25May 25th May. Sixth Sunday of Easter

First Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

(Philip’s mission in Samaria shows the joy of the original Gospel faith.)

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

(Peter prepares us for persecution, reminding us of the suffering of Christ.)

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

(The Spirit of truth is in those who love God. Love of God and its manifestation in our actions are stressed in today’s Gospel.)

“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.”

Maintaining our sense of the sacred

When I was a boy, we were encouraged to show respect for adults. Our teachers and priests were always acknowledged with a 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. These courtesies were invariably observed among adults themselves. A similar gesture survives, at least in rural Ireland, as a mark of respect for the dead: men still uncover their heads when a funeral hearse passes. Now most of these formalities have gone, like the world of my childhood which valued them so highly.

Their end was hastened by the cinema and television, with a tacit link being made between egalitarianism and informality. The cowboys and crooks, the cops and hoodlums on the big screen were not noted for their courtly manners. They shot from the hip, verbally as well as with their guns. And audiences were eager students,  shedding their manners like an elderly relative. Nowhere seems to have escaped this new informality. What Hollywood did for secular society, the vernacular liturgy introduced into the church. We seem to have lost some of our sense of the sacred. For us, the Real Presence was real indeed. Whatever contribution the new liturgy has made, and its contribution is very real, this sense of the sacred has been an unintended casualty. It demystified the Mass and like the sixteenth century Reformers, “stripped the altars.” Gone are the “Thou’s” of God language, like the altar rails that once enclosed the sanctuary, and God has joined our egalitarian ranks.

“Reverence the Lord in your hearts,” Peter tells us in today’s reading. If God is not revered as sacred, nothing is 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.