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The Sixth Sunday of Easter  Celebration of the Christian Brothers
May 26, 2014

Listen to this homily! (mp3 file)

     As we move closer to the great feast of Pentecost, now only two Sundays away, there is more and more talk in the readings about the Holy Spirit.  And we should welcome that because sometimes the Holy Spirit gets short shrift!

     Today, in the reading from Acts, we got the story of Philip going to Samaria, that hotbed of heretics (or so the Jews considered them) - Samaria, that difficult place where Jesus’ apostles hadn’t been welcome.  But it’s different now.  When Philip preaches there and works wonders, driving out unclean spirits and healing paralyzed and crippled people, the Samaritans listen to him and believe.  And when word of this reaches ‘headquarters’ in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem community responds by sending two of the apostles to Samaria, Peter and John, so that they can do what only the apostles can do: lay hands on the new believers for an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

     This laying on of hands for the giving of the gifts of the Spirit -- something the Church continues to do to this day -- was highly important in the early Church.  Luke, the author of Acts, invariably connects the outpouring of the Spirit’s gifts to this physical laying on of hands as well as to the presence and the prayer of the apostles.  And with good reason.  The apostles were the ones who had witnessed the risen Christ, ate and drank with him, and so they were in a unique position to connect new believers to him and to his life-giving Spirit.

     But I find it worth observing that in today’s reading from John’s gospel we got quite a different view about how people receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  In his Last Supper discourse which is the part of John’s gospel that we are reading from, Jesus says nothing at all about the role of apostles or about the laying on of hands. He speaks only of love and says that it is love that brings about the presence of the Holy Spirit.  “If you love me, he says, “you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.”  In John’s gospel love is not only the key to receiving the Holy Spirit, love is the proof, the evidence, that the Spirit indeed lives within us.

     So what are we to make of this?  Are Luke and John at odds?  No. They had different purposes in writing and they were writing at different times for different communities. Luke had his own good reasons for stressing the need for order and organization in the community, and John had his own good reasons for stressing love. But order and love are not in opposition. They just need to be in balance because we need both!

     Why make a point of this?  Well, I think it’s timely. Timely because of this moment in which we find ourselves as a Church -- this Pope Francis moment.  For a long time, we have tended to stress Luke’s side of the story: the organizational side of the Church, the hierarchical, carefully ordered side, if you will. Very often, in speaking of the ways the Spirit works in the Church, we have tended to start with the hierarchical structure of the Church, viewing the Church as a pyramid, with the bishops and priests at the top and everyone else at the bottom. Call it “trickle-down theology.” It has elements of truth but it has its limits!

     Pope Francis starts at a different place.  He starts with the whole Church - lay people, priests, bishops – all of us together.  He wants to awaken us to our call to be missionaries, our common call to live and preach what he calls the Gospel of Joy. He wants to remind us that Jesus was speaking to the whole Church when he said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth. You know [this Spirit] because he remains with you and is in you.”

     So, my friends, the point I’m making is not at all academic.  It’s quite practical and has practical implications.  It explains, for instance, why Pope Francis, in preparing for the upcoming Synod on the Family, has shown himself eager to hear from the people in the pews. What better place to start?  Who knows family life, with all its joys and sorrows, its chaos and confusion, its challenges and disappointments, better than people like you who, day after day, are doing your best to bring Christ and his gospel, his teachings, his values, into the life of your family?  Shouldn’t your experience count?  Of course, it’s not the only thing, but what better place to start than with you, the Spirit-filled People of God?

     This emphasis on the Spirit who is alive in the entire Church, and on the call that each of us – not just the hierarchy - has received to preach the Gospel, prompts me to say a few words about the Christian Brothers of O’Dea High School whom we are honoring today.  For nearly a century here in Seattle, the gifts of the Holy Spirit have been alive and evident in these men, these humble, unassuming, down-to-earth men who would never regard themselves as part of the hierarchy. Energetically and unselfishly, they have given themselves to the ministry of educating thousands of young men at O’Dea. Thanks to them and their lay collaborators, O’Dea is a highly respected ‘player’ on the local scene and O’Dea’s alumni are a veritable Who’s Who of faithful Catholics and committed citizens in our community and well beyond it. I’m proud to say that my own Dad was an O’Dea alumnus, a member of the class of 1926, the first graduating class, no less!

     Ever since our parish founded O’Dea back in 1923, the Christian Brothers of Ireland have been the heart and soul of the school. Their leadership and dedication have shaped O’Dea and made it the great school it is.  And even though the Brothers will be leaving O’Dea this summer – a big loss for O’Dea, and for our parish, and a painful moment for the Brothers – even though they will leaving, the Christian Brothers leave behind a legacy that will remain as long as O’Dea exists. And the gentle, courageous spirit of their founder, Blessed Edmund Rice, who cared so deeply for the poor and disadvantaged, will continue to be the spirit of O’Dea.

     Today, as we honor the Brothers, please join me in giving thanks for all the ways they have inspired generations of young men - opening minds to truth and hearts to love - all the ways they have labored to awaken their students to what is truly important in life, all the ways they have been channels for them of the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and right judgment.  Their gift has been great.  May their reward be even greater than their gift. And may Brothers Greenan, Dornbos, and McCormack, the last three in a very long line of Brothers to serve here, know God’s best blessings -- and our prayer and gratitude -- as they take their leave from us, following God’s call as they always have!

     Brothers, “Live Jesus in your hearts forever!”

Father Michael G. Ryan




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Seattle, Washington  98104
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