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May 21 2017 (A) sixth Sunday of Easter (A)

  1. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
  2. Reflection & Dialogue: Life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  3. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17). They laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. There are two sections to this reading. The first is about the conversion of the people of a Samaritan town to belief in Christ. They were baptized in the name of Jesus. The second section is on the coming of the Holy Spirit on those baptized. Philip was one of the seven deacons presented by the people and chosen by the Apostles, of which last Sunday’s first reading spoke. Philip was active in preaching the good news after the martyrdom of Stephen. Later in this book he is called an evangelist. His missionary activity was in Jewish areas. The present reading tells us that his preaching was now in a Samaritan town, traditional enemies of the Jews. His preaching of the gospel message to the Samaritans was very successful. Luke, as elsewhere, does not fail to mention the rejoicing that accompanied his preaching.

            Two points are worthy of note in the second section. Philip was a deacon, not an Apostle, and the good news was to be spread by the Apostles from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria. The development was to be under the direction of the Apostles. Furthermore, in the present instance the Gospel message was spreading beyond Judaism to the Samaritans. Thus it is that when the Apostles in Jerusalem heard of the success of the mission in the Samaritan town they sent two senior members of their rank, Peter and John, to the Samaritan town, an indication of the concern of the early Christian community in Jerusalem for the unity of the Church, and the connection of new communities with the mother-Church in Jerusalem. This reading makes a connection between the laying-on of the hands by the Apostles and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In its view, baptism in the name of Jesus alone was not sufficient. Such a connection is not found elsewhere in New Testament writings: the Hoy Spirit is given at baptism. The connection of the two is made in this text of Acts lays stress on the unity of the Church with the Apostles and with the holy city Jerusalem

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 65[66]). Cry out with joy to God all the earth.

Second Reading (1 Peter 3:15-18). In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life. In this part of the letter, in today’s reading, the author under the name of Peter, is giving advice to a Christian community under duress of false accusations or of some form of persecution on how to behave in such circumstances. We do not know exactly what these accusations or persecutions were. In this reading Peter advises them to be prepared for any such event, to have a living faith in Christ and confidence in their Christian faith, and to be always prepared to have an answer ready for anyone who asks them to explain, or give a reason for, their Christian beliefs (“hope”). We have a nice example of how they may have done this in a letter of Pliny the Younger, the Roman governor of those same areas, written to the Roman Emperor Trajan about the year 110. The letter explains that accusations of various kinds are being made against Christians, which as governor he is obliged to investigate, often by putting the Christians to torture. In one of those investigations, when asked about their beliefs and practices, according to Pliny’s word they replied as follows: “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to do anything that was evil, not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, nor falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food -- but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition”. In today’s reading Peter tells his Christian readers that they should be prepared to suffer for the sake of doing right, if such is the will of God, implying in a sense that they should not seek out trials or persecution. The two final sentences are connected with the body of the text, which is that truth and justice will triumph over injustice. In any suffering, believers have Jesus as their model and example. He suffered for them and was put to death in his human body, but was raised to life in the spirit, to a new life in the Holy Spirit. And this Holy Spirit was given to all believers at baptism, a Spirit that enlightens and gives confidence to confront false accusations and persecution.

Gospel (John 14:15-21). I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate. This reading is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples before his departure from them. In a short time, he says, the world will no longer see him, with bodily eyes – “the world”, that is, in John’s Gospel meaning of this word, which is the world without faith in Jesus, even hostile to him. The disciples, however, will continue to see Jesus with the eyes of faith, knowing that after his death and resurrection he still lives. In on sense, with Jesus’ departure the disciples would be left as orphans, without anyone to care for them. This, however, will not be the case, since Jesus will return to them in a new manner, to live in them and to unite them with the Father. Jesus promises that he will send them another paraclete, another advocate, to be with them for ever. The Greek word parakletos can have a variety of meanings, the basic one of which seems to be “advocate”. An advocate is one who defends his or her clients in a court case when accusations are made against them. When Jesus was with his disciples he was such a paraclete, an advocate, for them. That is why he can say that he will send them another advocate. The Greek word may also be understood as protector, defender, or comforter. The Holy Spirit is intended by Jesus. It is within the consciences of believers that the Holy Spirit will be the advocate and comforter, to strengthen and defend them against the accusation of the enemy, of “the world” in John’s language, against unbelievers in Jesus intent on destroying his saving work. Jesus lays great stress on his followers’ love for himself. The love in question is no abstraction; it means keeping his commandments, which for Jesus in John’s Gospel are two: belief in Jesus and love of him, of the Father and of the neighbour. The keeping of these commandments unites the believers with Jesus and with the Father—a love which will give an understanding of Jesus, who will show himself to the loving believers in a special way. This for Jesus and John is what faith is about: seeing the Father in Jesus and having the Father revealed through Jesus.

  1. Reflection & Dialogue: Life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Writing to the Romans (Romans 8:14) Paul says: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. The Sunday readings today stress the part played by the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual believers and of the Christian community. It is by the laying on of the hands of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit came on the believers in the Samaritan town converted by Philip. It is the Spirit of the risen Christ that gave confidence to the believers during their trials, referred to in the letter of Peter. It is the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises to send on his followers as a second advocate, defender, comforter. In our own day the Holy Spirit gives the certainty of faith in Jesus to the individual believer, belief in a world unseen. The Holy Spirit gives consolation of soul, and the joy and peace which Jesus promised before he left. The Holy Spirit guides us as believers to live in keeping with the Gospel message, with purity of heart and with a religious attitude that takes the directions for one’s life from heaven, from Jesus, from the Church, rather than from a worldly secular attitude that does not believe in another world or   accept direction from it.

            Another thought worthy of reflection arising from today’s Gospel reading is the opposition and contest that there was, and always will be, between Jesus himself, his followers, and the other forces which the Gospel calls “the world”, that is those who were not ready to accept his person or his message, and who maintained, or will maintain, that they had been victorious over Jesus, that he and all he stood for were conquered by his death on the cross. Jesus assured his followers that the Paraclete, that Advocate, the Holy Spirit, that he was to send would convince his followers (and convict “the world”) that the contrary was the case. They should take courage; Jesus had conquered the world. Those forces working against Jesus and his work are still active.

            We need not enter in any further detail into this question here, but to recall that in this continuing contest, Jesus and his Father are also active through the Holy Spirit, the Advocate and Comforter. However, we may mention that an obvious example of the ongoing contest between the forces contrary to Jesus is active atheism, and the movement “Atheist Ireland” actively engaged in an effort to destroy belief in God, with special emphasis on vilifying the Catholic Church, attempting to remove any influence of Catholic, that is Christian, religion from public life and the teaching of religion inn primary schools. Today’s Gospel and liturgical readings call for a response on at least two points, namely to recall Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit that gives confidence to the conscience of each believer that he, Jesus, has “conquered the world”, all opposing forces, and gives confidence and peace in believing, and secondly not to forget the advice of St Peter in the Second reading today: have a good knowledge of your religion “Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that is in you; but give it with courtesy and respect”.