Sixth Sunday of Easter
Reflection: Importance of the Holy Spirit
By SISTER MARY McGLONE
In today’s selection from Acts, we meet Philip the Evangelist. He was one of the first deacons, but more than that, he was a missionary and the father of four prophet/missionary daughters.
Although it might seem that Philip’s preaching in Samaria offered little in the realm of “foreign” missions, history suggests that the opposite may be true.
The Jews and Samaritans shared ancient roots and the kind of long-term animosities that only happen among closely related groups. Thus, Philip, a Hellenist (Jew with a Greek heritage), ventured into adversarial territory, hoping he could get a better hearing than would a Hebrew Christian.
The reason this selection appears in today’s Liturgy of the Word is primarily its mention of how the Holy Spirit came upon the people who had begun believing in Jesus. Historically, this reveals something of the development of faith in Christ and the Trinity. In this story, as in Acts 19, we hear of a variety of baptismal practices. There was the baptism of John for metanoia — the new outlook necessary to recognize the reign of God. Philip’s baptism, performed in the name of Jesus, ritualized belief in Christ and his resurrection.
Finally, baptism was done in the name of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20). Peter and John’s completion of baptism in Samaria, calling down the Spirit, symbolized full reconciliation and unity among Jewish and Samaritan Christians.
We see that Acts insists that those who were baptized with John’s ritual (Acts 19) or simply in the name of Jesus needed something more. When Jesus was no longer humanly present among them, they needed the gift of his Spirit in order to participate in the life of the risen Christ.
Today’s Gospel selection from Jesus’ last discourse follows directly on last week’s and deals with the situation disciples would face when the human Jesus was no longer among them. Orienting them about how they were to live, Jesus explained, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
That is no dry injunction to obey; Jesus refers here to the depths of the covenant and his people’s daily prayer (Deuteronomy 6:1-9). To keep the commandments is, in the words of Jesuit theologian Silvano Fausti, to put into action what flows from “the love of a heart that knows it is loved.”
In spite of Jesus’ love, the disciples knew their own weakness. Jesus recognized their anxiety and promised, “I will not leave you orphans.” Helping them face his coming absence, he didn’t set up any structure for them, but promised, “I will ask the father … [for] another Paraclete to be with you always.”
The word, “another,” implies that the coming Spirit would act as he had among them: leading and teaching them. He took that to a new, unfathomable depth by promising, “I live and you will live … You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
This promise, repeated in a variety of ways in this discourse, means that disciples can live like Jesus did. As Jesus speaks of the Father and the Spirit, he is inviting us into the love life of the Trinity, the divine community that created the universe simply to share love with creation.
Jesus promises that our relationship with God can be like his: “I in my Father and me in you.”
Perhaps the first thing these readings invite us to is a reassessment of our own baptism and its consequences. Most of us were baptized long before the age of reason. (Have we gotten there yet?) When have we appropriated, considered, chosen and accepted the grace involved in being consecrated to the Trinity and included in a community of disciples, evangelists and prophets? To whom have we given “an explanation for the reason for our hope”?
In the long run, the promises Jesus made us, his invitation into union with God through Christ, are not about us. That union, the grace of baptism, the communion of the Eucharist, are all for the sake of mission.
That is the Christian understanding of the commandment to love God and neighbor. The deeper our love for others, the more passionate we will be for their good, the more we will want to communicate our reason for hope and the more we will be open to hear theirs, knowing that God is not bound by structures or denominations, but is pneuma, a free Spirit who blows in whom and where she will.
Let us not act like orphans but be evangelizers who embody the joy of God’s Spirit among us.
(Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17)
Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city.
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem
heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God,
they sent them Peter and John,
who went down and prayed for them,
that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
for it had not yet fallen upon any of them;
they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid hands on them
and they received the Holy Spirit.
(Psalm 66: 1-7, 16, 20)
(1 Peter 3: 15-18)
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,
but do it with gentleness and reverence,
keeping your conscience clear,
so that, when you are maligned,
those who defame your good conduct in Christ
may themselves be put to shame.
For it is better to suffer for doing good,
if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.
For Christ also suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.
Put to death in the flesh,
he was brought to life in the Spirit.
(John 14: 15-21)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”