Acts 8:5-8, 14-17, I Pt 3:15-18, Jn 14:15-21.
Anecdote: The Winners: Upon until 1987, only eleven horses had won the coveted Triple Crown in Thoroughbred racing. What is it that makes some horses winning thoroughbreds? Why is it that some horses have more speed, strength and stamina than other horses? Essentially, of course, these traits have to come from within the horses themselves: from their own inner capacity and from their inherited gene structure. Still, it seems that they also need help from outside. To become champions, they need the help of expert trainers and skillful jockeys to activate and develop their inner powers. It is the same with us. Born human, we have within us capacities to love, learn, choose, work and so on. But we need the help of parents, teachers and friends to activate and develop these capacities so that we can reach our full human potential. That is why we need the Holy Spirit and why Jesus promised to send Him to us: “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Paraclete – to be with you always; to remain with you and be within you.” (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds)
Introduction: From Easter to Pentecost our readings focus on the early apostolic preaching of the Good News of salvation and on 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. The first and second readings were chosen to help us prepare for the soon-to-be-celebrated feast of Pentecost. They show us how the Spirit worked in the everyday activities of Jesus’ first followers.
Scripture lessons: The first reading describes how the Holy Spirit helped the Deacon Philip to preach powerfully and convert the Samaritans in large numbers. It also explains how the baptized Samaritans received a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands by the apostles Peter and John. Acts 8:5-8 describe the success of Philip, the Deacon, among the despised Samaritans. Owing to the vigorous persecution which began in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the disciples had been dispersed. Philip turned the dispersal into an opportunity to preach the Gospel message by taking it to Samaria. Although the Samaritans were despised by then, Philip followed the assignment Jesus gave the apostles in chapter 1 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 experienced 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. By calling down the Spirit upon the newly converted Samaritans, Peter and John brought them into fellowship with the whole Christian community, thus healing a 500-year Samaritan schism. 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. Through the imposition of hands by the successors of the apostles (our bishops), we also receive the Holy Spirit. We are empowered to profess our Faith boldly, to bear witness to the Truth of the Lord and to stand for what is right and good. We receive the Spirit’s consolation in our difficulties.
The second reading (I Pt 3:15-18) explains how the Holy Spirit makes possible God-fearing lives in the midst of opposition and persecution. Peter warns that God-fearing Christians shouldn't be surprised by angry outbursts of resentment and militant confrontation. He clearly encourages the persecuted Christians to keep to the moral high ground no matter how much they're mistreated. If we are willing to suffer for Christ 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 death. But those who refuse to die and rise with Jesus constantly keep the Spirit away. Peter also advises 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. "Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts." "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence. “
Today’s Gospel, taken from Jesus’ “Last Supper Discourse,” describes the gift he will send, the Holy Spirit, who will live in us as the Paraclete, the Divine Advocate, in those who obey Jesus’ commandments, especially the commandment of love. Thus, Jesus will continue to live in his believers with the Father and the Holy Spirit and they will not be left as orphans. The risen Jesus’ continued presence in us and in the Church through the Holy Spirit gives meaning and purpose to all we are and all we do in his Name. As the Divine Advocate, the Holy Spirit will instruct us in Jesus’ doctrines and illumine our minds to receive deeper knowledge of our Faith. In addition, the Divine Advocate will empower us to defend our Faith powerfully and guide us properly in the practice of true Christian love. Thus, we will be able to recognize Jesus in the in the poor, in the sick, in the homeless, in the marginalized, in the outcast, in the drug addicts and even in the criminals ("I was in prison..."), thus becoming agents of healing and reconciliation in a broken and divided world.
Exegetical notes: The context: Jesus' promise to his disciples of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-21), 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. The origin of this promise can be traced to the Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In the days of the prophets, God had promised to make a new Covenant [Jer 31:31] with His people. He had promised to put His law within His people, writing it on their hearts, that He might be their God and they might be His people [Jer 31:33]. He had also promised to put a new spirit within His people, to remove their heart of stone and to give them a heart of flesh [Ez 11:19, 18:31, 36:26]. And finally, God had promised to put His Spirit within His people to make them follow His statutes and be careful to observe His ordinances [Ez 36:27]. Paul tells us that this promise has been fulfilled: "Do you not know that you are God's Temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" [1 Cor 3:16].
The Jewish concept of Spirit: In Hebrew, the word for spirit is ruach ( [ruwach] ) – in Greek, pneuma ( [pneuma] ); in Latin, spiritus – all of which suggest breathing. The idea is that when a person is breathing, he is alive. It is from this notion that the idea of an animating, life-giving, intelligent and active force comes. The word (in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin), thus meant “breath”, “life” and “spirit.” The Jewish tradition taught that when the Messiah came, God’s very own Life (Breath, Spirit) would be poured out upon all the faithful believers.
The promise of the Paraclete – the Comforter, Helper or Counselor: To Jesus, real love is something difficult, and it must be expressed not as sentiment or emotion but as real obedience to God. So 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. For the Greeks, the word parakletos meant a lawyer, a legal assistant, a courtroom advocate. Jesus is telling us that the Holy Spirit is our Advocate Who speaks up for us when we're accused, judged, or wrongly condemned, and our Witness Who testifies in our behalf. Parakletos can also refer to a person who comforts, counsels or strengths us in time of need. The Holy Spirit gives us Life, stands by us, defends us, strengthens us, and consoles us. Jesus was the first Paraclete sent by the Father. “But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one” (I Jn 2:1). Since Jesus’ presence as a Paraclete was limited in time and place, he assured his disciples of "another Paraclete" in the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit assists us in our inadequacies and enables us to cope with life in the true Christian spirit. The Paraclete is our Defense Attorney defending us before God, the Judge. Although the penalty for our sins has been paid in full by Jesus, we still need the help of the Holy Spirit in our daily struggles. In addition to being Companion, Defense Attorney, Witness and Prosecutor, the Paraclete will also be present to teach the disciples and to remind them of what Jesus had taught them (14:25-26). (For the additional roles of the Holy Spirit confer Jn 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7-14).
Assurance of the Risen Lord’s presence with 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 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" (Jn 14:20). The indwelling Spirit of God nourishes us each time we receive the Sacraments, each time we pray and each time we read the Bible.
Life message: We need to be open to the Holy Spirit, our Paraclete. 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 childhood conflicts, 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 growing into maturity and wholeness. God, the Holy Spirit, helps us to see the truth about ourselves, to discern the blocks that inhibit our growth and to allow Him to transform us. 2 Like the good counselor He is, the Spirit enables us to become stronger. 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. (Prepared by Fr. Anthony Kadavil).