Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
1 Pt 3:15-18
Jn 14:15-21

In next Sunday's Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is our "Advocate". Some scholars translate the word to "Counselor". In the original Greek language, it means "called alongside". It's closely related to the verb "parakaleo" ("to call" or "summon") from which we get "Paraclete" as a name for the Holy Spirit. In ancient Greek society, it referred to a legal assistant, a courtroom advocate. Jesus is telling us that the Holy Spirit is our legal assistant who speaks up for us when we're accused, judged, or wrongly condemned.

Notice that Jesus refers to our Advocate as the "Spirit of truth". God always knows the truth about us, despite what people think of us and the wrong things they say about us. Remember: It's only his opinion of us that really matters. And his opinion of us is better than we think it is!

We judge ourselves more harshly than we should, and this is why we worry so much about how badly others might judge us. If we honestly examine our consciences, confessing our sins during the Penance Rite at Mass or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and if we genuinely want to improve, then Jesus says to us what he said to other sinners: "I do not condemn you; go and sin no more."

Don't you sometimes wish that Jesus would come physically to your rescue when you're undergoing trials? He said that he will not leave us orphans — he will always be with us in the Spirit when we need to be defended.

To love him is to desire to keep his commandments, and when we fail, the Spirit of Truth says to the Father: "Look, this precious child really does want to be holy." To us, the Spirit says, "Let me teach you how to grow in holiness and avoid this sin." And to others, the Spirit says: "If you love me, love this precious friend of mine."

Questions for Personal Reflection:

How have you been unjustly accused and unfairly judged? Imagine what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Father about that. And to those who condemned you. What is he saying to you about you?

Questions for Group Faith Sharing:

Describe a time when God defended you. How did the Advocate manifest his help? Who learned more from it: you or your accusers?

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Have you ever been visited by representatives of a particular religion or Church, going door to door to evangelize? While most of probably have, I suspect the reverse is not true. Rarely do Catholics engage in such face-to-face faith-sharing. I know I’m very shy about approaching a total stranger with a request to consider learning about Jesus.

Today’s Scripture selections continue our Easter instructions for the newly baptized. The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, reflects how Christian witness might be received—persecution was a real threat for the Church in Jerusalem. The First Letter of Peter seems to reflect a similar harsh reality. Peter urges Christians to approach others, ready to explain who we are, but to do so with “gentleness and reverence.”

That reminds me of the advice St. Francis of Assisi gave his brothers who were thinking of being missionaries. He told them to “avoid quarrels or disputes and to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake.” Francis was quoting from the First Letter of Peter. The letter goes on to encourage those fearful of persecution to remember that Christ also suffered persecution. In the Gospel, Jesus himself assures us that we will not be alone; the Holy Spirit will be present with us, to support and guide us.

Scripture:

•Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:17)

•Shout joyfully to God, all the earth, sing praise to the glory of his name; proclaim his glorious praise. Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!…” (Psalm 66:2,3)

•Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18b)

•…and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. (John 14:16,7)

Reflection:

•Jesus comes to those who love him. How do you love Jesus?

•How is the “Advocate,” the “Spirit of Truth,” alive in you?

•How is it that the world is not capable of receiving the Spirit? Are you in the world or in the spirit?

To come to possess all desire to possess nothing. To arrive at being all desire to be nothing.

The soul that journeys to God but does not shake off its cares and quiet its appetites is like one who drags a cart uphill.

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