01May 01 May. Sixth Sunday of Easter

1st Reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

At this Council, the leaders made decisions with the consent of the congregation

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this?

Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.

Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

2nd Reading: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

In his exile on Patmos, John paints a dazzling picture of the new Jerusalem

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width; and he measured the city with his rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Gospel: John 14:23-29

Jesus speaks of his imminent departure, and promises the Holy Spirit

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”


Audio commentary for the sixth Sunday of Easter


A special kind of Goodbye

French vocabulary is sometimes more precise than English. “Goodbye” is a case in point. The French use Au revoir for those everyday temporary separations, while Adieu is reserved strictly for final departures; it means roughly “until we meet in heaven.” Life is a succession of Au revoirs and Adieus . The number of the latter grows with the passing years. Our hearts and memories are peopled with faces that once were dear to us. Some, like our parents, died. Others moved away out of our lives never to reappear again. If their names crop up in conversation we say, “I wonder what became of so-and-so.” They may say the same about us too. Life is a series of little deaths until our own death which for us will be the last great Adieu .

We are, as never before, a pilgrim people, on the move. We need faithful friends who travel with us. In today’s gospel, Jesus alerts his disciples to his imminent departure, his ascension into heaven. He doesn’t say Adieu but Au revoir . “I am going away, but I shall return.” We never really say goodbye to God, for God always goes with us.

Notice how immigrants who leave their families, friends, language and cultures and settle, often penniless and in a hostile environment, on the other side of the globe, begin by building houses of worship. Such was the case with the Irish in America or Australia. Such is the case today with immigrant Muslims building mosques all over Europe. God is what they cling on to.

God keeps his promise to be with us always. He will always keep his side of the bargain. It is up to us to keep ours. And when we come to the end of our pilgrimage here and have to make our last goodbye, it will be literally Adieu, “going to God.”

Peace in the Church

John’s Gospel has a series of discourses where Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples. The commentaries call it «The Farewell Discourse». It is permeated by a very special atmosphere: the disciples are afraid of being left without their Teacher. Jesus, for his part, insists that they will never feel his absence, in spite of his leaving. Up to five times he repeats that they can count on «the Holy Spirit». This Spirit will defend them, since the Spirit will keep them faithful to Jesus’ message and to his project. That’s why this Spirit is called «the Spirit of the truth». Along the way, Jesus better explains to them what will be the Spirit’s job: «The Defender, the Holy Spirit… will be the one who teaches you everything and reminds you of all I have said to you». This Spirit will be the living memory of Jesus.

The horizon offered to his disciples is expansive. From Jesus will be born a great spiritual movement of disciples who will follow him, defended by the Holy Spirit. They will be kept in his truth, since that Spirit will teach them everything that Jesus has been communicating with them as they walked along the roads of Galilee. That Spirit will defend them in the future from confusion and cowardice. They must understand well what the Spirit of the truth and the Defender will mean for them: «Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you». He doesn’t just wish them peace. He gives it to them. If they live, guided by his Spirit, remembering and keeping his words, they will know peace.

It’s not just any peace. It’s his peace. That’s why he tells them: «I don’t give you a peace that the world gives». Jesus’ peace doesn’t build strategies inspired by lies or injustice, but one that acts with the Spirit of the truth. They need to be rooted in that Spirit: «Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid».

In these difficult times of discredit and confusion that we suffer in the Church, it would be a serious mistake to try to defend our credibility and moral authority by acting without the Spirit of the truth promised by Jesus. Fear will keep penetrating Christianity if we seek to establish our security and our peace by distancing ourselves from the path he blazed.

When this kind of peace is lost in the Church, it’s not possible to recover it in just any old way or by serving any old strategy. It’s not possible to bring Jesus’ peace with a heart full of resentment and blindness. It’s necessary to be humbly converted to Jesus’ truth, activating all our energies in order to leave behind wrong paths, and letting ourselves be guided by the Spirit that enlivens Jesus’ whole life. [José Antonio Pagola]

The Listening side of Love

Obedientia, the Latin for obeying, literally means to listen hard, to hold one’s ear to something. The first rule of the road that we all learned was “Stop! Look! Listen!” Before you cross the railway tracks, stop and listen. There may be a train coming.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.” What a beautiful promise, what a special gift. Peace is not the absence of war. It is the presence of something real and tangible. It is something I can experience, and it results from having my relationships the way they ought to be. I will deal in greater detail with this later.

We are all familiar with invitation cards that have RSVP on them. The person is looking for a response from us. Every word that Jesus speaks is calling for a response. A rule of thumb is to learn to listen, and then listen to learn.

My response must be practical; it must entail doing something. Believing something up in my head is nothing more than mental assent. Knowing that Jesus is God is not faith. Satan knows that. Faith is not up in the head; it is in the heart, and it eventually makes its way down into my feet. It is only then that I will be prepared to step out, and act on the direction given me by Jesus. The message of the gospel is simple, definite, and direct. There is not one “maybe” or one “might” in all the promises of Jesus.

Looking for the Holy Spirit’s gifts

By next weekend, many children will have come to church to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation. The bishop (or his delegate) will pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit into their lives and anoint them with the oil of chrism. All of us gathered here for this Eucharist are people who have been baptized and confirmed. While we associate a special coming of the Holy Spirit with both of those moments in our lives, the Spirit’s action in our lives is not confined to those two sacramental moments. The Holy Spirit engages with us to influence us throughout our lives. We need this guiding Spirit all through life, so we are invited to pray the prayer, ‘Come Holy Spirit’, on a regular basis throughout life’s journey.

In our gospel, Jesus is taking his leave of his troubled disciples at the last supper. He tries to reassure them that, although he will soon be taken away from them, he will not be leaving them, since he will remain with them through the the presence of his Holy Spirit. He assures his disciples that, through that coming of the Spirit, both he and his Father will make their home with them. That wonderful promise is also made to us who are his disciples today. We may not always be ideal disciples, but, at least, we desire to love the Lord and to demonstrate our love by keeping his word, by living as he showed us. The Lord responds to that desire by giving us the same Holy Spirit he promised to his original circle of friends.

What benefits do we look for, from the Holy Spirit? In the gospel the Spirit is called an Advocate, a kind of counsel for the defence. We look to the Holy Spirit to defend us, to protect us, in particular against all that would undermine our faith, all that would damage our relationship with the Lord. We are aware that the culture in which we live is not always supportive of that relationship. There are many who take delight in trying to undermine the Christian faith. We look to the Holy Spirit to confirm us in our relationship with the Lord when that relationship comes under attack. Jesus was aware that his disciples would experience the same hostility that he experienced. That is one of the reasons why he promised to send them an Advocate to plead their cause, who would stand alongside them to strengthen them when their faith was put to the test. We need his guidance as much in the 21st century as the disciples did in the 1st century. That is why we keep on praying ‘Come Holy Spirit’, why the church always needs to ask for a new Pentecost.

What else do we hope from the Holy Spirit? Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit will teach them everything and remind them of all that he has said to them. Those words suggest that his disciples must always remain learners. When it comes to our relationship with the Lord we are always learners. We need to keep relearning what it means to be a follower of Jesus in today’s world. We need the Holy Spirit to teach us what it means to live the gospel in the very concrete circumstances of our own lives. What does it mean to be faithful in this particular situation or in that particular human relationship? The Spirit reminds us of all that Jesus said to us, not just in some general way, but as it relates to the unique circumstances of our own lives. The Holy Spirit guides our lives by influencing our concrete choices and enlightening our day to day decisions. We need that guiding light every day. In today’s second reading, we heard that the heavenly city needs neither the sun or the moon for light, since it is lit by the radiant glory of God. Something of that heavenly light comes to us in and through the Holy Spirit.

What else might we ask the Spirit for? The first reading suggests the Holy Spirit’s special role in resolving conflict. It describes a significant conflict in the life of the early church: Should converts to Christ from paganism be asked to keep the Jewish law? There were two opposing views on this, both of them passionately held. In this moment of conflict, the church sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who helped the church to a good decision. The apostles wrote, ‘it has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves.’ In our own lives we are no strangers to conflict, whether in our church, our families or the wider world. We need the help of the Holy Spirit if we are to resolve our conflicts well. We must seek the peace that Jesus promised, a peace the world cannot give. We need to pray, ‘Come Holy Spirit’, and to be open to the influence of the Spirit if our conflicts are to be resolved in ways of peace and reconciliation. We will soon be celebrating the feast of Pentecost. The readings this morning prompt us to look forward to that feast, and prepare for it by praying for a new outpouring of the Spirit in our lives. [Martin Hogan]