THE HOLY SPIRIT: Be Paracletes by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

Be Paracletes by Raniero Cantalamessa

From: Come, Creator Spirit

So it is that in the term Paraclete we reach in a certain sense to the apex of revelation concerning the Holy Spirit.  He is not merely “something,” but “Someone.”  The Spirit is one who dwells in us, a presence, one who speaks on our behalf, a defender, a friend, a consoler, the “sweet guest of the soul,” as the Sequence for Pentecost says.  The Spirit was the “inseparable companion” of Jesus during his Earthly life, and now wants to be just that to each one of us.  All that one person might hope for of another, of what is best and of what is delightful, we can find, and infinitely more, in the Spirit.  What “Paraclete” conveys to us opens up for us an inexhaustible field for our reflection on the Holy Spirit.  One of the great contemplatives of the Middle Ages wrote:

To the children of grace and the poor in spirit, he is their advocate in the exile of this present life, their consoler, their strength in adversity, their aid in hardship.  It is he who teaches them to pray as they ought, who keeps them firmly close to God, who makes them pleasing to him and worthy to be heard.

It remains for us to draw something practical and workable from our contemplation of the Paraclete.  It is not enough to study the meaning of the word Paraclete; we need to become paracletes ourselves!  If it is true that a Christian ought to be alter Christus, another Christ, it is equally true that a Christian ought to be “another Paraclete.”

By the Holy Spirit, the love of God has been poured into our hearts (Roman 5:5), and this love is both the love with which God loves us, and also the love that makes us able in our turn to love God and our neighbor.  Applied to consolation – that is, to the form love takes when confronted with the suffering of a loved one – this word from the apostle tells us something of supreme importance: The Paraclete comes not merely to console us, but also to prompt us to console, and to empower us to console.  The same apostle Paul writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God,” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). 

In this passage the Greek word from which Paraclete is derived is used five times, sometimes as a verb, sometimes as a noun.  We have here all that is needed for a complete theology of consolation.  Consolation comes from God who is “the God of all consolation.”  It comes to those who are in sorrow.  But it does not stop there; its purpose is achieved when the one who has experienced consolation gets up and in turn brings consolation to others.  What kind of consolation?  This is where we come to the most important point.  We console with the consolation we have received from God, that is, with divine and not with human comforting.  We cannot be content simply to repeat empty words (“have courage,” “don’t let it get you down,” “you’ll see, everything will turn out all right”) that really do nothing to change the situation.  We need to offer the authentic comfort that comes from the words of scripture, words that are able to keep hope alive (see Romans 15:4).  This is the explanation of the miracles that come about at the bedside of someone who is sick, when a simple word is spoken or a gesture is made with faith and in a prayerful way, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  God comforts and consoles through us.

In a certain sense, the Holy Spirit has need of us in order to be Paraclete.  The Spirit wants to console, to defend, to exhort and encourage, but the Spirit does not have lips or hands or eyes to “embody” consolation.  Let us say, rather, that the Spirit does have hands and lips and eyes: ours.  As the soul within us acts and moves and smiles by means of the members of our own body, so the Holy Spirit works through the members of “his” body, which is the church.  Paul recommends to the first Christians that they should “give encouragement to each other,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and if we go to his original Greek text and translate literally, what he says is “make yourselves paracletes” or “be paracletes” to each other.  In one of his sermons Cardinal Newman said:

Instructed by our own sorrows and our own sufferings, and even by our own sins, we will be trained in mind and heart for every work of love for those who are in need of love.  To the measure of our ability, we will be consolers in the image of the Paraclete in every sense that this word implies: advocates, helpers, bringers of comfort.  Our words and our counsel, our manner, our voice, our glance, will be gentle and tranquil.

If the consolation we receive from the Spirit does not pass from us to others, if we want to cling to it selfishly for ourselves alone, it very soon rots away.  That is why a lovely prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi says:

Let me not seek so much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.

There is a psalm that the evangelists applied to the suffering Christ, and that Jesus once made his own.  It says: “I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none,” (Psalm 69:20).

In Gethsemane, Jesus looked for someone to console him but found nobody.  May he not have to say these words about me too.  Jesus is in agony until the very end of the world.  He is in agony above all in his mystical body, in those who suffer and are desolate.  The Paraclete is called “father of the poor”; one can never be more sure of being a paraclete than when one reaches out to the poor, the humiliated, and those who suffer, offering consolation freely, unsought.

Let us ask this grace from Mary whom Christian piety honors as “consoler of the afflicted” (consolatrix afflictorum).  She most surely has made herself “paraclete” to us!  A document of the Second Vatican council says this: “The mother of Jesus shines as a sign of sure hope and consolation for the people of God on their way.”

We end this chapter with this invocation to the Paraclete, taken from the Office of Solemn Vespers of Pentecost in the Orthodox liturgy (the same prayer to which Seraphim of Sarov is alluding in the passage quoted at the beginning):

Heavenly King, Consoler, Spirit of truth,
who are present everywhere and fill the universe,
treasure of graces who give life:
come and dwell in us,
purify us of all that is vile
and save our souls, oh God of all goodness.

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