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Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 39:16)

      As we move closer to the great feast of Pentecost, now just two Sundays away, there is more and more talk in the readings about the Holy Spirit. A good thing, because sometimes the Holy Spirit gets short shrift!

     Today, in the reading from Acts, we got the story of Philip going to Samaria, a hotbed of heretics (according to the Jews). Samaria is the place which, when the people didn’t welcome Jesus, his disciples wanted to destroy by raining down fire from heaven. But now things are very different. Philip preaches there and works wonders, driving out unclean spirits and healing lame and crippled people, and the Samaritans listen to him and believe. And when word of this reaches ‘headquarters’ in Jerusalem, they respond by sending two of the apostles, Peter and John, to Samaria so they can do what only the apostles can do: lay hands on these new believers for an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

     This laying on of hands for imparting the gifts of the Holy Spirit was the practice of the early Church, and it is the practice of the Church to this day. It happened here in the Cathedral the other evening when the archbishop celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation with us; it happens, too, at the ordination of priests and bishops as well as in the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. It has a lot to do with touch. The outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit through the prayerful laying on of hands has, down through the ages until now, brought believers into contact with the apostles who touched the Risen Lord – ate and drank with him. The laying on of hands makes present their touch, and it allows believers like us to touch Christ and receive the gifts of his life-giving Spirit.

      But it’s worth observing that in today’s reading from John’s gospel, part of the Last Supper discourse, we got a different view of how people receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says nothing at all about the role of apostles or of the laying on of hands. Instead, he speaks only about love.  He says love is what makes the Holy Spirit present. Listen again: “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, does that mean that Luke and John are at odds with each other? It might seem so, but they each had different purposes in writing and they were writing at different times for very different communities. Luke had his own good reasons for stressing the need for order and structure 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. Why?  Because of this moment in the life of the Church - this ‘Pope Francis moment,’ I will call it. For a long time, the Church has put a good deal of emphasis on the way Luke presents the Church – the organizational side, the hierarchical, carefully ordered side. And so, when it comes to thinking of the ways the Holy Spirit becomes present and works in the Church, the hierarchical structure has come first, and the Church is seen as a pyramid, with bishops and priests at the top and everyone else at the bottom. It’s a ‘trickle-down’ view of the Church, if you will. It carries a truth, for sure, but it is not the whole truth!

     Pope Francis starts at a different place. He starts with the whole Church – all the People of God together: lay people, priests, vowed religious, bishops – and he wants to awakens all of us to our shared call to be disciples - our call to live and preach the Gospel. He reminds us that Jesus was speaking to the whole Church – not just the apostles – in the words of today’s gospel: “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, the point is not an academic one. It’s a very practical one and has practical implications. It explains, for instance, why Pope Francis, when it comes to preparing for the meeting of the Synod that will take place in Rome this October and next, wants to hear – not just from the bishops - but from the people in the pews. He is convinced that if God’s holy people come together in love and prayerfully, patiently, painstakingly, listen to one another as we did here last spring – sharing our concerns, our hopes, our struggles, our dreams – we will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. It makes sense - doesn’t it? - in light of those words of Jesus: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.” Is it any wonder, then, that the pope insists on hearing as many voices as possible – young, old, and in-between, people from every country and culture? “The Spirit blows where it wills,” we read in another place in John’s gospel. Indeed!

      My friends, the Spirit is alive in the Church through the laying on of hands, and the Spirit is alive in the love we have for one another – love that is the Spirit’s gift, love that is the Spirit’s very presence. We will celebrate this presence with great joy on the coming feast of Pentecost, but the truth is that we should celebrate it – and awaken to it – every day.

      This is what will bring about the revolution I spoke about at Easter. It is happening, my friends. It is happening!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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