In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul tells the Galatians to “live by the Spirit.” The Greek verb that St. Paul used really means “to walk,” suggesting that there is a path to follow. Anyone who has ever hiked or walked and come to a fork in the path understands that when one has to make a choice; you either go to the right or you go to the left. There is no middle ground. One has to make a fundamental choice. The content of St. Paul’s exhortation fits perfectly into this image. Christians must decide between following the path of the body or the path of the spirit.
At this point in the exhortation, St. Paul tells us where the path of the body leads us. Although he simply lists the various behaviors that lie on the path of the body, they are carefully grouped into four different categories: sexual depravity, religious infidelity, social discord, and disorderly behavior. Sometimes when we hear St. Paul speak of the flesh or the body, we tend to think only of the first category. However, careful reading of this passage shows us that sexual sins are only one part of physical or bodily sins.
When St. Paul begins to speak of the path of the spirit, there is really only one category; namely, love. Joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are really all servants, ministers, or handmaidens of love.
I am sure that a few of you watched the wedding that took place at Windsor yesterday. The Rev. Michael Curry, the first African-American to serve as the presiding bishop of the Episcopalian Church and a Chicago native, was invited to preach at that wedding. The text that was read at the wedding came from the Song of Solomon in which love was compared to a flame that could not be drowned. Rev. Curry used that image to speak of the power of love, the redemptive power that can change the world. This is, in fact, the whole point of our celebration today. After his selfless act of redemptive love, Jesus has returned to the Father. However, we have not been left to deal with the world alone. The Spirit has come among us as an advocate, someone to help us to live as people who believe in the way of Jesus Christ.
It is only in the Gospel of St. John that the Spirit is called the Advocate. Two very important features of the Advocate are expressed in the reading from St. John’s Gospel today. First we are told that the spirit is part of the relationship that we find in God – the love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father proceeds from them in the person of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, we are told that the Spirit guides us in the search for truth.
Think of it in terms of a trial in a courtroom. Both sides of the case have an advocate – prosecuting attorney and defense attorney. While we usually think of them as adversaries, if they are true to their vocation, they are both pursuing the truth. Television shows usually portray defense lawyers as people who are looking for loopholes so that they can get their clients off the hook. However, that negative portrayal of the role of advocate is contrary to the true nature of an advocate. An advocate is supposed to pursue the truth so that justice can be done. Both advocates are to help the judge and the jury become aware of the truth. This is the true function of the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who guides us along a path that will lead us to God.
Walking with the Spirit means following the path of truth, putting aside all the physical, human limitations that will lead us away from God. The Spirit will give us the power of love. Because God is love, anyone who wishes to follow that path must be generous and patient and joyful and kind and faithful and gentle. They must be men and women of peace and self-control. To live in the spirit means to walk in the spirit on our journey to God for the Spirit can only lead us to God while the Body will lead us away from God.
We first received the Holy Spirit in Baptism. The grace of the Holy Spirit is renewed and refreshed each time we come to the Eucharist where we are fed with the redemptive love of Jesus.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator