early decades be remembered at the turn of the next one? Pope Francis apparently hopes our times might be remembered for refocusing human attention on God’s presence in the world.

May 15, 2015

By David Gibson
How will the 21st-century’s early decades be remembered at the turn of the next one? Pope Francis apparently hopes our times might be remembered for refocusing human attention on God’s presence in the world. The Pope urgently wants people to discover that God is never distant but always near.

In proclaiming the extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy that begins December 8, Pope Francis spoke of God’s nearness and mercy.

“This is the time for mercy,” he said, when he officially proclaimed the upcoming Holy Year by releasing a document titled The Face of Mercy.

In a homily at vespers for Divine Mercy Sunday, the Pope called this a “favourable time” for meeting all “who are waiting to see, and to touch with their hands, the signs of the closeness of God.”

Living in times “of great historical change,” the Church “is called to offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness,” said the Pope.

The present moment, “full of great hopes and signs of contradiction,” is a good time “to introduce everyone” to God’s mercy, Pope Francis writes in The Face of Mercy. God, he states, “will always be the one who is present, close, provident, holy and merciful.”

The Pope prays that the Holy Spirit, who guides believers’ steps, will “lead the way and support the people of God so that they may contemplate the face of mercy.”

This mention of the Holy Spirit in The Face of Mercy is hardly incidental. From its earliest days, the Christian community knew the Spirit as the one making Jesus present in the world after his ascension. The Acts of the Apostles shows the Spirit drawing near and enabling Jesus’ followers to continue Christ’s work courageously, despite persecution.

“I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus promised the apostles at the Last Supper. Speaking of the Spirit, Jesus said in the Gospel of John, that he would ask his Father to send an “Advocate to be with you always” (14:16).

What kind of Advocate would this be?

The New American Bible indicates that the term “Advocate” here is richly complex. The word “can mean spokesman, mediator, intercessor, comforter, consoler, although no one of these terms encompasses the meaning in John.”

In John’s Gospel, the New American Bible adds, the Paraclete, from the Greek word for Advocate, “is a teacher, a witness to Jesus and a prosecutor of the world, who represents the continued presence on earth of the Jesus who has returned to the Father.”

The risen Lord, then, is near and not locked away in a distant heaven.

To nonbelievers, this may sound like wishful thinking. For believers, though, the Spirit’s presence means they are not abandoned solely to their own devices in situations beyond their full understanding or control. For them, God’s nearness is comforting, and a source of invigorating hope. God’s Advocate strengthens them.

Archbishop John R. Quinn discussed the Holy Spirit’s role in a 2010 speech. The retired archbishop of San Francisco called attention to Jesus’ promise, in John’s Gospel, to send an Advocate to highly troubled and confused disciples.

The Lord explains, in the archbishop’s words, that “in the trouble and the crisis” the disciples confront, “where disaster seems inevitable and there is no solution, he, with the Father and the Spirit,” “will be with them.” The archbishop said:

“The basis of their trust, is not that everything will turn out well. The basis of their trust, and their power to persevere, will be the unshakable truth that the Spirit will be in them.” This means that “they will never be alone again, no matter how impossible the situation seems.”

So the Spirit’s presence as an Advocate means the Lord is near.

Christians consider the Holy Spirit a great gift-giver — another reason they are thankful for God’s nearness. The gifts the Spirit gives, however, are not meant to be hoarded. They are meant for sharing. So the Spirit makes gift-givers of us all!

The diversity of the Spirit’s gifts is fascinating. Notably, though, each of these gifts is important. St Paul makes this point forcefully when describing the members of Christ’s body (1 Cor 12:7): “To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

Warning against one-upmanship over the Spirit’s gifts, Paul insists that “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again, the head to the feet, I do not need you” (1 Cor 12:21).

Truth be told, however, contention often surrounds the diverse gifts of Christ’s members. Pope Francis once called this “a curious thing.” He pointed out that the Spirit creates differences, and “creates unity” from them.

When human calculations become the tools for dealing with this diversity, either we “become self-enclosed, exclusive and divisive” or, “end up imposing a monolithic uniformity” on everyone, Pope Francis remarked in his document, The Joy of the Gospel.

But, he said, the one who “can raise up diversity, plurality and multiplicity while at the same time bringing about unity” is the Spirit.

Total Comments:0