Serving the Church, Inspired by the Advocate
User’s Guide to Sunday, May 17
Sunday, May 17, is the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Mass readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21.
The first reading today shows us that the apostles had a remarkable amount of authority to act on behalf of God. In a manner that is strikingly similar to Jesus Christ in the Gospels, Philip drives out unclean spirits and cures many people with disabilities. In addition, Peter and John call forth the Holy Spirit and lay hands on the Samaritans when they begin to believe, which immediately results in their reception of the Holy Spirit. Despite the fact that the Samaritans had been alienated from God for centuries after the Assyrian conquest, God was able to reconcile them to himself through the preaching, merciful works and sacramental ministry of the apostles. In this way, the apostles, who were mere human beings themselves, demonstrate an unparalleled authority to effect the sanctification and salvation of other human beings. Thus, Christ’s conferral of this authority was one of the most powerful salvific acts that he performed; for through it he was able to extend his ministry through space and time, even down to the present day.
Yet Christ does not send the apostles out on their own after giving them this authority, which is explained in today’s Gospel when Christ tells his followers, “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” (14:15-16). Later in his address to the apostles, he elaborates, saying that “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” (John 16:7).
In accord with the divine plan, then, Christ confers the authority by returning to the right hand of the Father in order to send the Holy Spirit among followers who comprise his mystical Body, the Church.
These references to the sending of the Holy Spirit also reveal that Jesus Christ is the first Advocate (parakletos), which as John elsewhere teaches, is a role that involves being a spokesman, mediator, comforter and especially an intercessor before the heavenly Father (1 John 2:1). In his providential care for his people, therefore, the Father first provides them with an incarnate Advocate who instills faith in their minds, and then sends forth the Advocate of the Spirit who seals this faith and also guides them in all times and places.
Whereas the first Advocate laid the foundation of the spiritual house into which all believers are built, the second continues to oversee its structural integrity, that is, its unity and ongoing expansion.
Each member of the Church is similarly given an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, in and through the sacrament of confirmation. This sacrament, which is not always understood very well, is not a marker of one’s entrance into adulthood; rather, it is a sacrament that confers genuine authority to lead and to serve in the Church. Of course, the mode of this service and leadership will be different for each person.
For some, it will take the shape of ordained ministry as bishops, priests or deacons; for others, it will be expressed in service on parish councils or volunteering in other leadership capacities. Each of these types of ministry is an outworking of the authority and power conferred upon us by virtue of our confirmation to act on behalf of God — in cooperation with the grace of Jesus Christ — for the salvation of souls.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor
in sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Faculty of the
Immaculate Conception at the
Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.