Perhaps you have heard jokes about the Holy Ghost or the Japanese gentlemen cited by Madeleine L’Engle who said “Honorable Father, very good. Honorable Son, very good. Honorable Bird I do not understand at all.” Most of us have at one time or another invoked the Holy Spirit before an exam. In the following reflection, which first appeared on FamVin, Father Pat Griffin offers his insights into the Paraclete, the biblical name for the Holy Spirit.
Usually when I consider the word “Paraclete,” I think of “advocate” or “intercessor” or “counselor” or some such term. “Paraclete” is, of course, one of the ways in which we often refer to the Holy Spirit. As we approach the celebration of Pentecost, the anticipation of the role of the Spirit becomes more common. The origin of the word, however, suggests a more dynamic and (for me) personal situation. It means “to call to one’s side.” From this base understanding, the descriptions above may proceed, but others may also emerge—“supporter,” “ally,” and “trusted friend” come to mind.
I have been thinking of what it means to be “called to another’s side.”
Some months ago, I had a wedding, and it occurred to me to remark that the man and woman arrived in the Church separately, but left side-by-side. I observed how that alignment should model the rest of their lives. Each would summon the other to his/her side for comfort, support, advice and decision. And each would respond with love. (I thought that the biblical image of the woman being formed from the side of the man meant something in this context but did not allow myself to wax on that more involved “insight.”)
I know what it is like to have someone at my side. I experience it at Eucharist when we listen and celebrate and worship together. I know what it is like at graduations and such official gatherings where we sing the national anthem together. When I have been sick, I have felt the presence of another at my bedside. Obviously, being in the same place at the same time does not qualify in this context—subways and airplanes do not lift my spirit with their enforced physical closeness. No, there is a mutuality and, yes, friendship which accompanies having someone at my side.
The experience is not limited to physical closeness. Sometimes when someone supports my belief or complements my position, I feel that we are side-by-side. We share insights and advance in our thinking together. The experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus comes to mind. As the disciples leaving Jerusalem reflect on the events of the past days, Jesus begins to walk alongside them. He makes things clearer for them.
This event leads me back to my reflection on the role of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, on this Pentecost. The role of the Spirit is described for us by Jesus:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. . . . The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.” (Jn 14:16-17, 26)
At Pentecost, we pray that the Holy Spirit may be with us, helping us to understand the message and direction of Jesus. We call this Paraclete to be at our side and we are confident that she is on our side.