SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 17:15, 22-18:1; JOHN 16:12-15   ]

Many people today are seeking the unknown God in their lives. Many are sincerely looking for God.  Somehow, they are not fulfilled even when they are doing well in their career and family life.  Something seems to be missing.  This was what St Paul observed at Athens.  He spoke to the whole Council of the Areopagus saying, “Men of Athens, I have seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because I noticed, as I strolled round admiring your sacred monuments, that you had an altar inscribed: To An Unknown God.”

The question is where can we find the true and living God?  What does it mean to seek the living God in our lives?  It means to seek the fullness of truth, life and love.  Unless we know the Ultimate Reality in our lives, this life is meaningless.  Everything on this earth we know is transient.  It can be seen even as an illusion.  Only the Ultimate Reality could fill the hunger of man and quench his thirst. To seek false gods is to seek for the things that cannot last.  Hence, worshipping false gods would include the worship of money, pleasure, power and status.  Such worldly pursuit cannot bring real and lasting fulfillment.  The truth is that we are not merely sensual beings made of matter.  We have a soul that seeks for the transcendent things of heaven.

With courage, with or without the help of his brothers, in and out of season, St Paul testified to the living God.  He said to them, “Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it.”  In other words, God is already in the midst and in the lives of those who sincerely seek Him.  Those who seek the truth and experience a deep vacuum in their lives already know that they are seeking the Transcendent.  However, often they fail to recognize Him because of ignorance.  While man, through effort and reason, can come to know some truths about God as creator and maker of heaven and earth, we cannot know Him personally or His interior life unless He reveals Himself to us.

This explains why Christianity is considered a revealed religion.  It speaks of grace and faith, not effort and reason alone.  Without divine revelation, no one can claim to know God and His interior life, just as we cannot claim we know someone unless we have lived with him.  This is what the gospel tells us today as well.  It is the Spirit of truth whom the Father will send in the name of Jesus that can reveal to us the fullness of truth.

That is why we cannot blame those who do not know Him or find it difficult to accept our belief in Christ.  The truth is that our faith in Christ is not proven by reason or logic but in a personal relationship in faith and in revelation.  Thus the Athenians who did not have faith and reduced the question of God merely to an intellectual discourse were unconverted.  Indeed, they were skeptical.  They were not ready to believe.  Clearly reason alone cannot argue and convince one to faith.

How is the Church so certain that we know who the living God is?  It is because of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.  When Christ was on earth, He revealed to us the love of the Father and His mercy for us by His teaching, and most of all by His works of mercy, healings, exorcisms, and forgiving sinners, climaxing in His death on the cross.  If His death was the end of the drama, then we would not be able to say much more than that Jesus was a good man and a great teacher but perhaps misguided into thinking that He was God or a messiah.   But because of the fact that God raised Him from the dead, Jesus was vindicated to be the One, as St Paul says, “to be the judge. And God has publicly proved this by raising this man from the dead.”

So only through God’s revelation, can we arrive at this conclusion that Jesus is the Son of the Living God!  And through Him, we come to know the Father.  Indeed with the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, we also come to know that the Living God is a Trinitarian God, for Jesus also revealed to us that He will ask the Father to send us the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus says in the gospel, “He will glorify me, since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine. Everything the Father has is mine; that is why I said:  All he tells you will be taken from what is mine.”

Hence, we believe Christ is the fullness of truth.  As Dei Verbum tells us,  “Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth. Moreover He confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed, that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal. The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13). 

This does not mean that other religions are false.  To make such a judgment would be going too far.  Rather, as the Constitution of the Church tells us, “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.  (LG 16)  And in the Constitution of the Church in the Modern world, the Church also says, “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”  (GS 22)

In other words, to the extent they know God; to that extent they have the truth.  There are different degrees of truth.  Truth is never arrived all at once.  Truth is always unfolding itself to us in different ways.  This is what Jesus meant in today’s gospel.  Even His disciples could not understand Him when He spoke to them about His imminent death and resurrection.  He told the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now.”  Indeed, you cannot teach those who cannot receive or appreciate what you are teaching.  You cannot explain profound and difficult things to a little child.  So not only is revelation ongoing but the receptivity is also dependent on the listeners.  This is true even for us who are Catholics.  To claim that Jesus is the fullness of truth does not mean to say that that we have understood everything.

Revelation, although completed in Christ Jesus since He is the fullness of revelation, must and continue to grow in terms of our understanding.  Once again, the Constitution on Divine Revelation has this to say to us, “This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.”  (DV 8)

For this reason, we need the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth to guide us into the plenitude of truth.  Understanding the Word of God is more than just understanding the text, it is to know Jesus.  Jesus is the Living Word of God, and therefore the Holy Bible which is the inspired Word of God remains a means by which we come to understand the person of Jesus which is much more than the Word of God could contain, as St John said, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Only the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of the Father and that of Jesus can reveal to us who Jesus really is. Our understanding of Jesus depends on how much we understand Jesus and know Him.  The task of the Holy Spirit is to help us to recognize Jesus.  For this reason, when we read the scriptures, we cannot read it like a textbook or an ordinary book but we must read it with faith and love.  Most of all, we must ask for the help of the Holy Spirit since He is the One who leads us to the truth and to Jesus.   However, the Holy Spirit is also given to the Church to preserve the deposit of faith. Only because of the Holy Spirit’s enduring presence in the Church, could the magisterium teach without error the truths as revealed to us.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore