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Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Ps 66:1-7, 16, 20; 1 Pet 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

May 22, 2014

Life in the Spirit

Some of the most poignant pictures flashed across the world in the wake of natural or military disasters are those of orphaned children. Their inherent vulnerability is compounded by their victimization; they seem to be wandering about aimlessly. With unguarded expressions they cry out with grief and fear. They are so helpless, and they look so hopeless. To be orphaned means to be alone.

It is not by accident that Jesus calls forth this image when announcing his departure from the midst of his disciples. They have been his close companions and so he knows both their strengths and their weaknesses. Their own vulnerability and dependence on him might well have compounded their need, causing them added anxiety. Without him, they could be overcome with grief and fear, rendering them helpless and hopeless. They could be cast back into their pre-resurrection state of confusion and disillusionment, to their state of mind when they thought that all hope had died on the cross with Jesus and they might have to face a similar fate themselves. However, Jesus promises them that this will not happen. They will not be left alone. He will send another Advocate, the Spirit of truth.

The biblical stories read during Eastertide describe how the disciples were progressively prepared for life without the physical presence of Jesus. A careful look at each Easter account shows that the disciples did not initially recognize the risen Lord. Despite his preparation of them during his ministry in their midst, they were really not prepared for his suffering and death, and so did not in any way comprehend even the possibility, much less the reality, of his resurrection. However, by means of his many resurrection appearances, they gradually came to realize his presence among them. The readings for this Sunday and the upcoming feast of the Ascension reveal another dimension of his mysterious presence. Though he will no longer appear to them, assuring them of his presence, he will still be with them through his Spirit.

The Trinitarian character of God is revealed in the gospel passage: Jesus asks the Father, and the Father sends the Spirit. Added to the marvel of this divine activity is the possibility of our own participation in the divine mystery: the Spirit remains with you; I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. There is certainly no reason for us to feel that we have been orphaned. Still, the realization of God's presence requires faith on our part. Jesus is no longer with us physically, nor are we granted resurrection appearances as were the early disciples. However, his presence is no less real, and the effects of that presence are no less powerful.

In the first reading we see the effects of the power of the Spirit in the ministry of the disciples. Philip proclaims the risen Lord to the people in Samaria. Since the time when the Judeans returned from exile and refused to allow the Samaritans to join in the rebuilding of the Temple, these two peoples were alienated from each other. Now Philip moves beyond that enmity, and the Samaritan people wholeheartedly respond to his preaching. When the church leaders in Jerusalem hear of the conversion of the Samaritans, they send Peter and John to pray that the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit. And it happens! The early church increases by leaps and bounds under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit. The church has not been left alone.

In the second reading, the early Christians are encouraged to live lives of gentleness and reverence, with clear consciences. They are told: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." Their very lives are to be the sermon that is preached to others. They are also warned that suffering may be their reward for living such lives. Despite their suffering, if they are faithful Jesus will lead them to God. They will have him as support. In other words, they will not be alone. The exhortation found in this letter is meant for us as well. We too are encouraged to live in such a way that we ourselves become the evidence that Jesus has indeed been brought to life in the Spirit, and now lives through us.

Life in the Spirit is a life rooted in hope. Most of us live lives that are quite ordinary. We do not experience profound religious manifestations. There is seldom concrete evidence of God acting in our lives - or is there? The author of the second reading would argue that there IS concrete evidence. It can be seen in the gentleness and reverence with which Christians live their lives. It can be seen in their unselfish service of others. It can be seen in their search for and defense of truth. Genuine Christian living is evidence of the presence of Jesus through his Spirit.

Dianne Bergant, CSA
Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies

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