Monday, November 25, 2013

Homily - 6th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

6th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

First Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17            Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18            Gospel Reading: John 14:15-21


There is a touching story told of a humble, consecrated pastor, whose young son had become very ill. After the boy had undergone an exhaustive series of tests, the father was told the shocking news that his son had a terminal illness. The youngster had accepted Christ as his Savior, so the minister knew that death would usher him into glory; but he wondered how to inform one in the bloom of youth that soon he would die.
After earnestly seeking the direction of the Holy Spirit, he went with a heavy heart through the hospital ward to the boy's bedside. First he read a passage of Scripture and had a time of prayer with his dear child. Then he gently told him that the doctors could promise him only a few more days to live.
Are you afraid to meet Jesus, my boy?” asked his devout father.
Blinking away a few tears, the little fellow said bravely, “No, not if He's like you, Dad!”

We are at the end period of Easter Season and today is the 6th Sunday. The Gospel Reading of today from St. John continues the Farewell Discourse of Jesus. Ideally situated in the Liturgical Year to anticipate the coming feasts of Ascension and Pentecost, the reading tells both of Jesus’ immanent departure and his promise of the Holy Spirit.
The theme of today’s Scripture Readings is the proclamation of “The Divine Presence of the Holy Spirit” and they refer to the missionary age of the Christians and the presence and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit to be given to them. In the Gospel Reading Jesus calls him the Advocate, the Spirit of truth who will live in the hearts of Christians to console and to guide them. While the presence of the Holy Spirit is a free gift of God’s love, it is only received by those who want and prepare themselves for it. The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles begins with the persecution of the early Church in Jerusalem and yet speaks of the spread of the Church to the surrounding places. Deacon Philip preaches successfully in Samaria and the Apostles are called to lay their hands on them so that the community receives the Holy Spirit. In the Second Reading from his 1st Letter to the scattered Christian communities, St. Peter urges them to be ready to engage others in order to explain Christian expectations. He implies that suffering is a likely consequence of preaching. It is interesting that St. Peter characterizes Christianity by its hope, its expectations of what is to happen because of Christ.

The Gospel Reading of this Sunday from St. John continues the Farewell Discourse of Jesus wherein he prepares his disciples not only for his coming suffering and death, but also for his Resurrection and Ascension. And he promises them that even afterward he will remain with them but in a very different way from now. The context once again is the Last Supper. The reading picks up where last Sunday we left off. But whereas last Sunday’s passage centered on believing in Jesus, this week’s passage centers on loving him. Those who love Jesus keep his commandments. In other words, covenant fidelity is an outpouring of love. Jesus is about to leave the world and return to his Father and when he is no longer physically present, he promises to send them another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth to be with them always. 'Advocate' is a translation of the Greek word 'Paraclete' and it carries a range of meanings – Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Intercessor, Strengthener. It literally means 'one called alongside to help' whenever necessary. In other words, the disciples need not be troubled or afraid because they will never be alone. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will always be with them to defend them, to intercede for them, and to comfort them.
Many in the world do not recognize the Spirit. The ‘world’ here represents all those who live only for themselves, who see everyone else and everything else as stepping stones to their own advancement, their own pleasure and enjoyment. Such people are totally deaf to the Spirit. The disciples however, do know the Spirit, “Because he remains with you, and will be in you.” So, although Jesus tells his disciples that he is about to leave them and they are clearly alarmed and despondent at the idea, he reassures them that he will come back, he will continue to be with them though in a different way. He tells them that he will not leave them orphaned but his Spirit will be with them till the end of time.
Jesus further says, on that day, the day when he would be lifted up in glory on the cross, they will realize that he is in the Father and they in him and he in them! And how would that happen? It is all summed up in this final sentence: “Anybody who 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.” We love God not just by expressing our love directly for him but by the way in which we extend our love to all those around us with no exception whatsoever. And all those who love Jesus will receive the love of the Father. But how to love Jesus? We love Jesus when we love him in our brothers and sisters. When we live our lives in this way we will in turn experience God’s love and grow in our familiarity with Him.

Today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a historical recount of the event surrounding the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans. Last week we saw that the apostles had ordained seven men to administer the soup kitchen in Jerusalem. The men, later known as deacons, quickly expanded their role to missionary work. One of the deacons, Philip, travels to Samaria and begins making converts baptizing several people. After hearing this glorious news, Peter and John, two apostles, go to the city for the express purpose of confirming those who were baptized by laying hands on them and conferring the Holy Spirit. In this act of the-laying-on-of-hands for the purpose of conferring the Holy Spirit, we see the primitive origin of the sacrament of confirmation as we administer and celebrate it today.

Today's Second Reading from the 1st Letter of Peter, delineates the need to participate in Christ’s redemptive suffering as well as the vivifying role of the Holy Spirit, “Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.” Christ in his passion is the Savior and model for Christians; it is he who brings us to communion with God and who shows us the level of love to which Christians are called by the will of God. Peter says that Christ suffered for our sins once for all, the righteous person for the unrighteous, in order to bring all people to God. He urges them to be ready to engage others in order to explain Christian expectations. He implies that suffering is a likely consequence of preaching. It is interesting that St. Peter characterizes Christianity by its hope, its expectations of what is to happen because of Christ.

The Easter Liturgy not only makes us feel the intense saving initiative of our loving God, but also the deep demands expected of us as 'resurrection people' and the inner strength we need to live up to it:
We are reminded today that we are called to love Jesus; that is part of the Christian calling. Those who keep Christ's commandments will, he promises, receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, our Advocate will gently indicate the way to us that we should go, the paths that need to be repaired, the relationships in need of further inspection or care. For this Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, is a gift from God. And being from God, it can never do harm, never do wrong, never lead us into danger. We may of course be led in ways that we did not expect or anticipate, but if we are truly open to God and all his gifts then we must also be open to go where he would will for us to go. So let us ask ourselves once again: Do we earnestly and genuinely wish for the Spirit of truth to enter into our hearts and stay with us always? If we are at all uncertain about any of our answers to these questions, then let us pray - pray that we might truly be open to the scriptures, open to God, open to Jesus and what he asks of us in love. And pray that as Pentecost approaches we too might become filled with “The Divine presence of the Holy Spirit” and completely open to the love and freedom in Christ that is promised to us as a result.
Again, Christians are people of hope. That is one of our distinguishing marks. But do we think of ourselves as people of hope? Are we noticeably hopeful people? Hope is not based on what is happening to you in the here-and-now, nor on what you might be able to do or receive in the future. It is based entirely on God, on our certainty that we are loved by God because he has said so, and also on the resurrection of Christ. If Christ is not risen then our faith and hope are in vain. So, as Eastertide draws to its close, perhaps it is a good time to ask ourselves: Do I really have hope? Am I a person of hope? And we can remind ourselves that this hope does not depend on us, on our strength and determination, but wholly on God's love for us in Christ, shown in his Resurrection. And this is the Good News of today.


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