Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, New York, NY
Fourth Sunday after Easter in the 1962 Roman Missal
April 24, 2016
James 1:17-21, Jn 16:5-14
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided today’s homily:
We as Christians should never cease to be astonished by what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus was indicating that it was better for us that he go and the Holy Spirit come than that Jesus stay and the Holy Spirit not come. The great joy we have is that we don’t have to choose between the second and third persons of the Holy Trinity. As Christians, when we remain in loving communion with God, we can and do have both indwelling within us together with God the Father who sends them to us in love. But by these words, Jesus is indicating to us the extraordinary importance of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life to complete Jesus’ mission in us and through us in the world.
Last year on this Fourth Sunday after Easter, we pondered together how the Holy Spirit cannot remain the “great unknown” in Christian life, the “most neglected person of the Blessed Trinity,” as Pope Benedict called him, but must allow him to become the “great known,” our teacher, guide, consoler, advocate. We prayerfully examined the Holy Spirit’s essential role in our prayer, in our witness to the Gospel in the midst of the world, and in our moral life through his seven fold gift of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, courage, reverence and awe of the Lord.
Today I’d like to go in a different direction, diving into the deep end of the faith through the words of Sacred Scripture the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles John and James to write down for us in today’s Gospel and epistle, so that the “Spirit of Truth” whom Jesus says will “guide [us] to all truth” may help us to enflesh the truth the Church proclaims to us anew today.
Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit has a three-fold mission: he “will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation.”
The word “convict” is the Greek elegchein, which has the idea of a lawyer’s cross-examining a person on trial so effectively that the defendant is led to see and admit his errors and confess the whole truth. The Holy Spirit will do this, Jesus says, with regard to three crucial spiritual realities.
The first is with regard to “sin,” Jesus says, “because they do not believe in me.” The work of God, Jesus describes elsewhere in St. John’s Gospel, is “to believe in the one he sent,” and the essential sin is opposition to this work, this failure to believe, this rejection of God, this killing of the message of the Gospel and the divine Messenger within the praetorium of our hearts. We know that at the time of Jesus many were unaware of just what was occurring at the Crucifixion. The people were not aware of the sin they were committing, prompting Jesus’ merciful cry, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Many thought they were putting to death a blasphemer and so they shouted for his death. But after Pentecost, when, moved and helped by the Holy Spirit, St. Peter preached to the crowds about how they had condemned a just man and crucified the Lord of Glory, they were pierced to the heart. That was the first work of the Holy Spirit, to convict the world of sin. That work continues, helping us to see the many ways we don’t believe in God, the many contexts we don’t live by faith, the many settings in which we have not yet stake our entire existence on his word.
The second work of the Spirit is to convict the world in regard to righteousness, because, Jesus says, “I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me.” Righteousness is justice, it’s a right relationship between a person and God and between persons in God. The foundation for justice is in Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, his Resurrection and Ascension into glory, when the order of the universe was turned right side up. The Holy Spirit helps us to see that Jesus belongs not to be understood as a crucified criminal, not just as a Nazarene carpenter, but as the Risen Lamb of God to whom wisdom and power, honor and glory and praise” (Rev 5:12) belong. The Holy Spirit helps us to perceive Jesus’ righteousness or holiness, his extraordinary love that led him to sacrifice his life for ours, and helps us to open ourselves to receive the gift of his salvation. That work continues in a special way in the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. A priest prays in the formula of absolution, “God the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” The Holy Spirit has been sent among us not merely to convict of us sin but to show us something far more powerful: that God’s mercy triumphs over our misery, that his justice has the last word over the injustice we’ve committed and suffered, that the path for us to become righteous is for us to receive the mercy of Jesus and enter into communion with him who is the Righteous One, Mercy incarnate.
The third work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, is with regard to judgment or “condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” The Holy Spirit helps us to see that the devil has been judged, evil has been condemned, and wickedness no longer has the last word. He helps us to see clearly the winning side and the losing side and he helps us to choose with clarity and courage which side we want to be on now and always. Each of us will be judged, but the Holy Spirit helps us to know exactly on what criteria we will be judged and by ordering our life to God’s word to go with confidence to meet Jesus provided as our Judge. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, helps us to believe in Jesus and all he taught and did, and assists us to choose him over the various sinful disguises Barabbas takes in our life. The Holy Spirit helps us to discern that in caring for the needy, hungry, thirsty, poor, naked, imprisoned, and unknown, we are caring for Christ and choosing to go to his eternal right. The Holy Spirit helps us to cross the Road to care for the Good Samaritan, to cross the aisle and enter the confessional, to cross ourselves and unite our joys and sufferings to Christ’s life, suffering, death and resurrection.
What a great and indispensable work this is! The work of the Holy Spirit, through leading us to all truth and helping us to live the truth, is ultimately to sculpt us into the divine likeness, to help us to become holy as God is holy, merciful as he is merciful, perfect as he is perfect. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. James tells us today that God “willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” The action of the Holy Spirit inside of us is to help us to become “first fruits” of all creation, and we know from the Old Testament that the first fruits were always given back to God. The Holy Spirit helps us to receive on good soil the seed of God’s word of truth so that we might give deeds of truth back to God together with our very being.
That helps to explain what St. James says immediately afterward: “Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” The Holy Spirit wants to help us to be “quick to hear” both God’s word as well as the cries of our neighbor. He wants to help us to listen with ears on our hearts, like the contemplative heart of the Blessed Mother, who is the model of someone who cooperates fully with the Holy Spirit. He wants us to help us to be slow to speak and slow to anger,” much like God who revealed himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai, as the “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” To be slow to anger means to be quick to mercy, and the Holy Spirit wants to help us to become merciful like the Father in this very way, because, as he tells us through St. James, “the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.”
We now live in an age that’s slow to hear the word of God and the cry of others and one that is rapidissimo in speaking and in expressing anger. Rather than imitating the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, we imitate Jerry Springer and bombastic talk radio hosts, proferring our opinion unsolicited on every subject under the sun. We live in an age of gossip, of shaming, of slaying our brother like Cain did Abel with the sword of our tongue. There are several prominent Catholics who have now made detraction a sordid art form, caustically ripping other people apart, exposing their defects far more than the compliment their strengths, all the while ignoring what Jesus said in the image of the plank and the speck and in his clear admonition, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless work they speak” (Mt 12:36). This is not the Christian way. This is not life according to the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit wants to convict us of this sin, remind us of righteousness, and help us learn how to communicate truly as Christians.
What’s the way Christians are meant to communicate as sons and daughters of God? At the end of today’s Gospel, we get a glimpse. Speaking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us, “He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears” and “take from what is mine and declare it to you.” Similarly, earlier in Jesus’ last Supper discourse as recorded for us by St. John, Jesus says, “I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak. … What I say, I say as the Father has told me” (Jn 12:49-50). None of them is winging it. None of them is shooting off his mouth. Both of them speak what they hear: Jesus passing on the Father’s words and the Holy Spirit echoing Jesus’. The truly Christian form of communication that the Holy Spirit wants to help us to bring about is that our words will become more and more the echo of God’s words, that whether we’re silent contemplatively listening or whether we’re speaking, we’re hearing God’s voice or speaking God’s saving word. The more we cooperate with the Holy Spirit the more we will be able to make our whole life like a Magnificat, cooperating as the Blessed Mother did, so that we will always listen to God’s word so prayerfully, attentively and quickly, that we will hear it always as a word to be done and to be shared, a word that will teach us how to love each other in the same way God has shown us how to love, a word that will implant itself with us and help us to bear abundant fruit, by helping us to proclaim God’s word with our lips and lives as we give our lives as first fruits to help restore people to God’s righteousness.
One of the most important places in which the Holy Spirit carries out this transformative work is here at Mass. It’s here that the Word of God is proclaimed and we’re given the opportunity, by the Holy Spirit, to be led into more and more into all the truth. It’s here that in response to that we’re we are trained to be quick to hear and quick to extend mercy. It’s here that just as he overshadowed Mary at the Annunciation, he overshadows the altar and the priest at the consecration to transform bread and wine into the eternal Son of God incarnate and to transform men and women into one body, one Spirit in Christ. “The Eucharist is a ‘perpetual Pentecost,’” Pope Benedict said eight years ago, “since every time we celebrate Mass we receive the Holy Spirit who unites us more deeply with Christ and transforms us into Him.”
Today we turn to the Holy Spirit, the “better part,” who seeks to transform us more and more into the divine image and pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, convict us of sin, rightenousness and judgment! Come, Holy Spirit, and lead us to all truth! Come, Holy Spirit, help us to become quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger! Com, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, kindle in us the fire of your love, and send us forth to light the world ablaze!” Amen!
The readings of today’s Mass were:
A Reading for the Epistle of St. James
All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.
The Continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St. John
I did not tell you this from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.