5-21-2017 Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 22, 2017
Easter VI / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
As the Feast of Pentecost approaches (two weeks away), our readings today give us a first glimpse of the Holy Spirit—as if to prepare us, to get us ready, to "prime the pump" for the great feast. Each reading gives a particular insight into the person of the Holy Spirit, and, at the same time, some insights into our Christian lives.
But let’s begin with a more basic question: who is the Holy Spirit? In simple and plain words, the Holy Spirit is the love that exists between the Father and the Son. The third person of the Trinity is the love that makes the Father and Son one—the same love that is poured upon the Church, to energize it, to empower it, to send it on mission. Through the Holy Spirit, we are pulled into the very heart of God.
At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles—Vol. 2 of Luke’s Gospel—the Risen Lord tells the Apostles not to leave Jerusalem "but to wait for the ‘promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’" The promise of the Father was fulfilled on Pentecost, when the Spirit of God—the love of the Father and the Son—descended upon the Apostles in power, and the Church was born.
That same Holy Spirit is evident in our first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles, turning adversity into opportunity for the first disciples.
The Apostles boldly preached the Resurrection, but they soon faced strong opposition. A persecution broke out, and Stephen became the first martyr. This persecution drove some of the disciples out of Jerusalem—but there was a hidden benefit: the Good News now spread beyond Jerusalem and into the world (Tertullian: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church").
Today’s reading speaks of Philip’s success in Samaria, when he proclaimed Christ and performed mighty deeds. The reaction was "great joy in that city," and many were converted. When word of Philip’s success reached Jerusalem, Peter and John were sent to meet the newly baptized and to pray that they "might also receive the Holy Spirit."
It struck me that this is two-step process—Baptism and then Confirmation—is exactly what we do today. All of us receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and these gifts are later confirmed and strengthened by the bishop in the Sacrament of Confirmation— sending us on mission, commissioning us to share our gifts.
St. Peter in the second reading says that these gifts enable us to "give the reason" for our hope. Peter was writing to a church undergoing persecution—a time when "hope" was in short supply. But Peter exhorts the early Christians not to return violence for violence. Rather, they are to engage their persecutors "with gentleness and reverence." This is the way of Jesus, the way of the Beatitudes—"since it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." And what makes this possible? The Holy Spirit. Only with the Holy Spirit can hope shine through oppression—and lead us on The Way.
The Gospel today gives a descriptive name to the Holy Spirit: the Advocate. Our Advocate. One who "stands by us." The Greek word is paraclete, one who speaks for another, a defense attorney, a comforter. Jesus is our first Advocate, and the Holy Spirit is our second—our friend, our supporter, our lawyer "who always pleads our cause."
The Holy Spirit: the giver of gifts, our source of hope, our Advocate. As St. Paul would say, "If God is for us, who can be against us."