When we were children, we were not aware of the differing opinions of people in the world. Our only experience was our parents, and we were probably not very aware of their differences. As we got older, we gradually became aware of differences in peoples beliefs and views. In high school or earlier, we probably began to have discussions with our friends. At some time in our life, we may have become alarmed, and questioned what we believe asking, “On who can we depend for the truth?”
The disciples had become accustomed to relying on Jesus. He showed himself to be a great teacher. In the years they were with him, their understanding of God, of themselves, and of love grew tremendously. Their time with him was an incredible experience of learning. As Jesus begins to talk about leaving them; they began to be troubled and afraid. How will they continue to grow in in understanding through the presence of Christ, of which they became accustomed? He assures them of a gift which brings them peace. They will be sent the Holy Spirit who will continue to guide them into all truth.
As we approach the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, we begin to reflect on the significance of this gift. The disciples did not have to be troubled or afraid; God would give them peace; a reliable partner upon which to rely. Jesus promises them that the Holy Spirit will help them in two ways, to remind them of all that he taught them, and to continue to teach them all things. Both of these relate to a guarantee of living truth.
We hear of the action of the Holy Spirit in the first reading. Here we find a new circumstance arising; one which Christ himself had not dealt with. How would these disciples determine the will of God in this matter? Through the Holy Spirit, present and active in them.
Paul had been spreading the Gospel outside the Jewish territory. He was teaching them the core of the Gospel, but not about practicing Jewish customs such as circumcision. Circumcision was necessary for Jews, that was the truth they all grew up with; does God require it of non-Jews? Some preachers from Jerusalem came to the place Paul was teaching and said that they must; that non-Jews had to live by Jewish custom in order to be Christian. This caused “no little dissension and debate” says the Bible. The question was dividing the community. Paul and Barnabas decided to go where? And to do what? In order to get to the truth. They went back to the apostles. And what did the apostles do? They prayed for the help of the Holy Spirit.
What happened then? The Holy Spirit helped them. Helped them to discern (i.e. to have access to) the will of God in this matter. They wrote, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…”
What can we learn from this situation? The Holy Spirit will always lead the Church into truth; a deepening of her understanding of the mysteries of God, and also how to live in any particular circumstance. When “no little dissension and debate” arises, the bishops are to gather, to pray, and to be open to whatever “is the decision of the Holy Spirit.”
One of the wonderful gifts given to the disciples that day, one which brought peace to them where there was trouble and fear; was the presence of the Holy Spirit; and the guarantee that what they had learned from Christ would not be lost; and not only that, but that they would continue to grow in the truth until he comes again.
And why is it important to have access to the truth and to embrace it? The beginning sentences of the Gospel reveal that having access to the truth and being embracing it, is what gives us true intimacy with God, truly personal love. “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.”
Thanks be to God for this wonderful gift to the Church, made by Christ. It is a unique and special gift given to her alone; that what she writes; what she proposes for us all to believe and for us all to live by; truly is the truth, the will and word of God. Speaking of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ says, “when it happens you may believe.” When it comes to anything necessary for our salvation; all matters of faith or morals, we may believe; and we must in order to have true intimacy and union with God, even now. When we ask, “On who can we depend for the truth?” We may have peace, knowing the answer.