Sixth Sunday of Easter
Theme: Spirit Of Joyful Hope
Philip’s spirit of joyful hope in today’s scene from the early church suggests one possible line for today’s homily. He was bursting with a message that he wants to share with the African traveller he met on the road. Many in our world have largely lost their sense of the sacred, in conventional church terms, but they may be open to a hopeful message, if it is well presented. If we ignore the reality of God, all our other relationships suffer as a result. We should reverence God’s guiding providence, and show courteous respect to all.
Acts 8:5-8,14-17. Philip’s missionary work in Samaria shows the joy of the original Gospel faith and how his mission was blessed by the Church authorities from Jerusalem.
1 Pt 3:15-18. Peter prepares his readers to face persecution and suffering with undaunted courage. As a motive for courage under stress, he reminds us of the vicarious suffering of Christ on behalf of us all.
Jn 14:15-21. The Spirit of truth will dwell in those who love God and keep his commandments. Love of God and its manifestation in our actions are stressed in today’s Gospel.
– that Philip’s spirit of Christian joy, and his desire to share the faith with others, may inspire us to do our part in our own local church, today.
– that the Holy Spirit will be a living, inspirational presence among us, helping us to use our talents and opportunities in the generous service others.
– that we may see whatever may befall us or trouble us, as testing our faithfulness to God, who brought New life from the Passion of his loving Son, Jesus.
– that our leaders in church and civil society may have a humble sense of responsibility, under God, towards the people they serve.
– that the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, whom the world finds so hard to receive, may abide in us and shape our lives.
A Sense Of The Sacred (Liam Swords)
As a young boy, I was encouraged to show respect for adults. Our teachers as well as our priests were always acknowledged with a military-style salute when we passed them in the street. Other adults we greeted with “Good morning, Sir” or “Good evening, Ma’am” depending on the time of day. In spite of my good intentions, I didn’t always get it right. One old lady who lived in my street took me aside one day to explain to me that I should call her “Miss” not “Ma’am.” “l am a spinster,” she rather haughtily informed this ten-year old who should have known better. These courtesies were invariably observed among adults themselves. Strangely enough, the only occasion where that gesture still survives, at least in rural Ireland, is as a mark of respect for the dead: men still uncover their heads when a funeral hearse passes. Now all those little formalities have disappeared like the world of my childhood, which valued them so highly.
I suspect their end was hastened by the cinema and its strong diet of American egalitarianism. The cowboys and crooks, the cops and hoodlums, who filled the big screen, were not noted for the nicety of their manners. These guys shot from the hip, with their mouths as well as with their guns. And we were eager students, parroting their every phrase and gesture. We shed our earlier manners like an elderly relative.
Incidentally, the old-world formalities seem to have survived better in places like France. “Monsieur”, “Madam” and “Mademoiselle” are still de rigueur among colleagues and neighbours there. I recently watched an old John Wayne Western which was dubbed in French. Wayne sauntered into the saloon in search of the bad guy. He found him sitting at the bar. Wayne approached, tapped him on the shoulder and drawled in impeccable French, “Excusez-moi, Monsieur.” When the crook turned round, Wayne slugged him. With dubbing like that, one wonders why the French continue to fight so hard to keep out American films.
Nowhere seems to have escaped this new wave of informality. What Hollywood did for secular society, ironically, the new liturgy introduced into the church. When I was an altar boy, my awkward gait and sleepy Latin responses might have caused offence to purists. At least, they occasionally irritated priests, though irritability seems to have been a feature of priests then. But, like all my contemporaries, I had a deep sense of the sacred.
For us, the Real Presence was real indeed. Whatever contribution the new liturgy has made, and its contribution has been enormous, this sense of the sacred has been an unintended casualty. It demystified the Mass and like the earlier Reformation, “stripped the altars.” Gone are the “Thee’s” and “Thou’s” of God language, like the altar rails that enclosed the sanctuary. God has joined our egalitarian ranks.
“Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts,” Peter tells us in today’s reading. If God is not sacred, there is nothing sacred anymore. Neither husband for wife, nor wife for husband, neither parents for children, nor children for parents. Maybe that accounts for the growing break-down in families. And in a timely warning to those in Ireland and elsewhere engaged in religious debate, he urges them to make their arguments “with courtesy and respect.” These two qualities are notably absent in most religious disputes. Reverence for God, respect for persons and courtesy are all facets of the same virtue. Those who are courteous may not always be believers, but the discourteous can never be true followers of Jesus Christ.
Decline in Moral Standards (John Walsh)
In his prayer at the Last Supper, Christ pleaded with his Father that his disciples and followers might be characterised by their union with him, and form a united family with Christ himself as their head, so that people looking at. their example would plainly see that God was at work in and through them. That his prayer was answered is clearly evident from the comment of pagan neighbours on the behaviour of members of the early Church, “See how the Christians love one another.”
Regrettably, the same cannot be said today about many Irish people who would claim to be Christian. For the last half century we have witnessed a gradual decline in moral and social standards in this country. Sadder still, many of our people see the only cure for this as more stringent law-enforcement campaign. Social standards, they claim, can only be upheld by making stricter laws and imposing more severe penalties on those who break them. But the lesson of history is that a multiplicity of legal restraints and harsher penalties should only be tried as a last resort; they can never be an ultimate cure.
Christ’s way to change society was never to counter wrongdoing with force, but rather to change people from within, to put a new spirit within them. The request of the Apostles, James and John, that they be permitted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan town, because the inhabitants refused them permission to enter it, was met with a rebuke from Jesus, as was Peter in Gethsemane when he wanted to use the sword against those about to lay violent hands on Jesus. A change in society requires some form of moral crusade, for a society is valuable only in terms of the calibre of its people, their sense of justice and honesty, their self-restraint, their appreciation of beauty and excellence of thought and discourse.
Freedom itself is valuable only if individuals exercising it are filled with a sense of virtue and purpose. In Ireland at present we have a dedicated group who place great store on preserving the ecological balance of nature. But in America some years ago, an essay in Time magazine declared that belief in God would seem to be an ecological necessity in order to preserve the balance of human beings in US society. However in seeking a solution for the trials of our times, we, as Christian believers, must never forget that we have God on our side.
The departure of Jesus from this world does not mean that he is now remote from those who put their trust in him; he has not left us orphans. In fact it is by our faith in him, our union with him – “you in me and I in you,” as he says in the gospel – that we are drawn into the hidden life of the Blessed Trinity, which we describe as heaven. The first Christians looked forward with longing to the Second Coming of Christ; but it is quite true to say that this coming is taking place every single day. And our prayer should be the same as that of the early Christians: “Maranatha – come Lord Jesus.” Amen.
Looking me in the eye (Jack McArdle)
Today’s gospel is a good example of Jesus looking me straight in the eye, as he holds both my hands, and in simple and straight language, makes some wonderful promises to me. I have many memories of boarding school. One of the less happy ones was when we went to the gym. I believe now that I was nervous by nature, and I dreaded the exercises that involved vaulting over the “horse,” as we called it. The teacher would stand by to catch you if you got it wrong. Which was all well, except for one problem. He had a habit of constantly giving instructions to all and sundry, and when I was in the process of vaulting, he was quite capable of turning to answer a question from someone, and was just not there when you got it wrong, and came crashing down on the other side. The fact was that I just did not trust him to be there for me, and this was a source of constant anxiety for me. He would get annoyed at my hesitancy to run forward, while I was watching his every move, in the hope that I had his attention. I had absolutely no sense of having a “safety net” at the other side, and I was paralysed with fear. I often recall those times when I reflect on the need people have to have someone to trust, to have someone on whom they can rely, of someone who will be there for them when needed. This particular dimension of my relationship with Jesus is very important to me.
In today’s gospel, Jesus promises to send the Spirit, and he also promises that he will never abandon us, or desert us in the storm. “Heaven and earth will pass away before my word passes away.” Elizabeth said to Mary, “All these things happened to you, because you believed that the promises of the Lord would be fulfilled.” Later on, as the apostles waited with Mary in the Upper Room, I can easily imagine she could have had a real problem getting them to stay there. It would not have been easy to get Peter to sit around for nine days, while there was nothing happening. The Spirit, of course, did come, because Jesus had promised that he would send the Spirit. It is possible that Mary was the only person in that room who was certain that the Spirit would come.
The original sin was one of disobedience. Therefore, the whole purpose of Jesus’ mission was to do the will of the Father in heaven. He considered obedience as a real way of loving. In today’s gospel he goes so far as to say that if we love him, we will obey him. His instructions are clear and uniquely simple. He speaks of forgiving others, of not condemning, of having compassion, and of trying to love others as he loves us. He gives us a simple and clear programme for living, and part of his promises is that this programme will work. All we have to do is to trust him, and to obey him.
Jesus promises to reveal himself to each of those who obey him. His whole purpose was to do the will of the Father and, by joining him in that attitude of obedience, we are assuming the whole ethos of his life. The road back to the garden is one of obedience. It is not an easy road; because of original sin, obedience doesn’t come naturally to us. It involves the cross, which is not heavy, but rather it is made up of the splinters of everyday living. Obedience is about following Jesus, about walking in his path. He is the Way and it is only by following him that we can make our way back to the garden.
First Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 3:15-18
Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
Gospel: John 14:15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”