The birth centenary of Pope St. John Paul II
(18th May 1920-2020)
Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26—16:4a
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. -- Acts 15:26-27.
A great portion of that Last Supper discourse of Jesus is devoted to talk of the Holy Spirit, and how that Spirit is going to pick up where Jesus left off, as the aspect of the divine presence that Jesus’ followers are going to experience most directly. And he uses a special name for the Holy Spirit—paraclete, which can be translated a numbers of ways: Helper, Comforter, Defender. The basic idea is that of a person called to your side to assist you in some way.
How does that work in daily experience? Luke gives us an example in the first reading—about the formidable Lydia, the dealer in purple. What a great little story of grace building on nature—of the Spirit working with a spirited woman! In just two verses, Luke gives us a vivid picture of her. The mysterious “purple” that Lydia deals with was a luxury item in the international market of the Eastern Mediterranean world. The color purple was derived from a rare kind of snail; and so cloth dyed purple was a commodity that only the wealthy could afford. Hence its popularity among royalty. So what we have here is an international businesswoman, obviously a gal of some gumption.
That she is described as a “worshipper of God” means that she is a Gentile who has the curiosity and openness to learn about the Jewish sense of God and even to join Jews in their prayer, the kind of person that Luke elsewhere calls a “God fearer.” That spirit of enquiry is evident in the way she listens to Paul’s talk (no doubt, about Jesus as Messiah), as “God opened her heart to receive” what Paul was saying. That’s another way of talking about the Paraclete at work, nudging the woman to be open to the good news she was hearing. Luke makes what was no doubt a longer story very short when he says,
When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
This woman acts! She was already enterprising and enquiring. Now, without having a name for it, she could respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit, come to Christian faith as a natural extension of her walk with the Jewish faith community, and she could act it out in spirited hospitality.
That is how the Paraclete works with us, too. We are responding to the Holy Spirit whenever we experience our heart opening to something good and true and when we act on that with a sense of responding to the God of all of us. It helps if, like Lydia, we actively look- expectantly- for the good and the true, and then do something when we find it.
By Dennis Hamm