Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Holy Spirit as Friend

This Sunday is the great Solemnity and Feast of Pentecost celebrating the holy Spirit at work in the Church. After the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven, he sends the promised Holy Spirit to his disciples. A few weeks ago in the bulletin, I wrote about the Holy Spirit as Person and as the Best Friend of Jesus (May 5, 2013: HERE).
First, the Holy Spirit is a Person. He is the Third Person of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though the actions of the Holy Spirit are described in images of fire, wind, a dove and anointing, the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, much less a bird! Of course, we can image easier the Persons of the Father and the Son because we experience human persons who are fathers and sons. But we have a difficult time imaging the Holy Spirit as a Person and the old title "Holy Ghost" certainly doesn’t help!
Yet Jesus in John’s Gospel uses a very personal image as I have pointed out: Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a Parakletos, a Greek word designating a person who is called to one’s side to help. This can be translated in a variety of ways as seen in the Amplified Bible:
"[Jesus said:] But the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things." (John 14:26a, Amplified Bible)
The Amplified Bible helps us see that Parakletos can be translated in various ways. But one translation of parakletos could be simply "friend." This is the personal image I use to understand the Person and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We can take those other various ways of translating how Jesus describes the Holy Spirit to further appreciate the role of this Friend:
As Friend, the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, for a friend comforts us in sorrow.
As Friend, the Holy Spirit is the Counselor, for a friend counsels us to be our best.
As Friend, the Holy Spirit is the Intercessor, for a friend in Christ prays and intercedes for us.
As Friend, the Holy Spirit is the Advocate, for a friend stands up for us and defends us.
As Friend the Holy Spirit is the Strengthener, for a friend helps us to be strong, especially because we then do not face difficulties alone without our friends.
As Friend, the Holy Spirit is the Standby, meaning "one who can be relied on," for we can rely upon a true friend to be there in any need, sorrow or joy.

All can sum up the Greek word "parakletos," most poignantly for me as "the Friend at our side." Of course the more we have experienced true and deep friendship in our lives, the more we will relate to this image of the Holy Spirit as Friend.
My mother had some very strong friendships in her life. One of her friends she had from 3rd grade until Mom’s death at 71 years old. Some others she made at Holy Faith and they were very warm and meaningful friendships that especially comforted her after the death of my father.
I have been particularly blessed with good friendships in my life, so much so that I consider friendship as one of the greatest gifts of life. I’ve had some very rough times in my life, and I found that my friends indeed came and stayed at my side to help. I would do the same.

Jonathan and David
The saints often had very rich friendships and not all of them were of the same gender. Some examples are David and Jonathan in the Old testament; Saints Perpetua and Felicity (they were martyred together); Saint Francis and Saint Clare, as well as Brother Leo and St. Anthony of Padua (St. Francis had a great gift of being friend to others); St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross; St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and St. Claude de la Colombiere; St Ignatius of Loyola and St Francis Xavier; St. John Henry Newman and Father Ambrose St John (Newman left in his will that he be buried in Fr. St. John’s grave). I could also mention saints who were married.
Two favorite saints of mine who were friends were St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen. Living in the 4th century, they were the equivalent of College roommates. So deep was their friendship that the Church kept them together in celebrating both saints on the same day (January 2). In a funeral sermon, St. Gregory said about their friendship:
"Basil and I were both in Athens [to study]. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it.

St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzen
"Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
"We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.
"Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted,  was to be Christians, to be called Christians."

All these holy friendships can give us an image also of the friendship of the Son of God and the Holy Spirit. I think of the Holy Spirit as the Best Friend of the Son of God. There are many Scriptural reasons to deduce this. When Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Helper called to one’s side, did he not himself experience the Holy Spirit first as this Helper or Friend in his own life?
Everything that Jesus did in his life was guided by and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was his constant Companion: present at Jesus’s Conception, at his Baptism, in his ministry, teaching and miracles, at his death and resurrection. But this friendship in love between the Spirit and the Son existed before all time. They are always together in the love of the Father. For our sake the Spirit and the Son Incarnate in Christ Jesus work together for our salvation:
"When the Father sends his Word [the Son], he always sends his Breath [the Spirit]. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him. (Catechism #698; emphasis added)


In Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit to live within us as in a temple. The Best Friend of Jesus lives within us and he will introduce us and bring us into friendship with Christ! He connects us to the life and friendship and love of Christ. I pray that I and you may know the Person of the Holy Spirit within us intimately: this "Gentle Guest and Friend who inspires, guides, corrects, and strengthens this life [of Christ within us]" (Catechism #1697)