May 17, 2020 • Sixth Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 8:5–8, 14–17
Psalm: Psalm 66:1–3, 4–5, 6–7, 16, 20 (1)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:15–18
Gospel Acclamation: John 14:23
Gospel: John 14:15–21
The readings for this Sunday are about the somewhat mysterious interworkings of our relationships with each other and with God. Indeed, the Bible is primarily a relational book, which we cannot interpret and understand properly unless we look at it from that frame of reference. It is a relational history of God’s relationship with His creation, with mankind in general, with His chosen people, Israel, and with His Church, the new catholic community founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. It also encompasses our horizontal relationships with each other.
True, we can find principles for living and facts about our Creator and His creation, but they almost always have a relational application, either between us and God and/or with others. The stories are told for a reason.
Many of the believers in Jerusalem were scattered to the surrounding regions because of the persecution, led by Saul, of the church in Jerusalem. Saul was determined in his efforts to destroy the Church. And wherever these scattered Jewish Christians went, they just couldn’t stop talking about their glorious Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, His mighty deeds and their new understanding of the Scriptures and their powerful experiences because of Him. They were excited and full of joy.
Philip, one of the deacons who were selected in Acts 6 because they were filled with the Spirit and wisdom, was scattered to a city of Samaria,, and we have in Acts 8, primarily, an account of his mission there. God worked mightily through Philip’s preaching, with accompanying signs and miracles of healing and deliverance in that city, because of Philip’s relationship with Him. The power did not belong to Philip, nor was it something that God bestowed upon Philip to be used independently from Him. A careful reading of all of chapter 8 will make this clear.
Multitudes were healed, believed and were baptized in water by the power of the Holy Spirit working through Philip. Was the Holy Spirit operative in the lives of these new believers through their baptism? Yes, as evidenced by their conversions and joy. But something was different and missing in their experience when compared to the church in Jerusalem. They had not received the fullness of the Holy Spirit conveyed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, and that is why the apostles in Jerusalem sent the apostles Peter and John to them. The Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on them. Here is the note on Acts 8:16 from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament:
A distinction is made in Acts between Baptism, which confers the Spirit in an invisible way (Acts 2:38), and the laying on of hands, which calls down the Spirit to manifest his presence in a visible and charismatic way (Acts 19:6). • In the interpretive tradition of the Church, this deeper conferral of the Spirit through the imposition of hands is linked with Confirmation, a sacrament that follows Baptism and is integral to the process of Christian initiation. As in this episode, deacons (Philip) can baptize, but it belongs to the bishops (Peter and John) to bestow a fuller measure of the Spirit on the baptized by the laying on of hands (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1288, 1313).
I also found this note on that verse from New American Bible Revised Edition helpful:
Here and in Acts 10:44–48 and Acts 19:1–6, Luke distinguishes between baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus and the reception of the Spirit. In each case, the Spirit is conferred through members of the Twelve (Peter and John) or their representative (Paul). This may be Luke’s way of describing the role of the church in the bestowal of the Spirit. Elsewhere in Acts, baptism and the Spirit are more closely related (Acts 1:5; 11:16).
So these activities of baptizing and confirming [laying on of hands by the bishops (apostolic successors) and priests (as delegated by bishops)] have been going on even through today. And these two sacraments do in fact convey the Holy Spirit and grace and an indelible mark on the recipients.
But you might be thinking, “Hang on! Where is the power like this? I haven’t seen it.” The power comes partially through the Faith and the Relationship on the part of the recipients and the other participants (parents, family, parishioners and clergy), which are often lacking when these sacraments are applied. Consequently, these gifts are often buried, waiting to spring forth when desolation, suffering, hardship, along with the faithful witness of those who are awake, Spirit-filled and in relationship with God precipitate an awakening in the recipients of these two sacraments. The Holy Trinity is always involved calling, wooing, watering and otherwise aiding in our salvation.
I have personally witnessed the delayed power of these two sacraments in many converts and reverts as well as in my own journey. We just must have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Many of us who are part of our community today have experienced it but perhaps we have not reflected upon it.
This Psalm is praise to God resulting from the prayerful reflection of the Psalmist upon the works of God globally and in his own life, which then springs forth in joyous adoration and exultation.
Reflection is always necessary in maintaining our relationship with God and each other. That is how we sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts and discern our path through hard times and suffering with His help. Love always requires reflection. If we practice this discipline, then people will see joy and hope in our faces. They will want to know its source and ask for its reason. We will have a growing ability to respond in word and deed as Jesus did amid His hardships and sufferings, with gentleness and reverence. We will hear His voice. That is what Peter is saying.
I have one more observation, which is easily missed. Jesus suffered for our sins that He might lead us to God — that is to relationship. We tend to focus on being forgiven, surviving the judgments and entering everlasting life. But these come through relationship with Him. Jesus, the Apostles and the Prophets are truly clear on this point, but we tend to miss it because we are lousy at relationships and are blind and hard of hearing.
Finally, Jesus says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. In so doing, we will experience an ever-deepening relationship with Him and the Father, and also greater revelations through the Holy Spirit. But most of us, when we hear this teaching, immediately on our own start trying to work harder, to redouble our efforts to prove to ourselves and others that we love God. I have done this, and I suspect you have as well. But the obedience that Jesus is talking about flows from an actual love relationship with Him. That requires time with Him, prayer, reflection, and meditation. And then obedience, as He shows us how to respond in word and deed to the people and the world around us.
Lord Jesus, You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. Lord, please show us the way to Your heart, that we may abide in You, hear Your word, and respond in Your love. Amen.