17th May 2020
Year A – Psalter week 1
One thing that I have been enjoying about Eastertide is reading through the Acts of the Apostles. This book of the bible was written by Luke the Evangelist, following on from his gospel, and is all about how the ministry of Jesus continues in and through the church. In today’s gospel reading from John, Jesus promises his disciples that when he returns to his heavenly Father he will not leave them orphans, but will send the Holy Spirit, who will dwell within them.
At the beginning of Acts, prior to his ascension into heaven, Jesus says to the apostles: “It is what you have heard me speak about: John baptised with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:4-5, 8). This promise is fulfilled at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the apostles and empowers them to start witnessing to the risen Jesus, not only by words, but also by works of power such as healings and the casting out of evil spirits. In effect, Jesus continues his ministry on earth by empowering the apostles to do the same amazing works as he himself did. As he promised in John’s gospel: “I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
Today’s first reading is a fulfilment of the promises of Jesus on several levels. After having preached the gospel in Jerusalem and Judaea, the mission is now extending to Samaria. Philip, who is a deacon of the church, proclaims the Christ to the Samaritans in great power, who “united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves. There were, for example, unclean spirits that came shrieking out of many who were possessed, and several paralytics and cripples were cured.” It is no surprise that as a result, “there was great rejoicing in that town”, as people were set free from the physical and spiritual burdens that they were carrying.
One particularly interesting detail about this account, is that while many Samaritans were subsequently “baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus,” the Holy Spirit “had not yet come down on any of them.” This only happened after the apostles, Peter and John, came down and “layed hands on them.” Of course, such a distinction between the gift of faith and the fuller gift of the Holy Spirit is reflected in the modern Catholic Church by the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. While the Holy Spirit is indeed received at baptism too in order to wash away our sins and create us anew in Christ, the Church also teaches that there is also an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation when bishops, who are successors of the apostles, come down and lay hands on the Confirmation candidates and anoint them with the oil of Chrism. Such an anointing empowers us to proclaim the risen Christ more effectively to others.
A careful reading of the Acts of the Apostles also teaches us that the Holy Spirit can in fact be poured out upon people several times and for different needs. For example, while the apostles were initially filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), there is another outpouring of the Holy Spirit when they ask the Lord to strengthen them to continue to bear witness while suffering persecution (see Acts 4:23-31). This, I believe, teaches us that we must continually ask for the anointing of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives, and for the different circumstances that we find ourselves in. What gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit do we need in this present crisis in order to bear more effective witness to the love of the risen Christ to others? Certainly I would say I need to ask for deeper faith, hope and love, for more patience and generosity, and for gifts of intercession and compassion. For some, it has been for the gift of wisdom and evangelisation as they seek to use resources such as the internet more effectively to proclaim the gospel message. There are many more, I am sure, and you might like to think about what particular gifts and blessings you, your family, or your neighbours need from God at this particular time.
During the course of my Christian life I have become increasingly aware of the need for the continuous empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, by what other means could we possibly bear witness to the risen Jesus? This is why I have been involved in the Charismatic Renewal since my days at Seminary. This is a movement of the Holy Spirit within the Catholic Church and indeed other Christian denominations, that is bringing about a particular outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon people’s lives as they encounter the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in a new way, and are clothed with the gifts needed to bear witness to the risen Christ in today’s post-Christian society.
At the heart of this movement is the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, which involves a personal encounter with the risen Jesus and a new thirst and hunger for the things of God. Also experienced is an anointing with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that were so prevalent in the early Church, gifts such as those mentioned by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1 Cor. 12:4-11).
New Catholic Communities such as Sion, who have done many missions in parishes in our diocese, and Cor et Lumen Christi (Latin for Heart and Light of Christ) of which I myself am a member, have sought to live out these particular gifts of the Holy Spirit within the Church and to encourage others to be open to receiving and using them as well. They have seen many healings and deliverances over the years, and the risen Jesus ministering through them in particularly obvious and powerful ways. Interestingly, while they have community members of all ages, they particularly draw and younger generations, who in such a confusing world nowadays, which is not so dissimilar to that of the early church, need to experience for themselves the presence and power of the living God. I am sure that the Lord is pouring out these gifts upon the church today because it is precisely these gifts that we need in order to bear more effective witness to Him.
Whatever gifts the Lord pours out upon us, however, His ultimate aim is to draw us and our neighbour more deeply into the mystery of His love. As we come to experience His presence, our lives, with God’s grace and our cooperation, gradually transform so that we become ever more faithful disciples, living lives of love as we keep his commandments. As Jesus says in today’s gospel, “On that day you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him.”
This coming Thursday we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Imitating the Twelve and Our Lady, we are encouraged to pray a nine day novena to the Holy Spirit, from this Friday through to the following Saturday, ready for the feast of Pentecost on Sunday 31st May. Let’s ask God together for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and upon our church community, so that we are empowered to witness more effectively to the risen Jesus in these extraordinary times. One prayer could be:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful,
and enkindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created,
and You shall renew the face of the earth.
God bless, Fr Andy
Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
They laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit
Cry out with joy to God, all the earth.
1 Peter 3:15-18
In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life
I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate
Sunday Message and Look
Download this weeks Sunday Message and Look (for our younger parishioners) by clicking on the images, for all the readings for this week, as well as the prayers during mass and the usual weekly thoughts and reflections.
Jesus said: ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word,
and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him.’ Jn 14:23