November 9, 2015

Any reader of the Gospels is bound to notice the cluelessness of

Jesus’ apostles about the nature of his mission and ministry.

This is especially apparent in Mark’s Gospel. To take but one example, the disciples are “perplexed” and “utterly astounded” when Jesus describes the difficulty of the rich entering God’s kingdom (Mark 10.23-27).

Jesus goes on to say, “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (10.31). Then James and John – deaf as doorknobs, it would seem – come forward to ask for the choice seats in Jesus’ kingdom (10.35-37).

What seems “utterly astounding” is that these men travelled with Jesus for three years and had nary a clue about the nature of his mission.

How then can we, who come 2,000 years after Jesus, have “a personal relationship” with him? How can we understand him and abide with him?

At the Last Supper, the apostle Philip at least makes an insightful request: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (John 16.9).

Yet, even Philip earns a rebuke when Jesus says, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. . . . Do you not know that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (14.9-10)

Philip’s question, however, leads Jesus to explain just how he can be known. The question is the entryway into five so-called Paraclete sayings in which Jesus refers to the Spirit as the Advocate who will testify on his behalf.

St. Paul rightly says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12.3). In St. John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus underlines and elaborates on that statement.

Philip's question to Jesus at the Last Supper leads the Lord to tell the apostles the Holy Spirit will teach them everything.

Philip's question to Jesus at the Last Supper leads the Lord to tell the apostles the Holy Spirit will teach them everything.

The Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name and he “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you,” Jesus tells the apostles (14.26). The Holy Spirit will break down the barrier that keeps the apostles from understanding who Jesus is and what he was saying to them.

The Spirit will not be an external force standing outside believers and telling them what to think and do. “He abides with you and he will be in you” (14.17). Moreover, the Advocate will “be with you forever” (14.16).

Finally, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. . . . He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (16.13, 15).

During his earthly ministry, Jesus lived in the Spirit, and it was the Spirit who guided him. But once Jesus has died and is risen, he breathes the Spirit upon the apostles.

Jesus ascends to be with the Father, but yet he remains with us. The Spirit makes Jesus present in a way not possible as long as he walked upon the earth. We share in the eternal life of the Trinity once the Spirit dwells in our hearts.


This is the crucial turning point in our existence. After death, the veil will be lifted, and we will see things as they are. But our full sharing in eternal life begins with Baptism. There is nothing more after death because there can be nothing more; any communion with the Father, Son and Spirit is a total communion. You are either in God or outside God. God does not give himself halfway.

Likewise, the truth that the Spirit declares is not something outside of us. Knowing truth, said theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, is “a movement into someone,” that is, into the persons of the Trinity.

That movement into God never ends. In fact, the more one knows God, the more mysterious God becomes and the more mysterious Jesus becomes.

Moving into God is a process of sanctification. The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier because he leads us into the truth which is God. Unholiness cannot abide in the midst of holiness. The Spirit performs a forensic activity of finding our sin and then cleanses us of that unholiness so we can be in God’s midst.


Prior to the paschal mystery, the disciples had little understanding. They knew Jesus, but didn’t really know him. We, however, do not physically walk with Jesus, but we know him much better than the disciples did prior to the resurrection. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5.5).

We know and live in Jesus much more than we realize. We need only ask the Spirit who plumbs “the unfathomable depths of God” to lift the veil a little higher and we will see Jesus a little more as he really is.