Monday, April 28, 2008

Year A 6th Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 8,5-8.14-17; Ps 66,1-7.16.20; 1 Pet 3,15-18; Jn 14,15-21

Each time we recite the Creed, we profess our belief in "in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son." As is indicative of the word spirit in our day, the Holy Spirit seems to be most elusive. In truth, we encounter the Holy Spirit all the time. Noted Catholic Bible scholar, Luke Timothy Johnson, gives us a most helpful way of conceiving of the Holy Spirit: the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence among us (Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel, pg. 15). Stated a bit more clearly, it is by means of the Holy Spirit that Christ, after his ascension into heaven, remains present not only to us, but in us. In our Gospel today Jesus, speaking to his disciples about the other Advocate he is going to send, tells them that this Advocate will be with them always and remain both with them as well as be in them (Jn 14,17).

This brings up a very good question, which, when asked bluntly, goes like this: "How exactly does the Holy Spirit get 'in us'?" In seeking an answer to this question, let us look at today’s Gospel more closely. Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit so that his disciples will not be left orphans (Jn 14,18). This other Advocate will come to them after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Once he is ascended, the world will no longer see Jesus as the twelve see him as they sit at table. Rather, Jesus will live on in his disciples, who constitute the Church. It is important to note that his living is just that, living, which does not consist of having fond memories of him and perpetuating his memory by handing on stories about his life, but his living in the Church through the Holy Spirit, “the giver of life,” who is poured out on the disciples on Pentecost.
St. Philip the deacon

Our first reading, taken from The Acts of the Apostles, goes a fair distance toward answering our question about how the Spirit, whose presence is Christ’s presence, just as in Christ the Father is present, as we read in last week’s Gospel, this why Jesus tells his disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes, they "will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you" (Jn 14,7.20). Our reading from Acts tells the story of Philip the deacon preaching the Gospel and baptizing an entire Samaritan city. 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, who "had not yet fallen upon any of them" (Acts 8,16). 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.

In Confirmation we receive "a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit like that of Pentecost" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 268). Being anointed with sacred chrism is the external sign of this "special outpouring". Of course, the very title, "Christ," means anointed one. By being anointed with the Holy Spirit, like Jesus was immediately following his Baptism by John, an indelible character is impressed on our souls, namely our identity, first revealed in Baptism, as children of God, as well as priests, prophets, and royalty. This anointing causes growth in the grace we received in Baptism, reinvigorating the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

We see now that the answer to our straightforward question, "How is the Holy Spirit 'in us'?" also answers the question about how Christ is in us and us in him. We receive Christ in and through the sacraments, most especially in the Eucharist. The sacraments are the works of the Holy Spirit because it is the work of the Holy Spirit to make Jesus Christ present in the community of disciples, who make up the Church. In turn, it is the mission of the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, to make the Lord present in and for the world in all our various endeavors. It is to this end that we are exhorted in our reading from First Peter to "Sanctify Christ as Lord in [our] hearts" (1 Pet. 3,15). We do this by always being "ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for [our] hope" (1 Pet. 3,15). However, we are to do so "with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet. 3,16). hence, our best answer does not consist in brilliant arguments and great learning. Rather, our best answer to anybody who asks the reason for our hope is given by how we live our lives and the qualities exhibited in our communal life. So, just as the Church is the sacrament of salvation for the world, our very lives are to be sacraments, that is, visible and tangible signs of Christ’s presence in and for the world.

Because Easter is about life, resurrected and everlasting life, our faith is about life, everyday life, which is redeemed life, being made holy by the Spirit that is within us. God invites us to partake in his very life here and now, by receiving the sacraments, most particularly this Eucharist. As we near Pentecost we pray, “Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” Indeed, renewing the earth, ushering in God’s reign, is the mission of the Church. Hence, it is our mission, the mission toward which our entire ministry, which consists of nothing less than laying down our lives in service to others, is directed. Our Lord himself, by linking our obedience to our love for him, indicates that life in the Spirit, which is nothing other than Christian life, has an objective character. The only way to empirically verify that the gifts imparted to us in Confirmation have been duly received is the fruit it produces in our lives both individually and collectively. The gifts that “the Lord, the giver of life,” imparts produce fruit in the lives of those who have gratefully received them. The fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are “the first fruits of eternal glory,” are: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 390; Gal. 5,22-23).

These graces help us to recognize that, as Christians, we do not seek a heavenly home that is detached from this world. Instead, we look for a renewal of God’s good, creation. Such a renewal requires bringing creation back in line with our Creator’s original purpose, which is communion. God created us and because of our disobedience, that happy fault, that necessary sin of Adam, he also redeemed us. Now God has given us his Holy Spirit, through whom the fullness of God, who is also Father and Son, dwells in us, to sanctify us, to heal our alienation from the earth, from each other, and from God. As we gather around the Lord’s Table today, let our celebration bear fruit as, filled with the Holy Spirit , we "cry out to God with joy" (Ps. 66,2). Alleluia!

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