Homily for Sunday, May 21, 2017Published:
On this sixth Sunday of Easter, a major focus of the Church in the readings presented to us is the Holy Spirit, and this is fitting as we are in fact only two weeks away from Pentecost, when we will once again enter into the mystery of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people. So, I invite you to take a few moments with me today to ponder the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in today’s gospel, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth. Of this Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, it is also said, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We know that God is love. In the Holy Spirit, God gives love, that is his very self, as his gift to us. For Christians, it started at Pentecost, but has continued with new Christians ever since. We heard an example of this giving of the Holy Spirit described in our first reading today. At Philip’s proclamation of the gospel, the people of Samaria accepted the word of God. As part of their initiation into the Church, the Apostles Peter and John went down to them, laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
So, the Holy Spirit is love, poured into the heart of Christians by God, as if God were pouring into us his very self. But what does the Holy Spirit do? Here is what the Catechism has to say: “Because we are dead or at least wounded through sin, the first effect of the gift of love is the forgiveness of sins. The communion of the Holy Spirit, in the Church, restores to the baptized the divine likeness lost through sin.” We know that one who receives baptism has all of their sins forgiven. The Holy Spirit, rushing upon the one who is baptized, purifies them, making them fit to live the inner life of the Trinity itself. But we also know that we are beset by weakness, and frequently fall into sin again. The Holy Spirit is involved in forgiving sins there as well, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Part of the formula of absolution that the priest says makes it plain: God has sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit empowers the ministry of the Church, so that penitents are granted pardon and peace. But the forgiveness of sins is as it were, merely the preparation for the major work of the Holy Spirit in us. Once we are reconciled to God and to each other as a necessary precondition, it is the Holy Spirit who makes us spiritually alive and fruitful, who sanctifies us, and ultimately makes us into other Christs. It is in the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit on Mary that Christ is incarnated. Likewise does the Holy Spirit form Christ in us as well. The Holy Spirit “gives us the ‘pledge’ or ‘first fruits’ of our inheritance: the very life of the Holy Trinity.” The Holy Spirit would have us be transformed so as to be able to love as God loves.
One of the chief points concerning the Holy Spirit in today’s readings is how we can tell if the Holy Spirit is present. It is interesting to note that the early Church was able to identify if new Christians had or had not yet received the Holy Spirit. This is seen in our first reading; the Church knew that the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of the new Christians in Samaria. And this ability of the Church to identify the presence of the Holy Spirit is mentioned on other occasions as well in the Acts of the Apostles. In contrast, in today’s gospel, Jesus says that the world neither sees nor knows the Holy Spirit, and because of that, it cannot accept Him. It is the mark of the world not to see or know the Holy Spirit, and actually to be oblivious to the working of the Holy Spirit. All too frequently, the world does not accept what it does not see, and what it cannot control. But on the other hand, Jesus also tells us today that unlike the world we know the Holy Spirit, because he remains with us, and will be in us. So, do we recognize the Holy Spirit in us? I suggest to you that we can look for the following initial signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit, which come directly from the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Wherever there is forgiveness and reconciliation present, there is the Holy Spirit at work. Forgiveness and reconciliation is divine. From the beginning, the effect of sin has been to divide us, from each other and from God. God reveals his identity and his power in undoing and healing the effects of sin. But this is also a warning for us: if we decide to hold onto grievance, resentment, or unforgiveness in our hearts, we are likely grieving and opposing the Holy Spirit. So, on the day you are able to forgive anyone, freely and fully from your heart, rejoice and be glad, you know the Holy Spirit is with you and in you.
Second, if we see present the ‘first fruits’ of our inheritance, which mark our transformation into Christ, and especially if we see them increasing, then we can also know the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Catholic tradition, these fruits are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. There is an old song that says that they’ll know we are Christians by our love. In a very real way, we will know the presence of the Holy Spirit in us by our love of God, and of other people.
So, forgiveness and reconciliation, and the fruits of the Spirit. But really these are only to start. The Holy Spirit is no gossamer or ephemeral spirit. If we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit in us, if we are docile before the inspirations and movements of the Holy Spirit, then there is the potential for great and spectacular things to happen. As the Scriptures tell us, the wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. One who offers no resistance to the Holy Spirit is likened to the wind, snatched and instantaneously moved from place to place, given the correct words to say at just the right time. There is literally no limit to what God can do in us.
In this Eucharist, we pray that our lives testify to the increasing presence of the Holy Spirit. And may we be increasingly open to the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Amen.
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