THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
As humans, we have within us the capacities to love, learn, choose, work and so on. But we need the help of parents, teachers and friends to activate and develop these capacities so that we can reach our full human potential. In the same vein we need the Holy Spirit to be fully alive and live according to the dictates of the Spirit, and live lives pleasing to God. Hence, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to us: “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete – to be with you always; to remain with you and be within you.”
First Reading - Today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a historical recount of the event surrounding the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans. Owing to the vigorous persecution which began in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the disciples had been dispersed. Philip turned the dispersal into an opportunity to preach the Gospel message by taking it to Samaria. Although the Samaritans were despised by then, Philip followed the assignment Jesus gave the apostles in chapter 1 of Acts: "You are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes even to the ends of the earth."
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. Through the imposition of hands by the successors of the apostles (our bishops), we also receive the Holy Spirit. We are empowered to profess our Faith boldly, to bear witness to the Truth of the Lord and to stand for what is right and good. 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. The early Church believed that that no Christian community could exist without a relationship with someone who had experienced the risen Jesus. By calling down the Spirit upon the newly converted Samaritans, Peter and John brought them into fellowship with the whole Christian community.
In the second reading, Peter encouraged us to have reverence for Christ. Also, he admonished us to treat with respect even those who despise the gospel we preach. Hence, he reminds us of the animating power of the Holy Spirit even in the life of Christ: “In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life.” It is the same spirit that raised Jesus that sustains us in the truth. This means that once the Spirit of God comes upon us, we become active for Christ, because: “What gives life is the spirit of God (John 6, 63).
The Gospel Reading of today from St. John continues the Farewell Discourse of Jesus. The reading tells both of Jesus’ immanent departure and his promise of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel Reading of this Sunday from St. John continues the Farewell Discourse of Jesus wherein he prepares his disciples not only for his coming suffering and death, but also for his Resurrection and Ascension. And he promises them that even afterward he will remain with them but in a very different way from now. The context once again is the Last Supper and it is a continuation of Last Sunday’s reading. However, whereas last Sunday’s passage centered on believing in Jesus, today’s narrative centers on loving him.
As we all know so very well, talk is cheap and words are without meaning unless expressed in deeds. Love is not simply a nice feeling, a sentiment, or merely a warm emotion. Love becomes real in the decisions we make and in what we do. It is in its actions, actions that result from our choices, that love is realized.
Don’t get me wrong, the words of love are of extreme importance. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I love you.” In fact those three little words can be the most beautiful and powerful of all the words in a person’s life. It is vital for husbands to tell their wives that they love them. It is vital for wives to tell their husbands that they love them. It is vital for children to hear words of love from their moms and dads. But while the words are important the deeds are even more important, even of the essence.
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” We modern people often do not like the idea of commandments! We are so caught up in freedom that we resist any sense of having to do anything because it is commanded! On the other hand, married couples know that they must listen to one another and that their response to one another is a sort of obedience to one another. Yes, for sure, after listening and speaking and dialoging. This is very similar to the process of our faith in relationship to the Lord Jesus. If we truly love Him, then we must listen to Him, we must speak with Him. And we, at times, must dialog with Him. This is what it means to love Him and to observe His commandments. Beloved, those who love Jesus keep his commandments. In other words, covenant fidelity is an outpouring of love.
The Holy Spirit, the Person of the Holy Trinity who is Love personified, acts internally within each one of us. The Holy Spirit is present within our hearts and souls, animating, vivifying, and inspiring us. We can never see the Holy Spirit as separate and apart — standing alone. The Holy Spirit lives and breathes within our souls. We see the Holy Spirit in our actions and in the actions of others.
Jesus is about to leave the world and return to his Father and when he is no longer physically present, he promises to send the Apostles another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth to be with them always. 'Advocate' is a translation of the Greek word 'Paraclete' and it carries a range of meanings – Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Intercessor etc. It literally means 'one called alongside to help' whenever necessary. In other words, the disciples need not be troubled or afraid because they will never be alone. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will always be with them to defend them, to intercede for them, and to comfort them.
The Bible assigns several different names to the Holy Spirit, identifying Him as the Consoler, the Advocate, the Sanctifier, and the Paraclete. As the bible presents Him, the Holy Spirit protects and defends us against our Ancient Enemy. He is our Advocate, the One who stands with us particularly when we feel worthless, useless, and of no value in God’s eyes. His consolations strengthen us when we feel weak, inadequate, and powerless. The Evil One seeks to weaken us; the Holy Spirit strengthens us.
The Holy Spirit vivifies us and animates us, that is to say He enlivens us; He gives us a sharing in God’s life. He is beside us to defend us when we are depressed. When the sacraments of the devil beset us the Holy Spirit is our Advocate, our Counsel in order that we might defend ourselves.
And what are those sacraments of the devil? Well, they all begin with “d’s”, just as does the word devil. His sacraments (and there are seven of them) are doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, depression, defeat, despair and death. We need our Advocate, our Consoler, our Defender, our Paraclete, the “one called to be beside us” when we face doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, depression, defeat, despair and death, those works of the devil.
Many in the world do not recognize the Spirit. The ‘world’ here represents all those who live only for themselves, who see everyone else and everything else as stepping stones to their own advancement, their own pleasure and enjoyment. Such people are totally deaf to the Spirit.
Jesus assures his disciples that they will not be left as orphans. He promises them awareness of his risen presence – in themselves, in each other, in the Church, in Scripture, in the Sacraments and in the praying community -- through the enlightening presence, teaching and action of the Holy Spirit. We will never have to face any trial alone—even death—if we walk with Jesus. He protects us from the Evil One.
We are reminded today that we are called to love Jesus; that is part of the Christian calling. Those who keep Christ's commandments will, he promises, receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, our Advocate will gently indicate the way to us that we should go, the paths that need to be repaired, the relationships in need of further inspection or care. For this Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, is a gift from God. And being from God, it can never do harm, never do wrong, never lead us into danger.
Do we earnestly and genuinely wish for the Spirit of truth to enter into our hearts and stay with us always? If we are at all uncertain about any of our answers to these questions, then let us pray - pray that we might truly be open to the scriptures, open to God, open to Jesus and what he asks of us in love. And pray that as Pentecost approaches we too might become filled with “The Divine presence of the Holy Spirit” and completely open to the love and freedom in Christ that is promised to us as a result.
PRAYER – Teach us Lord to love you with a sincere heart, so that by faithfully keeping your commandments we may adequately disposed to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Amen!!!