Homily for Sunday, 29 May 2011
6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17. 1 Pt 3:15-18. Jn 14:15-21
The readings this Sunday are about the fact that the Trinity are forever with us, although not in the flesh (incarnated) like Jesus was. They are forever with us. Next Sunday, Jesus heads off (Ascension) and the following one, the Spirit arrives (Pentecost).
I've never seen Christ in the flesh, but for some reason, I don't get bored meditating his Word over and over again. There must be something that keeps moving me, and it's not some-thing but some-one. It's the Spirit that Jesus promises today. "He was put to death in the flesh, and brought to life in the spirit" (1Pt 3:18). Two thousand years have gone by since the Ascension, but the truth is that the Love of God is still with us. He's not walking the road through life (and death) in front of us, He's walking with us - within us! It's not a physical, visible presence in the flesh, it's much more. That promise of the Holy Spirit is the theme of today. It's like a prologue to Pentecost (which we'll celebrate in two weeks).
The love of God is very much alive and is knocking at all of our doors. That's the Holy Spirit. But opening to it is a question of our personal sensitivity. We live in a material world, however there can be something more than material things in the beauty of life - in nature - especially in human nature. There's the beauty of Love. And there's a tremendous potential that just needs to be activated. That's where the Holy Spirit comes in. 'The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us' as we read in the Bible, but our cold hearts need to be set on fire. That's where the Holy Spirit comes in. John the baptist said that Jesus would baptize with Spirit and fire (Mt 3:11- Lk 3:16) just as tongues of fire appear at Pentecost (Acts 2:3). Jesus himself says: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk 12:49).
Something in me enkindled the fire of a love that inspired me to do a crazy thing like becoming a religious missionary. I'm glad! It was a surprise to me. But I realize now that it wasn't some-thing - it was some-one - God Himself - which is the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself tells us so today: “The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.” (Jn 14:16). It's been conceived in our baptism and born in our confirmation, but it needs to be 'brought up' in our lives. It's knocking at our own personal door and it's asking to help be nurtured in others also. It's so much more than a matter of fulfilling rules and obeying commandments. It's a type of love affair! The Word is in our hearts, but we've got to 'sanctify the Lord in our hearts' (1Pt 3:15). We'll be opening the door to a great gift. He's our 'advocate' - a defense against a lethal disease - selfishness and pride. Our 'advocate' doesn't come up with a superficial excuse to 'get us off the hook'. He heals us. He inspires us to respect and help others. We genuflect before the tabernacles of our Churches, but do we 'genuflect' in our hearts before every human being? I loved it when I saw a priest once, genuflect before the little baby he had just baptized!
It's important that the call to 'keep commandments' today (Jn 14:15), isn't a call to be like obedient slaves, but to truly love the Trinity as family and friends. We need to have our hearts moved, rather than just fulfill a list of rules, and that's the role of the Spirit in us. In Islam, there's a very 'absolute' law which has to be obeyed and that's it, but in our faith there's a living God within us. And He's it! Reducing religion to a matter of obeying written rules is actually one of the reasons for which the Jewish leaders condemned Jesus! It's interesting that our Church from the beginning was actually 'breaking the rules' of the religious leaders of the Jews 2,000 years ago! 'When they had brought the apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, "We gave you strict orders did we not?...' (Acts 5:28).
The writers of philosophy who haven't opened up to our need for the wisdom of God, are called 'knostics'. They reckon that mankind finds out all they need to know about life, just by using their own brains. I think that the really clever brain, is the one who wants to listen to the supreme 'brains' - to the Trinity, and offering the Spirit to us is Christ's way of offering us the chance to do that listening. But, of course, it's not a matter of listening to sound waves! The Trinity guide us all together, and They also guide each person individually. That's why a personal life of prayer is so important. It's a matter of personal relationships with God. But the 'rules' of the Church, are there to help us arrive at that relationship - and to ensure that we don't let things slip. The 'catecisms' that we are given as children, should really begin with a good article on the love of God and his beautiful ideal for us to be his happy family. From there, 'instructions' and 'commandments' can be seen clearly as gifts - as Gods way of ensuring his ideal.
So is our faith just a fulfillment of traditions, or is it a real love-story? Obeying rules and regulations of our Church may be a great way to love God, but there may be many other things that God also desires, yet that aren't listed out for us as rules and regulations. That's why personal prayer is so important.
We don't celebrate Mass without reading the Bible readings. But do we really pay attention and meditate and apply the readings to our own lives? It says today that 'spirits' came out of people after the Word was proclaimed by Philip. In other words, it challenges us and gets us to change. It gets us to overcome our indifference and become interested in each member of our human family.
Philip prays and preaches today, and that's the official 'charism' of Verbum Dei, but of course prayer is much more than presenting petitions to God. It's a time of listening to what God wants to say to us - to listen and learn and obey. Then we keep asking. And be concerned about passing Good News on to others. At least, as Peter says, be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for your hope. The 'ministry of the Word isn't just for Peter and Co. (as in the first reading last Sunday). That's so even if faced with opposition or insults, as the second reading describes today. God gives us the capacity to overcome problems, just as the first Christians overcame many persecutions.
Cripples get cured today by Philip (Acts 8), so what about this 'beloved' M.S.? It may well be cured - if God wants. If not, that's OK.. Being able to give that “OK” in itself is a great cure! Thanks, Holy Spirit! There's a lot still to be done in my heart… and I'd love to help pass you on to others too! Please come!