John 14:15-16, 23-26
The Holy Spirit and Middlemen by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and
he will give you another Advocate to be with you always. Jesus answered
and said to him, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love
him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does
not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that
of the Father who sent me. I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the holy spirit that the Father will send in my name - he will
teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."
Some businesses boast they have 'cut out the middlemen' to bring savings to customers. Strictly speaking, however, "cutting out the middlemen" really means reducing costs by rearranging the locations of warehouses and hiring new middlemen to take phone calls or tend the showroom. Proficient middlemen make it possible to communicate efficiently the policies of the boss and conduct business well. Middlemen are necessary in any social organization and are required by our nature as social beings.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Christ Himself uses middlemen. In the Gospel, Christ promises that, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." (Mt 24-25) Yet, He had no scribes following Him about (except to put Him to test) and He kept no personal diary (until, one supposes, Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code fame conjures up one). Christ uses middlemen - the Apostles, the Evangelists, popes, bishops, and priests within the Church - to pass His words down to us.
Messages can easily be distorted when passed down through human instrumentality. Anyone who has played the "Telephone" game of whispering a message from person to person will bear witness to how a simple message can be grotesquely distorted by middlemen. This explains why it was necessary for Christ to send the Holy Spirit to guarantee the authenticity of the message handed down. In today's Gospel, before His ascension into heaven, Christ promised, "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you all that I told you." (Jn 14:24-26) These words of Christ reveal how He Himself relies on the Holy Spirit to guarantee that nothing is lost in the transmission by His chosen middlemen.
In the spiritual life, as in the worldly life of commerce, we may discover a tendency to dispense with middlemen. We may prefer to think, that that Holy Spirit speaks to us personally, exclusively, directly and infallibly. Of course it is true that a properly formed conscience is one's infallible guide as the true voice of God. But after the fall of Adam, conscience is easily distorted by our sinful inclinations. Because of our weakness, in difficult circumstances we especially need the light of truth from middlemen appointed for the purpose. When a priest accurately presents authentic Church teaching as a divinely appointed middleman, he speaks for the Holy Spirit. It is a grave mistake to think that the Holy Spirit intervenes with special revelations that contradict those of the teaching Church or violate her lawful authority.
Middlemen themselves need to be open to the good graces of the Holy Spirit. The truth they transmit is not their own, nor theirs to manipulate. They must be aware of the many ears that itch to be affirmed in their error. St. Paul warns St. Timothy, "Preach the word: be insistent in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables." (2 Tm 4:2-4) Priests and bishops themselves need to beg the Holy Spirit to be their guide in directing them to the authentic truths of Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. In humility they need to recognize their role as lowly middlemen and beg for the courage to hold fast to the truths of Christ. The Church's middlemen with Christ must say, "The word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me." (Jn 14:16)
It is perhaps part of our fallen human nature that we are impatient with middlemen. We often prefer to break the rules of good order and, "go to the top" immediately without dealing with customer relations representatives. We prefer to bully directly for lower prices or otherwise to get what we want, never taking "no" for an answer. It may work in, "getting my way" in worldly terms. But circumventing the middlemen as a mater of routine disrupts good order and reveals a pattern of selfishness, even pride.
"Cutting out the middleman" in the spiritual life by pretending that we do not need the Church in our relationship with God is a sure means of choking off the action of the Holy Spirit. Christ and His Church are one. Christ is the final arbiter of truth and the Holy Spirit inflames the Church with his truth throughout the ages. It takes humility - and the grace of the Holy Spirit - to allow the Church to remind us daily of all that Christ has given us.
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