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Sixth Sunday of Easter
during the coronavirus pandemic
May 17, 2020

Click here to watch the video of Father Ryan's homily
(homily begins at 28:00)

    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 apostles do: lay hands on the new believers for an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

     This laying on of hands for the imparting of the gifts of the Spirit was very important in the early Church. It still is. Luke, the author of Acts, tends to connect the outpouring of the Spirit’s gifts to a physical laying on of hands by the apostles. The apostles, after all, who had witnessed Christ risen, who had eaten and drank with him, were in a unique position to connect new believers to him and his life-giving Spirit.

     But it’s 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 that reading, Jesus says nothing at all about the role of apostles or about the laying on of hands. He speaks only of love, saying 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 the key to receiving the Holy Spirit – love, and the keeping of Jesus’ commandments, the greatest of which is love.

     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 kept in balance because we need both!

     Why make a point of this?  Well, I think it’s timely. Timely because this same tension is still very much present in our Church today. For a long time, Luke’s stress on the highly ordered, hierarchical Church held sway with the result that, when speaking of the ways the Spirit works in the Church, the tendency was always to start with the hierarchical structure of the Church and to see 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 definitely has its limits!

     But there’s another way to look at all this: to look at the whole Church - lay people, priests, bishops – all of us together.  This is the Church of Vatican II and it’s the Church of Pope Francis who wants to awaken all of us to our call to be missionaries, the call we have received to live and preach what he likes to call the Gospel of Joy. Pope Francis reminds 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.”

     My friends, these two realities of the ordered, organized, hierarchical church and the missionary church where everyone shares in a priestly calling, where everyone is graced with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are both at work in the Annual Catholic Appeal which I need to bring before you this morning. (There! I said it, and I hope I didn’t cause whiplash for any of you!) I need to recommend the Appeal to you today, and in doing so my hope is that you will see it not as pouring money into an impersonal institution but as one way for you to live out your role as part of the missionary, priestly People of God. By supporting the Annual Catholic Appeal you are doing a priestly thing, a missionary thing: you are helping to carry out the Church’s mission to worship, to teach, and to serve. You are also making it possible for the church to do things that parishes simply can’t do. Parishes can’t, for instance, provide spiritual care to thousands of patients in the many hospitals across our region; and parishes can’t do the great programs for kids – athletics, summer camps - that CYO does; or make available the amazing network of services provided by Catholic Community Services and Catholic Housing Services, the largest privately-run social service agency in the State of Washington. And those are but a few of the great things the Appeal helps make possible.

     You know all this and each year you are wonderfully supportive of the Appeal, making us the most generous of all 170 parishes in the Archdiocese.

     But I am painfully aware of how untimely the Appeal is this year. To be honest, it’s painful for me even to bring it before you. And I wouldn’t, were it not for the fact that the great works you support in the Appeal are needed now more than ever before. We can’t stop serving the poorest and neediest among us; we can’t let our schools fail and, for that matter, we can’t stop preparing young men for the priesthood.

     All I would ask, then, in this year like no other, is for those of you who are not out of work, those of you whose finances – while maybe compromised but still intact – to step forward to support the Appeal and, if possible, even to increase your gift to make up for those who are simply not in a position to give this year.

     We have a huge goal to meet ($371,000) and, as always, we need to exceed that goal. That’s because, as you may remember, everything given above and beyond the goal set for us comes back to us as a rebate. This year, with our parish finances on near life-support because of the pandemic, the rebate will help us to keep the parish going and to keep paying our wonderful staff who continue to work as hard as ever!

     This past week you should have received a letter from me with more information about the Appeal. Please take a look at it and give what you can. You can mail in your pledge to the parish and you can also make it online.

     My friends, this is one of the hardest – if not the hardest – ‘asks’ I think I’ve ever had to make. I make it because I believe deeply in the cause, and I make it because I know that you are generous people who own and embrace your calling to be disciples, priestly people, missionaries on fire with the gifts of the Holy Spirit!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303