Memorial of St. Catherine of Sine, virgin and doctor of the Church
If we are left scratching our heads over what Jesus means in the gospel today, we are in good company. It is said that St. Augustine avoided the passage because of its difficulty. But the passage is not impossible to understand. To do so, however, we should note that the word convict is too literal a translation of the Greek and does not fit well with each object. It would be better to say that the Spirit Advocate proves the world wrong regarding sin, righteousness, and condemnation.
The world sees Christians as sinful for believing in Jesus. But the Spirit Advocate’s presence among Christians, sent upon Jesus’ return to the Father, reveals that those who refuse to believe in Jesus are the real sinners. These include those who doubted Jesus’ relation to God after seeing him work a sign and those who still shake their heads after being told about Jesus’ resurrection. The error of righteousness concerns the Jews’ putting Jesus to death for claiming to be God’s son. The Spirit Advocate moving Christians to love one another shows them to be righteous, not those who crucified him. The final error regards the condemnation of Satan, the prince of this world. Since Jesus is vindicated by his resurrection and return to the Father, his adversary Satan is condemned. We might ask, how is it that Satan is at liberty to ensnare humans? The gospel would answer that Satan is powerless over true believers and his limited domination will last only until Jesus returns in glory.
We can see in the life of St. Catherine of Siena a person who exhorted other Christians to manifest the Spirit Advocate that is given to them. She famously convinced Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome after years of refuge in Avignon. Not so well known is her ministry to a condemned man who refused to see a priest for reconciliation. The convict asked Catherine to be present at his execution, which she was. He died surrendering his soul to God with the names “Jesus” and “Catherine” on his lips.