We write a lot about the difficulties facing Catholics in an increasingly evil culture, and rightly so. Yet on this day after Easter, looking forward to Pentecost, we remember the promise of a Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, who will remain with us forever, teach us all things, and judge the world. Where is the “power of the Paraclete” now to help me in this increasingly hostile world in which we live?
Paraclete is one of those words in Scripture transliterated from the Greek without a direct English equivalent. The verb form of the word (parakaleo) is used over 100 times in the New Testament, and literally means “to call to one’s side.” The derived noun form (parakletos) is used only by John; four times in his gospel and once in his first letter. According to John, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both Paracletes (Jn 14:16, 1 Jn 2:1), but when we use it today it invariably refers to the Holy Spirit. Paraclete has commonly been translated as Advocate, Counselor, or Comforter. It is this translation as Comforter, I think, that leads to confusion.
Fr. Andreas Hoeck of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary describes it this way. “Comforter. This rendition has been employed for many centuries, becoming part of the tradition of the Church. ‘Comforter’ was a good translation at the time of Wycliffe, when the term had a richer denotation than today, stemming as it does from the Latin ‘con-fortare,’ that is, someone who helps another person be strong or brave. Yet the word ‘Comforter’ seems too weak and misrepresenting today, when to give comfort to someone purports to have sympathy with that person’s sufferings, which, however, is not the primary role of the Holy Spirit described in John’s Gospel.”1
In other words, this Comforter is not here to make us feel better in our misery by saying “There, there, you poor thing” while patting our shoulder. He hasn’t gone soft since He accompanied the martyrs who marched singing to their deaths. It is closer to the truth that He is even now whispering in our ears, as He has throughout Christian history – “Buck up, quit whining, put your big boy pants on, get back into the fray and keep swinging. We’ve already won, you big dummy!” And that’s a different spin on comforting for us to remember. The Paraclete – not for wimps.
1 Andreas Hoeck, “The Johannine Paraclete – Herald of the Eschaton,”, Journal of Biblical and Pneumatological Research, 4 Fall 2012