According to Pope Francis
5:00 a.m., Vatican City, May 23, 2021
The following is the complete text of Pope Francis’ Pentecost Sunday homily, delivered at the Basilica of St. Peter on May 23, 2021:
“When the Paraclete arrives from the Father, whom I will send to you…” (Matthew 15:26). With these words, Jesus promises to deliver the Holy Spirit, the greatest gift, the gift of all gifts, to his disciples. He describes the Spirit with a strange and cryptic word: paraclete. Let us consider this term today, which is difficult to translate because it has multiple meanings. It literally translates to “comforter” and “advocate.”
The Comforter is the Paraclete. We all want solace, especially in tough times like the ones we are currently facing as a result of the pandemic. However, we frequently rely solely on earthly luxuries, which are fleeting. Today, Jesus sends us heavenly comfort in the form of the Holy Spirit, who is “the finest of comforters” (Sequence). What is the distinction? The world’s conveniences are similar to pain relievers: they provide temporary relief but do not heal the underlying sickness. They can make us feel better, but they can’t heal us from the inside out. They operate on the surface, at the level of the senses, but they rarely affect our hearts. Only someone who loves us for who we are can make our hearts feel at ease. That is exactly what the Holy Spirit, God’s love, does. He comes down within us and acts in our spirit as the Spirit. As “the soul’s most welcoming guest,” he descends “into the heart” (ibid). He is God’s very love, who does not desert us, for being there to those who are alone is a source of comfort in and of itself.
If you sense the gloom of solitude, if you believe a hurdle within you is blocking your route to hope, if your heart has a festering wound, if you see no way out, then open your heart to the Holy Spirit. “Where the challenges are greater, he provides greater comfort,” says Saint Bonaventure, “not like the world, which soothes and flatters us when things go well, but scorns and condemns us when they don’t” (Homily in the Octave of the Ascension). That is what the world does, and the antagonistic spirit, the devil, does much more so. He flatters us and makes us feel invincible (since the devil’s blandishments feed our vanity), then he throws us down and makes us feel like failures. He likes to play with us. He does everything he can to bring us down, whereas the resurrected Lord’s Spirit desires to raise us up. Consider the apostles: they were alone and perplexed that morning, cowering behind closed doors, living in dread and overwhelmed by their inadequacies, shortcomings, and crimes, having denied Christ. They had not changed in the years they had spent with Jesus; they were the same people they had always been. Then they received the Spirit, and everything changed: the issues and flaws remained, but they were no longer terrified of those who opposed them. They felt at ease inside themselves and desired to be overflowing with God’s comfort. They had been afraid before; now their sole concern was not being able to testify to the love they had experienced. “[The Spirit] will testify on my behalf; you must also witness,” Jesus had said (Jn 15:26-27). Let’s take it a step farther. We, too, are asked to be paracletes, or comforters, and to testify in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is encouraging us to take on the comfort he offers. How are we going to do it? Not by giving fantastic speeches, but by being more intimate with them. Not with platitudes, but with prayer and intimacy. Let us never forget that God’s “trademark” is always intimacy, compassion, and kindness. The Paraclete is informing the Church that now is the time to console. It is more appropriate to cheerfully proclaim the Gospel than to resist paganism at this time. It is not the time to lament the drama of secularisation; it is the time to offer the joy of the Risen Lord. It is the season for pouring love out into the world while refusing to embrace worldliness. It’s a better moment to speak to mercy than it is to instil rules and procedures. It’s the Paraclete’s season! In the Paraclete, it is the time of heart freedom.
The Advocate is also known as the Paraclete. Advocates in Jesus’ day did not do what they do today: instead of arguing for defendants, they merely stood next to them and offered them arguments to use in their own defence. Because he is “the spirit of truth,” the paraclete does just that (v. 26). He does not take our place, but rather protects us from evil’s deceptions by instilling positive thoughts and sentiments in us. He does so in a quiet, non-obtrusive manner: he recommends but does not impose. The evil one, the spirit of deception, tries to push us; he wants us to believe that we must always succumb to the temptation and promptings of sin. Let us try to accept three proposals that the Paraclete, our Advocate, is known for. They are three basic antidotes to three of today’s most common temptations.
The Holy Spirit’s first piece of instruction is to “live in the present.” Not the past or the future, but the now. Against the temptation to be paralysed by resentment or memories of the past, or by uncertainty or fear of the future, the Paraclete emphasises the supremacy of today. The Holy Spirit reminds us of the present moment’s grace. There is no better time for us to do good, to make our lives a gift, than right now, right here, right now. Let’s stay in the moment!
“Look to the whole,” the Spirit also says. The entirety, not just a part of it. The Spirit does not shape us as isolated individuals, but rather moulds us into a Church in all of our charisms, into an oneness that is never uniform. The Paraclete affirms that the whole is more important than the parts. The Spirit prefers to operate and bring newness there, in the entire, in the community. Take a look at the apostles for a moment. They were all extremely different from one another. For example, Matthew, a tax collector who cooperated with the Romans, and Simon, the fanatic, who opposed them, were among them. They had diametrically opposed political ideologies and worldviews. However, after receiving the Spirit, they learnt to prioritise the “whole” that is God’s plan, rather than their own human perspectives. We shall not be preoccupied with conservatives and progressives, traditionalists and innovators, right and left, if we listen to the Spirit today. When those become our standards, the Church has lost sight of the Holy Spirit. The Paraclete calls us to unity, concord, and diverse harmony. He teaches us to recognise ourselves as members of the same body, brothers and sisters. Let’s take a look at the big picture! The adversary wants diversity to become opposition, so he transforms it into ideology. Say no to ideology and yes to the greater good.
The Spirit’s next piece of instruction is to “put God first.” This is the most important phase in the spiritual life, which is defined by a modest openness to God rather than the sum of our own merits and successes. The Spirit affirms grace’s supremacy. We can only leave place for the Lord if we empty ourselves; only by giving ourselves to him can we discover ourselves; only by becoming impoverished in spirit can we become wealthy in the Holy Spirit. This holds true for the Church as well. By our own efforts, we save no one, not even ourselves.
If we put our own programmes, structures, and reform plans first, we will be primarily concerned with effectiveness and efficiency, thinking only in horizontal terms, and as a result, we will bear no fruit. An ideology that divides and separates is referred to as a “-ism.” The Church is made up of people, but it is more than that: it is the Holy Spirit’s temple. The Church is transformed by the anointing of grace, the gratuity of the anointing of grace, the power of prayer, the joy of mission, and the disarming beauty of poverty, which Jesus brought to the earth. Let us set God at the top of our priority list!
Comfort our hearts, Holy Spirit, Paraclete Spirit. Make us comforting missionaries, paracletes of your mercy in the eyes of the world. Make us witnesses of God’s “today,” prophets of unity for the Church and humankind, and apostles founded in your grace, which produces and renews all things, our Advocate, dear counsellor of the soul. Amen to that.