Making Ourselves Paracletes

Let the consolation and the mercy you receive from the Spirit flow from you to others.

Making Ourselves Paracletes

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The [Holy Spirit’s] title “Paraclete” not only speaks about God’s mercy toward us but also opens for us a whole new field of acts of mercy for one another. We need, in other words, to become paracletes ourselves! If it is true that the Christian needs to be an alter Christus, “another Christ,” it is just as true that he or she needs to become “another paraclete.”

The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:5), whether it be the love with which God loves us or the love that has made us in turn capable of loving God and our neighbor. When applied to mercy—which is the form love takes in the face of the suffering and sin of a person who is loved—the following saying from the apostle tells us something very important: the Paraclete not only comforts us; he also comes to comfort others and makes us able to comfort them and be merciful. St. Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God [italics added]” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). The Greek word from which “Paraclete” is derived appears five times in this text, sometimes as a verb and sometimes as a noun. It contains the essential elements for a theology of consolation. Consolation comes from God who is “the Father of all comfort”; he comes to whoever is afflicted. But he does not stop with that person; his ultimate goal is reached when those who have experienced consolation use that experience in turn to comfort others.

But console how? This is the important point. With the very consolation with which we have been consoled by God—a divine, not human, consolation. That does not happen when we are content to repeat empty words about circumstances that leave things the way we found them: “Don’t worry; don’t get upset; you’ll see that everything will turn out for the best!” We need instead to communicate authentic consolation, which comes from “the encouragement of the scriptures [so that] we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). This also explains the miracles that a simple word or gesture in an atmosphere of prayer can accomplish at the bedside of a sick person. God is giving comfort through you.

In a certain sense, the Holy Spirit needs us in order for him to be the “Paraclete.” He wants to comfort, defend, and exhort, but he has no mouth, hands, or eyes to “embody” his consolation. Or better, he has our hands, our eyes, our mouths. Just as our soul acts, moves, and smiles through the members of our body, so the Holy Spirit does the same through the members of “his” body, the Church and us. St. Paul recommends to the early Christians, “Therefore encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11); translated literally the verb here means “make yourselves paracletes for one another.” If the consolation and the mercy we receive from the Spirit do not flow from us to others, if we selfishly want to keep it for ourselves, then very soon it stagnates.

Let us ask for grace from Mary, whom Christian devotion honors with two titles that together signify “paraclete”: “Consoler of the Afflicted” and “Advocate for Sinners.” She has certainly made herself a “paraclete” for us! A text from the Second Vatican Council says, “The Mother of Jesus shine[s] forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. 2 Peter 3:10), as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth” (Lumen gentium, n.68).

Excerpted from The Gaze of Mercy: A Commentary on Divine and Human Mercy by Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap (The Word Among Us Press, 2015). Available at wau.org/books

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