O God, Who makest the faithful to be of one mind and will: grant to Thy people to love that which Thou dost command and to desire that which Thou dost promise, that amid the changes of the world,our hearts may there be fixed where true joys are to be found.
– From the Collect for Fourth Sunday after Easter
This Sunday we continue to read from the 16th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel, and now we hear of Christ’s promise of the great gift of the Holy Spirit that will be coming in a few weeks at Pentecost.
Our Lord tells the disciples that soon he will go, but that the “Paraclete,” the “Spirit of truth,” will come. And this Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, what will He do? Christ reveals that the Holy Spirit will “convince the world of sin, and of justice and of judgement;” he will “teach…all truth;” and will “glorify” Christ.
The Holy Spirit will “convince the world of sin, and of justice and of judgement.” Christ himself tells us what this means. The world will be convicted of sin “because they believed not in me.” St. Augustine notes that “When the Lord said of the Holy Spirit, ‘He shall convict the world of sin,’ he meant unbelief” (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 3.4). Before the time of Christ, unbelief was rampant, but there was an “excuse,” so to speak: the Chosen People did not reach out to unbelievers, and God had not yet become man. Now, with the coming of Christ, there is no excuse for unbelief. Thus, the Holy Spirit, as a judge, will convict the world of unbelief for rejecting Christ. (Keep in mind that “the world” in the language of Jesus in the Gospel of St. John refers to the unbelieving world.)
The Holy Spirit will also convict the world of “justice and judgement.” Christ says this is “because I go to the Father, and…because the prince of this world is already judged.” In a sense, Christ is saying that the Holy Spirit will formally declare in a court of law what has happened through Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection: that Satan, the prince of this world, is defeated. Satan may still have some power left to win battles and skirmishes, but he has already lost the war. As Ambrosiaster wrote, “The devils, seeing souls go from hell to heaven, knew that the prince of this world was judged. They say that once he was brought to trial in the Savior’s cause, he had lost all right to what he held” (Questions on the Old and New Testaments 89.1-2).
Christ also says that the Holy Spirit will “teach you all truth.” Here we see the promise of the teaching Church, which will be led by the Holy Spirit. At no time during his earthly life does Christ reveal all things to his disciples (in fact, it appears clear from their actions that they don’t really understand the little he does tell them). Yet he promises that the Holy Spirit will reveal all truth to them. This is a two-fold process: first, the Holy Spirit will reveal divine truths to the Apostles, who will pass it on by both written and spoken testimonies (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:15). Then, through the centuries, the Holy Spirit will continue to guide the Church by deepening her understanding of those revelations.
Finally, Christ says that the Holy Spirit “shall glorify me.” This is the purpose of all the Church will do under the power of the Holy Spirit: the glorification of Jesus Christ. Unbelievers will be convicted, Satan will be judged, and all truth will be revealed so that the whole world can know that Jesus Christ is Lord. This, too, is the reason that individual disciples of Christ live: to glorify the Lord. In all our actions, whether it be condemning unbelief or resisting the devil or preaching the truth, we act in order to glorify Christ. And we can do these things only by the power of the Holy Spirit, which Christ sent into the world to be with us until he comes again.
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications. He is the author of eight books, including Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It.