6th Sunday of Easter, Year A.
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 – 1Peter 3:15-18 – John 14:15-21.
Today we celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ, who lives forever in us through the active presence and power of the Holy Spirit. As we prepare for Pentecost in a fortnight’s time, today’s readings introduce the Holy Spirit and His working in the community of the faithful. Jesus promised the Church that He would send the Holy Spirit to be with Her until the end of time. Of course, the promise in no way contradicted the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in the world from the very beginning. The Holy Spirit has always been active in the events of the world! He was there at the creation of the world (Gen 1:2), and throughout the Old Testament it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the Prophets to carry on their lips the word of God to guide the people (cf. CCC §702- 704). Now, this presents us with a conundrum: if the Holy Spirit has always been active in the world (which He has), what did Jesus mean when He said, “I shall ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever”?
To help us to solve the conundrum, I am going to tell you a little story. ‘Once Upon A Time’ a man was out for a walk, just enjoying the sunshine, when he happened to notice an angel coming down the street towards him. The angel was carrying a flaming torch and a bucket of water. The man was curious about the unusual combination of items (as well as the presence of the angel), so he beckoned the angel over and asked him what he was intending to do with the flaming torch and the bucket of water. The angel replied, “I am going to use the flaming torch to burn down the mansions of heaven, and I am going to use the bucket of water to quench the fires of hell!” The man was absolutely gobsmacked, as we would have been.
Think for a moment about what it was that lay behind the words of the angel in the little story … and then you’ll have the key to the conundrum about the functions of the Holy Spirit. The reason why most people attempt to keep the Commandments tends to be because of the prospect of the pain & fear of hell if they don’t, or the reward of heaven if they do, rather than out of genuine love for God. That being the case, would it be possible to keep the Commandments if those two carrot-and-stick reasons were removed? Yes, it would be possible, and it IS possible. Remember Jesus’ conditionality regarding the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit? He said, “If you love me you will keep my Commandments. I shall ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, that Spirit of truth”. Now we have the solution to the conundrum.
The emphasis of Jesus today is upon obedience to His Commandments out of love, not out of the fear of hell or gain of heaven. It is this love for Jesus that makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to come into the hearts of the faithful. The Holy Spirit is always around us, as He is always in the world, but He waits for God’s children to express their genuine love for God before He can enter into them. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is confirmation of the bond of love we have with the Father and with our Lord Jesus Christ.
In today’s First Reading, we heard how Philip preached the gospel to Samaritan townsfolk, who welcomed the message with joy and were baptised. They did not, however, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit until Peter and John, as delegates of the Church in Jerusalem, prayed for them and ritually laid hands on them. Now, you will be wondering why it was that the baptised townsfolk didn’t receive the Holy Spirit when Philip preached to them. After all, he was an Apostle too. How come the house of Cornelius received the Holy Spirit as soon as Peter started preaching the word of God to them (Acts 10:1-48) when the Samaritan converts did not?
We discover the difference between Cornelius and the Samaritans in verse 4 “Your prayers and charitable gifts have been accepted by God” and verse 31 “your prayer has been heard and your charitable gifts have not been forgotten by God”. The practice of charity by Cornelius elicited God’s special love and attention, which was why the Holy Spirit descended on upon him and his household even before their Baptism. We could be forgiven for saying that the Holy Spirit, utterly consumed by love for them, couldn’t wait for all the protocols to be observed before He gifted Himself to them. The Holy Spirit did not descend on the Samaritans despite all the protocols having been observed, (the preaching of the Word, reception of the Word and Baptism), because the motive that prompted the reception of the Word was the miracles that Philip worked. As their acceptance of God’s word was due solely to the prospect of marvels and/or personal gain, then faith was necessarily lacking. In other words, as their acceptance of God’s word was not based on love, then the Holy Spirit was not going to come upon them. The Holy Spirit comes only into hearts that love God. Peter and John were exceptionally gifted in their relationship with Jesus and in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, which is why these two Apostles were sent by the Church to pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon these converts.
My dear friends in Christ, Jesus is channelling our focus today on how we can experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our own time. The Holy Spirit comes into the life of each and every one of us who loves Jesus by keeping His Commandments which are summed up in one word: Love. We can experience the power of the Holy Spirit by loving Jesus, by loving Jesus in our neighbour, by loving Jesus in our brothers and sisters, because He has commanded us to “love one another” as He has loved us. Jesus wants to continue living daily in us, and us in Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Love is reciprocal: if Jesus loves us, then He can only be in us when we respond to that love and reciprocate it.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, may You live in us and may we live in You. Help us to understand that love is the key to our experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. God bless you.