Homily by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna
One of the first images I would like to share with you today, inspired by this beautiful reading from Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, is that of a lover. Jesus loves his Church but loves each and every one of us. He talks about keeping his commandments but he grounds what he says and what he expects from each one of us on love, not fear but love.
“If you love me you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). And this exhortation to love, returns towards the end of today’s Gospel when Jesus says: “Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me” (Jn 14:21). It does not stop there, love can never be one way; it is a two way experience. “Anybody who loves me will be loved by my father, I shall love him” (Jn 14:21). What an extraordinary good news this is that Jesus who expects us to trust him and follow what he asks of us, is also telling each and every one of us: ‘I love you. If you love me keep my word, keep my commandments’.
Our experiences are that some of the commandments are quite difficult to live and it is not an easy thing that Jesus is asking. And what does he mean when he says commandments? He does not actually give us any numbers or tell us what they are. There is a moment in the Gospel where Jesus meets a young man and he asks him: ‘Do you keep the commandments?’ And he answers ‘Yes I do’. And of course for a Hebrew and also for the first Christian community when Jesus talked about her commandments it was so obvious; he was talking about the 10 words given by God at Sinai and the Book of Deuteronomy gives us these 10 commandments, these 10 words. What we need to remember is that when the Lord gives this gift to his people, he gives it as a guideline for freedom and he reminds them: ‘I am the God who freed you from slavery. Now this is what I am asking of you, this will keep you free’. Jesus talks about the truth that keeps us free but he talks about love as well.
Another thing I would like to share with you is the fact that Jesus, when he mentions that he will give us an Advocate in the Holy Spirit, does not simply say ‘I am going to give you an advocate’, he says “I will give you another advocate. I shall ask the Father and he will give you another advocate” (Jn 14:16). Now who is the other one? It is Jesus himself. According to the 2nd letter of John, Jesus is our advocate before the Father and he started working on this immediately after he pronounced these words on Maundy Thursday on the eve of his horrific passion when on the Cross he says: “Forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Lk 23:34).
A good lawyer before the judge will ask for clemency but will also give a good defence. And Jesus in his dialogue with the Father tells the Father to forgive anybody who had actually been an accomplice to his crucifixion and that is you and me, all of us. “Forgive them for they do not know what they do”.
So Jesus is our advocate but also the spirit is a advocate. This is a beautiful name for the Holy Spirit. It translates the Latin ‘advocatus’ which is a translation of the Greek ‘paracletos, paraclete’. Where does the word ‘paraclete’ come which we use also for the Holy Spirit? It is obviously a version in English of ‘paracletos’ from the Greek which means somebody called to my side, advocatus. And that is somebody who is going to be near me, with me, defending me, counselling me, comforting me. That’s what the Holy Spirit is. He is somebody who is being called to stand by me, stand by me. That is also a language for love because people who love each other will stand for each other. What a beautiful image for the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus calls the spirit of truth. And that is why the world which is deceived by so many lies, so many chimeras, so many images that are false, cannot receive the Spirit of truth. So anybody who builds his life on paragons, deceptions, anger, envy has blocked his way and has blocked his heart. They cannot receive the Spirit. The Spirit is the spirit of truth that challenges me on who I am and where I am in my life but also prods me on, challenges me to move forward in love.
My last thought goes to a great man St John Paul II. At this national shrine of Our Lady of Mellieħa that St John Paul II visited 30 years ago, on the 26th May 1990, I would like to thank the divine providence and pay tribute to a great pope, a great servant of Jesus and a missionary pope. In 1990 he came to our island for the first time; he came back in 2001 and gave us the gift of three Blesseds: George Preca, Nazju Falzon, Adeodata Pisani. On the altar I placed a relic of St John Paul II, a piece of cloth bathed in his blood and we pray for his intercession today as we mark, only in a few hours, we will be celebrating the first centenary of his birth. St John Paul II was born was born in Wadowice, Poland on the 18th May 1920.
And so as we join our Polish friends and the whole Church in giving thanks to God for such a great successor of Peter, shepherd of the flock of Jesus, a saint, we pray for the gift of vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life, we pray for vocations to the sacrament of marriage and as we pray through the intercession of St John Paul II, we also ask his intercession for these very difficult times of pandemic that the Lord, through his mercy, may deliver us and free us.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta
First Reading: Acts 8, 5-8.14-17
Second Reading: 1 Pt 3, 15-18
Gospel: Jn 14, 15-21