The Advocate John 14:23-29 Let’s play a game of logic. A lawyer is an Advocate. The Advocate is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. Therefore, God must be a lawyer! True story about my faith journey. When I was in my mid 30s, I was working with a lawyer named David, who had just completed a double masters in divinity and theology at Liberty University. He came back very anti-Catholic, saying crazy things like, I had to get rid of the crucifix in my office because that’s the way Satan wants us to remember Jesus. His animosity towards the church was so strong that he believed the pope is the anti-Christ. David of course knew I was Catholic. He was genuinely concerned for my salvation so he started inviting me out to lunch, trying to convert me by challenging basic tenets of the Catholic faith. Even though I was a lawyer, and supposedly a skilled Advocate, at that time in my life I was poorly equipped to defend my faith. Sure, I had been through CCD. I had even taken some theology courses at St. Mary’s. But, I’m guessing everything went in one ear and out the other because David seemed to know more about Catholicism than I did. Each time we had lunch, this lawyer would question me about some aspect of our faith, and I had few responses to his arguments. The meaning of the crucifix. Our devotion to Mary and the Saints. Infant baptism. I will admit that I was sometimes shaken by what he said, but fortunately, there was another lawyer in my firm who is a strong Catholic, and he took the time to pull out the Catechism of the Catholic Church and explain to me the Church’s teaching. “Oh, okay. Now I get it.” The turning point came when, at one of our lunches, David asked, “Do you believe the pope is perfect?” I said “No! Absolutely not.” He said, “then you are not Catholic.” I protested (no pun intended), “The Church does not teach that the pope is perfect, only Jesus was perfect.” “No sir,” my friend said. “The Catholic Church teaches that the Pope is perfect. If you cannot accept that teaching, then you cannot be Catholic.” I was greatly disturbed by this and could not wait to get back to the office to ask my Catholic friend if this was true. When I asked Scott about it, he was too busy to help me, but he handed me the Catechism and said, “Here, keep it. My gift to you. Look it up yourself.” And so I did. I found that the church does not teach that the Pope is perfect. Rather, the Church teaches the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, which means that the Pope is preserved from error when, in the exercise of his office as Shepard and Vicar of Christ, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals. Turns out the doctrine is well grounded in the Words of Christ himself. Before his death and resurrection, Jesus told Peter, our first pope: “Peter, you are rock, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it. I give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven.” Later, when Jesus appointed the 72 and instructed them to go out in pairs, he told them: “Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me.” And, after his death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to his apostles and told them: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven then. I will ask the Father, and he will give you a Helper who will stay with you forever. He is the Spirit who will reveal the truth about God. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you all that I have told you. When the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you to all truth. And, I will be with you always, to the end of time.” So, the teaching authority of the Church comes straight from the mouth of Jesus. Our church was instituted by Jesus Christ himself when he made Peter the rock upon which he built the church. He gave authority to the Church when he gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and told him and the apostles, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, whose ever sins you forgive are forgiven. And, don’t worry, Jesus assured his apostles. The Father will send you the Holy Spirit so that you always have the Advocate at your side teaching you everything and leading you to all truth. Perhaps the earliest example of the teaching authority of the church, and the supremacy of Peter, is the Council of Jerusalem, considered the first council of the church. Imagine, this nascent church trying to get off the ground. And these early disciples had just been commissioned by Jesus to go forth to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. A major crises arose when they began evangelizing the gentiles. Under the Law of Moses, circumcision was a “sign of the covenant” and all infant males were required to be circumcised 8 days after their birth. Some of the disciples were out there telling the gentiles, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Other disciples disagreed. So it was decided that Paul and Barnabas and some others should go up to Jerusalem and consult the apostles and the elders about this very question. After much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from the early days God appointed me among you to make these decisions,” and Peter resolved the issue by deciding it was not necessary for the gentiles to be circumcised before they could become Christians. Can you imagine if Peter had decided the other way? If all those adult males had been told that they had to be circumcised before they could be baptized, I’m sure it would have been a lot harder to convince them to become Christians. Let’s just say that Peter decision was merciful. So back to my friend. During one of our lunches, David argued that the Catholic Church is not the church instituted by Christ, and I was unsure how to prove otherwise. So again I turned to my Catholic friend and asked, “How can our church claim to be the authentic church of Christ?” He said, “That’s easy, look up the word Pope in the encyclopedia and there you can trace the linage of popes all the way back to Saint Peter.” And, so I did. This was back when encyclopedias were a multi-volume set in almost every household. There was no Google back then. Lo and behold, all the popes were listed there in succession going back to Saint Peter, just like he sad. Nowadays, I could simply ask Siri. Hey Siri! This back and forth with my Protestant friend changed my life. The discussions stirred my interest in the Catholic faith. I continued reading and studying, and the more I learned about our faith, the more I fell in love with the Catholic Church. Before I knew it, I was studying to become a deacon. During those four years of deacon school, we took a pilgrimage to Rome. What an amazing experience, especially for those of us who live in McAllen where the oldest building is barely 100 years old. Over there, we stood in buildings like the Pantheon, built before Jesus was born. We were blessed to participate in Holy Mass in each of the four major Basilicas of Rome. When we visited St. Peter’s, our group was escorted downstairs to a little chapel just below the Main Altar. As I looked around, I noticed that we were surrounded by the tombs of the popes. And behind the Altar was the tomb or crypt of St. Peter himself. It’s one thing to read a list of popes in an encyclopedia. It’s quite another to touch the tombs of the popes all the way back to St. Peter, the rock upon which Jesus built our church. When we got back from Rome, I couldn’t wait to have another lunch with David. By then, I was far better prepared to discuss our faith. I showed him the pictures from the trip. I said to him, “Hey, here’s all our stuff that shows the history of our Church back to the times of Christ. Where’s your stuff?” For some reason, he stopped inviting me to lunch. There is but one Lord, one faith and one baptism. One God and Father of all. God seeks to unite us. Satan wants to divide us Without a teaching authority which we can turn to, like the disciples did in the early church, division is inevitable. The handful of new churches that marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation just 500 years ago, has grown into more than 30,000 denominations, most of them calling themselves independent. The reason they have morphed into so many denominations is because they have no teaching authority they can turn to. So whenever a new dispute arises that they can’t resolve, they divide again, each going their separate way with their own interpretation of the truth. But there is only one truth. And this truth is not an idea, or a concept, or even a philosophy. The truth is a person, and that person is Jesus Christ. The God-man who reconciled all things unto himself by laying down his life so that we might live forever. Our Church is not perfect, far from it, but we are one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We are one because there is but one true faith united in Jesus Christ. We are holy because the church was instituted by Jesus Christ and we have his promise that they gates of hell shall never prevail against us. We are catholic because we are universal and we welcome everyone. And we are apostolic because our church leaders can trace their commissions back to Peter and the apostles. Unlike my Protestant friend, I’m not concerned about his salvation. Yes, I do believe with all my heart and soul that the Catholic faith best expresses the fullness of truth and that the Sacraments offer us special graces and spiritual nourishment to help us along our journey. But I am equally certain that our Creator is a merciful Father who loves all of his children unconditionally and he wills to unite all creation. God alone knows the condition of our heart. He alone is the judge of our sins. God knows our weaknesses. He knows the depths of our sinfulness. Yet, he loves us anyway. He is indeed our Advocate.