We are in the sixth Sunday of Easter. If you remember the readings from Easter to Pentecost they focus on the early apostolic preaching of the Good News of salvation and the promises of Jesus to His disciples, especially His promise of the Holy Spirit. Today’s readings explain Who the Holy Spirit is, what His roles are and how we can experience Him in our daily lives. One way of experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit is by keeping His commandments.
The first reading describes the success of Philip’s mission in Samaria. Owing to the vigorous persecution which began in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the disciples had scattered. Philip turned this dispersal into an opportunity to preach the good news in Samaria, a pagan town. Although the Samaritans were despised by the Jews, Philip followed the assignment Jesus gave the apostles in chapter 1 of the Book of Acts: “You are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes even to the ends of the earth.” Peter and John also went to Samaria so that community could meet someone who had encountered the risen Jesus. The early Church believed that that no Christian community could exist without a relationship with someone who had experienced the risen Jesus firsthand. By calling down the Spirit upon the newly converted Samaritans, Peter and John brought them into fellowship with the whole Christian community. Thus, we see that the Holy Spirit operates only where there is communion with the apostles who, as “witnesses of Jesus’ Resurrection,” certify the Risen One’s continued activity on earth.
The second reading explains how the Holy Spirit made it possible to keep the persecuted Christians together as they continued to grow in faith. Peter clearly encouraged them to keep to the morale high no matter how much they were persecuted. Peter also advised the newly-baptized in his community that Jesus must be so much a part of their lives that His dying and rising come through even in the way they respond to questions about their Faith. No matter what one’s hardships and problems in life may be, Peter, with his experience, reminds the people to keep Christ at the center of their lives: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” If we are willing to suffer for and with Christ, God will see us through and will vindicate us. Meanwhile, we have the consolation of the Holy Spirit Who lives in our hearts and Who raised Christ from the dead. But those who refuse to die and rise with Jesus constantly keep the Spirit away.
Jesus’ promise to His disciples of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, is part of the long “Farewell Discourse” near the end of John’s Gospel. Jesus made this farewell to His disciples at their Last Supper, just prior to His arrest, crucifixion, death and Resurrection. This long discourse is a unique summary of the mystery of the Incarnation and the role of the Holy Spirit. God’s promise of the Holy Spirit should not have been a mystery to the followers of Jesus who knew the Holy Scriptures.
To Jesus, real love is something difficult, and it must be expressed not as sentiment or emotion but as real obedience to God. We weak human beings need the daily assistance of a Divine Helper in the Person of the Holy Spirit to practice real love. The Greek word used in John’s Gospel for this Helper is “Parakletos,” which means one who advocates. Jesus is telling us that the Holy Spirit is our Advocate Who speaks up for us when we are accused, judged, or wrongly condemned. The Holy Spirit is also our Witness Who testifies in our behalf. Parakletos can also refer to a person who comforts, counsels or strengthens us in time of need. The Holy Spirit gives us Life, stands by us, defends us, strengthens us, and consoles us.
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 and follow Jesus. He protects us from the Evil One. His Resurrection, in fact, changed the despair of the apostles to hope when they realized beyond doubt that He is the Son of God. “You will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” The indwelling Spirit of God nourishes us each time we receive the Sacraments, each time we pray and each time we read the Bible.
The purpose of the indwelling Holy Spirit is to help us grow towards maturity and wholeness. We all have faults that prevent our growth: blocks of sin and imperfection, blocks due to deeply ingrained personality traits and habits, blocks caused by addictions, and blocks resulting from bad choices we have made. We all have these blocks within us and they keep us from becoming what God wants us to be. They prevent us from developing a personal relationship with God. God, the Holy Spirit, helps us to see the truth about ourselves, to discern the blocks that inhibit our growth and allow Him to transform us. The Holy Spirit comes to our aid and gives us the strength to make difficult and painful decisions. The Holy Spirit actually lives in us, and we hear the voice of the Spirit, counseling and guiding us in the way of truth. Let us open our minds and hearts to hear Him and to obey His promptings and prepare for His coming at Pentecost.