Homily for May 29, VI Sunday of Easter, cycle A
Just two weeks from today, we will be celebrating Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, and the readings in this Mass are starting to prepare us. In the Gospel, we hear Jesus promising to send the Advocate (another name for the Holy Spirit) to those who love the Lord and keep His commandments, the most important of which is that we should love each other as He loved us.
There is another interesting message in the readings today, and I’d like to focus on that. In the first reading, St Philip is in Samaria, where many people are receptive to the Gospel message, and become Christians. Philip baptizes them, and then Sts Peter and John arrive to give them the sacrament of Confirmation so they can receive the Holy Spirit.
This is interesting, because earlier, John and his brother James were ready to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans – not the flaming tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit as at Pentecost, but a destructive fire to burn their cities to the ground. Jesus had been preparing to pass through Samaria on the way to Jerusalem, and the Samaritans had denied Him passage because of the centuries-old enmity between Jews and Samaritans. James and John were angry that anyone would reject Jesus in such an off-handed manner, and felt that “shock and awe” would be the best tools of conversion. How is it that these same men are peacefully laying their hands on the Samaritans, who are now believers, to give them the Holy Spirit?
They key is in the second reading. St Peter teaches us that we should “always be ready to give an explanation” of our faith, bringing the message of Christ to others not by force or intimidation or by belittling other people’s beliefs, but with “gentleness and reverence”. We need to be able to show others that we love and respect them, that our faith is rationally defensible, and that we want to share with them something that is a source of hope, joy, and meaning in our own lives.
So, St Philip didn’t go into Samaria saying, “Accept Christ as the Savior, or I will ask God to destroy all of you heretics and your cities”. We aren’t given details of what he actually did say, but he surely “proclaimed Christ to them” as Jesus Himself taught, which is to preach primarily the message of God’s love, as we here it in the Gospel today. He also showed them that love, by working miracles to help them, and thus he brought them “great joy”. They probably felt like saying with today’s psalm, “shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing praise to the glory of His name!” It’s no surprise that they were willing to embrace the faith. Sincere love and generosity open people’s hearts and minds.
This lesson is important for us too when we share our faith, but also applies in other aspects of our relationships. While it’s infamously difficult to have charitable discussions about religion and politics, sometimes we can have a hard enough time being civil just talking about the way other people drive, or deciding among family members who will wash the dishes or what movie to watch. In every situation we need to treat others with love and respect, while seeking what is best for all. May God renew in us all an abundance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and love, so that we may seek – in the words of an old Latin phrase – “unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things.”
Unfortunately, we all know that things don’t always work out this way, between people and between nations. In practically every generation, there has been a need for men and women to serve in the military to defend our country, our values, and the rights of the innocent. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in the line of duty. This Memorial Day weekend, we are reminded of our great debt of gratitude to them and to their families. We pray that the souls of those who have died, who often suffered terrible hardship on the battlefield, may be received into heaven with all their sins forgiven, and we pray that those who mourn them may be consoled. Amen.