Thomas Merton once wrote: There is no member of the Church who does not owe something to Carmel. This book reaffirms the relevance of the Carmelite charism for all believers and opens up the biblical foundations of the Carmelite way of prayer.
While there have been a number of books on Carmelite spirituality and the origins of the Order, this is the only one that explores the charism in relation to the scriptures. The Carmelite Charism opens up a rich 800-year-old tradition of prayer to readers of all denominations who wish to enter more deeply into it through the word of God. It is a response to the call of Vatican II to return to the scriptures as the food of the soul, the pure and perennial source of spiritual life. Practical guidelines are given for lectio divina, each stage based on the prayer of Mary, while she and other biblical figures are presented as models of the interior life.
The Carmelite Charism shows this inner journey to be a path of growing intimacy with God, focused on the person of Jesus and leading ever more deeply into the mystery of the Trinity dwelling within. It presents Carmelite prayer as essentially a heart-to-heart communing with God.
- CHAPTER 1: Praying with the gospels: in spirit of truth (1)
Priority of the gospels
Some years ago, I was invited to give a retreat to the Lutheran pastors of New South Wales in Australia. Being a Carmelite, I decided to speak about prayer, and having spent most of my priestly life teaching and researching the bible, I took as my theme Prayer in the Gospels. (2) At the end of the retreat, the leader thanked me and remarked, among other things, We actually thought that you Catholics did not know the bible. He was voicing a common view. I like to think that Vatican II has helped to change all that and restored the scriptures to their rightful place at the centre of Catholic life: the force and power in the word of God is so great, it says, that it remains the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith. (3)
Moreover, the Council also states: It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special pre-eminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness of the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our Saviour. (4) So, perhaps even more significantly, during that retreat I was asked to share with these pastors my general approach to the gospels. Naturally, I wanted to be faithful to Catholic teaching and was totally convinced of the Churchs wisdom and inspired guidance. But I did not wish to pontificate. I remember distinctly struggling with my dilemma. Then, I recalled something from my study of philosophy in the distant past. You cannot understand anything fully, we were told, except through its causes , through the origin or genesis; in short, how it came into being. That, in fact, is what the Church is proposing to us as the right approach to the gospels in its splendid document of Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.
A new perspective (5)
We are told to keep in mind three stages in the formation of the gospels: firstly, what Jesus did and taught in the historical context of his life and death; secondly, the tradition, that is, the handing on of this later in the community of believers, with a deeper understanding of it through the Spirits action; and finally, the records of the evangelists themselves or the written gospels. These three stages are distinct but inseparably linked and entirely dependent one on the other.
If, however, we see the gospels solely as a record of the historical Jesus (first stage), we run the risk of taking the gospels as purely factual records of the words and actions of Jesus. (6) If, on the other hand, we see the gospels solely as the creation of the early community (second stage), they are without roots or foundation in the Jesus of history. The contribution here of the early community is vital, but as yet the gospels had not been written. They are not just ordinary books, like biographies or modern records of history. They are quite different. As the Council tells us: The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels (third stage), selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing (second stage), reducing some of them to a synthesis, explicating some things in view of the situation of their churches, and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus (first stage). (7)
Prayer books of the Spirit
The Church receives the gospels from the Spirit. He is their principal author, inspiring the evangelists. The gospels were born and came into being under the Spirits action in the heart of the praying Church and express the communitys lived experience of the Christ-event. They are the Churchs treasure and it is the Church that gives them to us. To approach the gospels with the Church today , open, like the first community of believers, to the action of that same Spirit , is already to pray in spirit and truth (Jn 4:23.24). It is to read the word of God in the bond of love uniting all believers and to root our experience in the community dimension of the gospels. It is to pray at one with the community of all believers, guided by the Spirit who leads the Church ever deeper into eternal truth. In fact, there is no such thing as private prayer. Personal prayer, yes. But our prayer has value not because it is my prayer, but because it is the prayer of the Church. The same Spirit who prays in the Church prays in each of us: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches all hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for Gods holy people according to the will of God (Rm 8:26-27).
Johns gospel especially , even a brief survey of it , affirms this community dimension of the Spirits action: I saw the Spirit descend like a dove from heaven and it remained (Jn him (Jn 1:32). The image of the Spirit hovering like a bird over the primeval waters in the first lines of Genesis comes to mind: Earth was still an empty waste, and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God (Gn 1:2). The evangelist is presenting Jesus as the inaugurator of a new creation. The Spirit abides in Jesus who in turn is to baptise or make disciples born of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5; cf. 1:33). Later in the gospel, Jesus promises the outpouring of that Spirit like torrents of living water (Jn 7:38). But the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified (Jn 7:39) through his passion-resurrection. On the cross, Jesus finally handed over the Spirit (Jn 19:30) to the community, and the risen Jesus breathed new life into his disciples with the words: Receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). The movement of the gospel comes full circle, because the promise at the outset to form disciples with the Holy Spirit (Jn 1 :33) is fulfilled at the end. And so, the Church is born through the Spirit and launched on its mission to the world. In union with that same Spirit, we pray the gospels within a community of faith and bear fruit in our lives through the saving power of the word.
Our eyes fixed on Jesus
In the Paraclete passages, (8) John specifies more precisely how the Spirit works as we pray the gospels. (9) The Spirit is the Spirit of truth (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13); Jesus himself is the truth (Jn 14:6). The action of the Spirit is focused on the person of Jesus and directed entirely towards him. Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, in the words of Hebrews (l2:2), we are responding to the guidance of the Spirit in prayer. We never withdraw from the Word made flesh: In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son (Hb 1:1-2). The masters of the spiritual life constantly repeat this lesson: In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), wrote John of the Cross, he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word , and he has no more to say (2A 22:3). He is simply repeating the lesson of the gospels: Listen to him (Mk 9:7).
But each evangelist in turn is a creative writer. He selected, synthesised and explicated, the Council tells us, (10) from the tradition(s) about Jesus with a view each to his own central insight. For Mark, Jesus is the Suffering Messiah; for Matthew, he is the obedient Israelite; for Luke, he is the Spirit-filled prophet; for John, he is the revelation in person of the Father. Each evangelist opens up new facets. Their insights are not mutually exclusive and they complement each other perfectly. The truth remains always inexhaustible; glimpses of it are always partial. It is a question of emphasis. So, each of us can pray freely with our preferred gospel passages and with our favourite evangelist. The saints did. The Spirit breathes where it wills (Jn 3:8) and, led by the Spirit, each of us travels a secret path to God. It is the same Spirit who is always guiding us to the one Jesus, the same yesterday and today and for ever (Hb 13:8).
An indwelling presence
There are many modes of the Spirits presence and many variations of his action. I will pray the Father and he will give you another Paraclete to remain with you for ever (Jn 14:16). Here Jesus speaks of his abiding presence in the Church through the Spirit until the end of time: I am with you all days (Mt 28:20). In John Masefields play, The Trial of Jesus, Procula, the wife of Pilate, asks Longinus, the centurion who stood at the foot of the cross, Do you think he is dead? No, lady, I dont, he replies. Then where is he? she asks. And he answers, Let loose in the world. (11) It is only through this Spirit that we can meet the risen Jesus present in the gospels: no longer limited, confined or conditioned by time and space.
But Jesus goes on to speak of a future presence of the Spirit after his passion-resurrection. This companion, friend, consoler, helper and advocate with the Father will be in you, Jesus tells us (Jn 14: 17), living and working deep within his disciples. It is an indwelling presence: Do you not know that you are Gods temple and that Gods Spirit dwells in you? ... your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you ... we are the temple of the living God (l Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16). The precise nature of the Spirits action will only gradually unfold; it awaits further explanation. But Jesus does make clear the condition for this presence of the Spirit and his inner action: to believe and to love. We must come to the gospels with the spiritual eye of faith. The word of God is not some human thinking, it is still a living power at work in believers (1 Th 2:13). And we must receive the Spirit with an open heart: If anyone loves me, they will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them (Jn 14:23). The message of the gospels is like a lamp shining in a dark place until the day [of eternity] dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2Pet 1:19). We glimpse the meaning only dimly now, as in a mirror; the full riches of Gods word will take an eternity to unfold.
Promptings of the Spirit
When we pray the gospels, the Spirit is our teacher: He will teach you everything (Jn 14:26). Jesus explains how: He will remind you of all I have said to you (Jn 14:26). This action of recalling has a special significance in John. Consider the scene where Jesus cleanses the temple and says: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (Jn 2:19). There the evangelist explains: When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this and they believed the scripture and what he had said (Jn 2:22). They did not merely recall the actual words of Jesus and the inspired texts of scripture. Enlightened by the Spirit, they realised afterwards how these were fulfilled in a concrete situation and saw the relevance to their own experience. So, too, when Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph as a king (Jn 12:13.15), we are told: At first the disciples did not understand this, but after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered that this had been written about him and that this had happened to him (Jn 12:16). Again, it is not just a simple recalling of the scriptures and of an actual historical event. The past words and actions of Jesus become effective again, here and now, and take on significance and meaning in the light of the Spirits teaching. Jesus words and actions become present again with their saving power. We read about them in the gospels and allow ourselves to be read by them. His words take on relevance and significance for us in the concrete circumstances of our own experience. The Spirit makes the word of God a word for me at this present moment. We should read the gospels in the light of our own personal experience: let [the] heart at length be ploughed by some keen grief or deep anxiety, wrote Newman, and Scripture is a new book. (12)
Jerome in his Latin version of the bible, the Vulgate, uses the term suggeret to translate this recalling action of the Spirit (Jn 14:26). It captures the meaning beautifully. The Spirit teaches by suggesting. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, we read in the Letter to the Ephesians (4:30), by refusing to accept his inspirations. The Spirit invites a response. There is no constraint, no force, no compulsion. He draws us gently, quietly, with his promptings in prayer: his suggestions urging us, as it were, to a free and open acceptance. The words and actions of Jesus can suddenly explode with new meaning by the power of the Spirit when something happens in our lives. This is how the Spirit works: through our life-experiences.
Thérèse of Lisieux has expressed this teaching action of the Spirit in her own original way, simply yet profoundly. She writes:
I understand and I know from experience that: The kingdom of God is within you. Jesus has no need of books or teachers to instruct souls; He teaches without the noise of words. Never have I heard Him speak, but I feel that He is within me at each moment; He is guiding and inspiring me with what I must say and do. I find just when I need them certain lights that I had not seen until then, and it isnt most frequently during my hours of prayer that these are most abundant but rather in the midst of my daily occupations. (SS, p.179; italics mine)
Jesus, teaching through the Spirit, answered her particular needs in the events of her life.
But no less enlightening is another passage from the writings of Thérèse. It is her version of the sacrament of the present moment:
I have frequently noticed that Jesus doesnt want me to lay up provisions; He nourishes me at each moment with a totally new food; I find it within me without my knowing how it is there. I believe it is Jesus Himself hidden in the depths of my poor little heart: He is giving me the grace of acting within me, making me think of all He desires me to do at the present moment. (SS, p.165; italics mine)
Prayer of the heart
Pascal once wrote that the heart has its reasons. (13) The psalms also speak of the thoughts of [the] heart (cf. Ps 18:15). For the author of Hebrews, the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (4:12). The Latin rendering for the act of recalling is recordare , from re-again, cor-heart, dare-to give , meaning precisely: giving (handing over or entrusting) something to the heart. This is the movement of Gods word from the head to the heart, as it seeps into the deepest core of our being under the recalling action of the Spirit. Isaiah compares Gods word to the rain and the snow descending into the soil, making it yield and giving growth (55: 10). When we read the gospels, the word of God is destined ultimately to penetrate our hearts, the place where we commune directly with God in prayer.
The new Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the biblical sense of heart:
The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or biblical expression, the heart is the place to which I withdraw. The heart is our hidden centre, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant. (#2563)
The scriptures speak of the heart more than a thousand times and call it the perennial spring of prayer. Jesus complains in the words of Isaiah: This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Mk 7:6; cf. Is 29:13). Prayer is indeed an affair of the heart, where the word of God sinks deep within us and is alive and active through the presence of the Spirit. This is the new heart promised by the prophets: I will put my law within them, and I will write it up(Jn their hearts... A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you (Jer 31:33; Ez 36:26). This place within , that is, the heart , is, for the followers of Jesus, the inner room where he invites his disciples to pray: When you pray, go into your inner room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Mt 6:6).
The prayer of the heart feeds on the word of God. Vatican II reminds all believers that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for "we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine sayings." (14) It also states that the word of God ... remains ... the food of the soul, the pure and perennial source of spiritual life; and in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them. (15)
Into all truth
As we pray the gospels, John tells us, the Spirit will lead [us] into all truth (Jn 16:13). This means, literally, will guide [us] along the way of truth. The phrase echoes the previous words of Jesus: I am the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6). Both terms , way and lead , recall the way God led his people on their exodus journey. In the life of Jesus, this desert journey becomes a new exodus. It is his passage out of this world to the Father: literally, his passover from death to life (Jn 13: 1). This, too, is the pattern of the Spirits action when we pray the gospels. At one with Jesus, we are led by him along the way of the exodus through the paschal mystery, dying and rising as we journey in faith into all truth revealed in the Jesus of the gospels. Faith is not something fixed or static. It is powerful, dynamic , a movement. Significantly, John never uses the noun faith. It is always the verb believe. Nor does he ever speak of believing in; it is always believing into Jesus. Elizabeth of the Trinity captures beautifully this movement of living faith. She prays: may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your Mystery ... May I never leave You there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring, and wholly surrendered to Your creative Action (PT). (16)
The truth of Gods word can always unfold more fully as we pray the gospels. St Ephraem, one of the Eastern Fathers, expressed the idea well:
Lord, who can grasp all the wealth of just one of your words? What we understand is much less than what we leave behind, like thirsty people who drink from a fountain. For your word, Lord, has many shades of meaning just as those who study it have many different points of view. The Lord has coloured his words with many hues so that each person who studies it can see in it what he loves. He has hidden many treasures in his word so that each of us is enriched as we meditate on it. The word of God ... is like that rock opened in the desert that from all its parts gave forth a spiritual drink. (17)
When God is silent
God spoke to his people in this way: I will lure her into the desert and there I will speak to her heart (Hos 2: 14). But what about the times when nothing happens or seems to happen when we pray with the gospels: when there are only distractions, confusion, emptiness and dryness of spirit? There is no voice; no one answers; no one seems to hear. Then we are sharing the desert experience of the people of God. Again, Thérèse explains how even the scriptures seem at times to fall silent:
Frequently, we descend into the fertile valleys where our heart loves to nourish itself, the vast field of the scriptures which has so many times opened before us to pour out its rich treasures in our favour; this vast field seems to us to be a desert, arid and without water ... We know no longer where we are; instead of peace and light, we find only turmoil or at least darkness ... We are still not as yet in our homeland, and trial must purify us as gold in the crucible. At times, we believe ourselves abandoned. Alas! ... the vain noises that disturb us, are they within us or outside us? We do not know ... but Jesus really knows. He sees our sadness and suddenly His gentle voice makes itself heard, a voice more gentle than the springtime breeze (LT 165; italics mine)
Patience, perseverance and determination are needed while the seed of Gods word is edging its way silently towards the light through the darkness of the earth: Night and day, while [the sower] sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear (Mk 4:27-28). If we are lost in the valley of darkness (Ps 22:4), it is only for a while.
A refiners fire
But what is happening in the darkness? The Spirit is drilling the roots of self-love, healing and purifying the heart. The heart is more devious than any other thing, Jeremiah says, perverse too: who can pierce its secrets? I the Lord search to the heart, I probe the loins (17:9-10). At the same time, the Spirit is forming us in the likeness of Jesus. There is something remarkable about the way the prophet Malachi describes Gods purifying and transforming action: He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver (3:3). A silversmith was once invited to explain. But do you sit watching while the work of refining is going on? Oh, yes, he replied, I must sit with my eyes constantly fixed on the furnace, for if the necessary time be extended in the slightest degree, the silver will be tarnished. The gospels have eyes. The Lords searching gaze is always fixed on us in times of trial and darkness as we wrestle with the word of God. But the silversmith added this further and most striking observation: I only know that the process of refining is complete, he said, when I see my own image reflected in the silver. The lesson is telling: when God sees his image reflected in us, then his work is complete.
This effect of Gods purifying flame is described in many different ways. It is like a journey out of darkness into the light: He who follows me walks not in darkness but will have the light of life (Jn 8:12; cf. 9:5; 12:35). It is equivalently a call to repentance: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt 4: 17; cf. Lk 24:47) - repentance in the gospel sense of the word, meaning a change of mind and heart. As the scriptures tell us, it is a call to put on the mind of Christ: Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus (Ph 2:5), Paul says , an invitation that takes many different forms: renewal in the spirit of your minds (Eph 4:23), transformation by the renewal of your mind (Rm 12:2), a new birth through the Spirit (Jn 3:3.5), a new creation in Christ (2Cor 5: 17), putting on a new nature (CoI3:10), a sharing in the divine nature (2Pet 1:4). It is this creative action of God through the Spirit that seals our hearts with the features of Jesus: we are created after the likeness of God (Eph 4:24) and conformed to the image of his Son (Rm 8:29). Paul sums this up beautifully: We all, with unveiled faces, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another. This is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit (2Cor 3:18).
A listening heart
To hear the voiceless word of God in the gospels, we need a listening ear. It is rare to find someone who really listens. I once met such a person! It was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. When I met her she was washing the face of a leper. Her eyes were fixed on him, his on her. No word passed between them. But this was an alert stillness, an eloquent sharing. Here was someone who was really listening , quiet, fully alive, focused, attentive. Hers was a listening heart. Her whole bearing was a lesson in total presence. The Christian Brother who introduced me to her told her that I was teaching scripture in the seminary of Alwaye in Kerala, South India. She glanced at me for a moment with her piercing eyes, then turned back to attend to the leper and said, We need the word of God for this. I had loved scripture, studied it, taught it, written about it. But here was a woman of deep and simple faith. She really listened to it, lived it and put it into practice. It had borne fruit in her life, not just thirty or sixty but a hundredfold. The record of her service to the poor and the rejects of society, the marginalised and the deprived, is there to prove it. My approach to the gospels has never been the same since I met her.
This is a listening much deeper than just hearing words. Only a highly sensitive heart can catch the deeper resonance in anothers voice, beat in unison with it and often feel the secret pain. This is empathy. It is the listening of a true disciple: Morning by morning [God] makes my ear alert to listen like a disciple (Is 50:4). To listen keenly in this way carries us deep into stillness and silence. An Australian poet, Judith Wright, expresses this well:
Silence is the rock where I shall stand.
Oh, when I strike it with my hand
may the artesian waters spring
from that dark source I long to find. (18)
A listening God
Listening opens up to us the inner mystery of God. Jesus is the listening heart of God made flesh, always alert and attentive to the word of his Father: I have made known to you all that I have heard from my Father (Jn 15: 15). His early years were passed in listening: He went down to Nazareth and was obedient to them (Lk 2:51) , obedient in the root sense of the word, which means literally to listen (from the Latin obaudire). We find him in the temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions. His were the probings of a listener waiting expectantly for an answer.
The Spirit also listens. He will not speak from himself, Jesus tells us, but whatever he hears he will speak (Jn 16:13). When we read the gospels at one with this listening Spirit, we are drawn into God through Jesus who is always turned towards the bosom of the Father (Jn 1:18). Jesus is not just in the Father, but the whole thrust of his being is a dynamic movement directed eternally into the heart of God (Jn 1:1). He is always open to receive everything from the Father and returns everything to him in total self-giving, just as he passes on everything in turn to others: All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that [the Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you (Jn 16:15). To share this eternal listening in the heart of God is to enter a loving communion of persons , Father, Son and Spirit , a silent dialogue, a timeless giving and receiving, an eternal exchange of love. It is to pray.
Teresa of Avila speaks of prayer as an exchange or dialogue of love with Him who we know loves us (Life 8:5). Prayer is not about thinking much, she tells us. Thats meditation , a preamble to prayer. Prayer is essentially about loving , a fling of our heart to the heart of God or, for John of the Cross, a secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God, which, if not hampered, fires the soul in the spirit of love (IDN 10:6). Th?¿r?®se of Lisieux sums up this teaching well: you know, she says, that I myself do not see the Sacred Heart as everybody else. I think that the Heart of my Spouse is mine alone, just as mine is His alone, and I speak to Him then in the solitude of this delightful heart to heart, while waiting to contemplate Him one day face to face (LT 122). Or, to quote the words of the Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, who speaks of the power of love unleashed through prayer:
One love lone flame
In a dark cell
Makes fuel of firmaments
And dims out Hell. (I9)
Come and see
To encounter Jesus in reading the gospels is an invitation to be challenged and to challenge others in turn. The story of the Samaritan woman illustrates the point. She first meets Jesus herself and then invites others to share her experience: Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did (Jn 4:29; cf. 4:39). She does not force others; she invites an answer: Can this be the Christ? (Jn 4:29). The Samaritans accept her witness. They come to Jesus and discover him for themselves. The story reaches a climax when the Samaritans profess their own faith in Jesus: They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world" (Jn 4:42).
We find the same pattern of witness in Johns account of the call of the first disciples (1 :35-51). Jesus also invites them to come and see (1 :39; cf. 1 :46). It is his challenge to a personal faith-encounter with himself. Each of his followers in turn goes off to share his own experience with others and invites them to a personal encounter with Jesus. We find a series of revealing titles for Jesus as the truth about him dawns gradually on the disciples: Rabbi, Messiah, Son of God, King of Israel (Jn
1:38.41.49). Their meeting with him becomes a progressive exploration of his mystery. But self-discovery, too, is the effect of their encounter (1 :42.47), just as it was for the Samaritan woman. Self-knowledge in the light of Jesus is the fruit of a prayerful reading of the gospels.
Witness of an Easter people
Jesus says that the Spirit will reveal to you the things that are to come (Jn 16: 13). This is not a promise to foretell the future. John is referring here to the imminent events of the passion-resurrection of Jesus about to take place: the hour of Johns gospel where passion and resurrection are inseparably linked, two complementary aspects of the one paschal mystery. The Spirit will reveal this hour , not just throwing light on it, manifesting it to the disciples, but also making it present in the Church until the end of time. It is like a still-point in the vortex of salvation history: everything pivots around it , past, present and future. The gospels were written in the light of it and that is how we should read them. They are documents composed with hindsight, after the passion-resurrection, by witnesses of the resurrection. (20) In the same way we, too, must proclaim the gospel message: as witnesses to the risen Jesus. We are an Easter people, a people redeemed. In his record of a celebrated court case, Whittaker Chambers explains this kind of witness:
I was a witness ... A man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something. A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences. (21)
An enlightened heart
The Spirit working in us as witness will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment (Jn 16:8). In fact, this translation of the RSV is misleading. So, too, is the rendering of the Jerusalem Bible: he will show the world how wrong it was. What the original text means is that the Spirit will show us (not the world) how wrong the world is with regard to sin, righteousness and judgment (cf. Jn 3:19-21). The world here is the world of darkness, the world that cannot receive the Spirit (Jn 14:17). The Spirit will reveal everything to believers, showing sin, righteousness and judgment in clarity for what they really are.
The Spirit will expose the true nature of sin as disbelief because, in the words of Jesus, they do not believe in me (Jn 16:9). This is emphatic: they refuse to believe in him , a free, deliberate choice. He will also show righteousness clearly for what it is: who is in the right , Jesus, not the world! Again, Jesus explains: