Sixth Sunday of Easter
21 May 2017
In the Easter season the readings at mass are often taken from the Acts of the Apostles and focus on the rapid growth of the Church in its earliest days. In recording these events St. Luke gave encouragement to his readers because they were largely new Christians and it was important to assure them that they had joined the "winning team". St. Luke also wove into his writing the key elements of Christian life and belief, in effect teaching a brief catechism as he narrated the Acts.
Among the foundations of Christianity which he describes is the sacrament of baptism and the blessings it brings. When Peter and John prayed over the neophytes of Samaria, who had thus far "had only been baptized in the name of Jesus" (Acts 8:16), their initiation was completed and they received the same Holy Spirit that our Lord prophesied in the Gospel today: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16-17). Jesus goes on to say that the Holy Spirit will come to remain with us and remind us of his own abiding presence-the Spirit would confirm all that Jesus taught us and strengthen us in living the faith: "He remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans" (John 14:17-18).
What our Lord said about the Spirit in the Gospel and what Peter and John teach the Samaritans is as true of us as it was in biblical times: we too receive the surpassing gift of the Holy Spirit when we are immersed in the waters of baptism, and its wonderful vitalizing effects endure as much today as they did in the New Testament era. The First Letter of Peter assures us of this, urging us: "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" (1 Pet 3:15-16). It is the Spirit that inspires us in such moments of testimony, but we need our hearts to be open to the Spirit and indeed longing for it if we are to receive the fullness of its gifts.
While the Church is no longer in its infancy, as in the days of the Acts, we can still make a contribution to its vibrancy today by taking seriously the presence of the Spirit in our midst and seeking to hold fast, teach, and live the faith we profess. The parents who lovingly and devoutly raised us, the saintly sister or priest we know, or the teacher or friend-or stranger-who helped us overcome a life devoid of such positive figures: all of these welcomed the Holy Spirit into their hearts and shared it with us.
Building upon their example, or bravely being willing to accept the gift of healing that carries us over the lack of such examples, it is our evangelical task to move forward in faith, sustained and renewed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, "the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept . . . but you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you" (John 14:17). Through the intercession of Saints Philip, Peter, and John and moved by the presence of the Holy Spirit may we "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope" (1 Pet 3:15). (582 words)