Sixth Week of Easter (A)
by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.
We have been lingering these Sundays of Easter on a very
consoling theme. The simple truth is that in the plan God has created for us,
He came into this world at a certain period in history, took on flesh in the
person of Jesus Christ, and then returned to the Father always with the
promise that we would not be left alone. Clearly, Jesus spoke this promise to a group of people
terrified of being left alone in a world that was not necessarily receptive to the
teaching of Christ. They leaned very heavily upon Jesus. They realized that
Christ was about to leave them, and they didnt know how they were going to make it. Jesus
words are always filled with compassion, encouragement, and
understanding of their pain and anxiety.
Jesus keeps saying, Dont worry. Dont be afraid. Be at peace.
Im going to be with you. Im not leaving you. Im physically going back to the Father. But, in another sense, I am
going to enter into you and be with you. I find it fascinating that the in-dwelling presence
of Jesus manifests itself in the Holy Spirit. This
mysterious gift personified in the Spirit is invited to be a part of
every single thing we do. We describe the Spirit best as a kind of Advocate
, a kind of Helper.
Just as Jesus walked and talked with His disciples
teaching and guiding them along the way the Spirit
, the Advocate, helps us. Its a wonderfully consoling message
for any of us who struggle to live the gospel. One of the most interesting aspects of our
faith is that it always deals with mystery. Our faith always invites us
into a place that doesnt make a lot of logical sense. Its very difficult to pin down the way things
work. Thats because we are limited in fully comprehending what we are dealing with. Thats why our faith
is based on what Jesus says, rather than on what we know.
Faith begins with Jesus words. Jesus
says He wants to give us this power, this Spirit
. But He also says that whenever He invites us to participate more fully in
the life He has offered us, He wants us to participate in it with
Him. The process is not magic. Its not as if Jesus, when
He invites us to be baptized, says, Poof. Now the whole issue of sin
is completely taken care of. Now you are fully aware of the greatness and goodness of Gods plan, and you live it fully as you receive
the Spirit, which confirms your belief and enables you to live it all of the time.
Its not that simple. We are always dealing with the power of the
Spirit that brings fullness of awareness, but we have to participate in the process of
making that Spirit effective in our lives. We have to participate in the process of being drawn into the
place of full awareness. Thats the point at which the readings for today begin. They begin by illustrating the
struggle of the early Christian community. The disciples had to go out and bring new life to others.
Remember the Scripture story a short while ago of the dilemma found within the early Christian community?
There was a certain group of Greek-speaking Jews who felt their widows were not being cared for in the distribution of food. A group of
people was called to help. Then, those who were really responsible for the way the services took place could focus on
prayer and preaching. They could share responsibilities. This reminds me of an example from our
Church today, where someone is invited to be part of a certain ministry within the
Church. They might say, Well, I will set up the chairs. The next thing you know,
they are involved in a major ministry.
El-Greco's Saint Philip
One of the figures called to that chair setting up process was Philip. Philip
was the one who was considered worthy enough to take care of the people who were considered outcasts. Philip is called forth by the community
because he has a certain sensitivity to reach those who are outcasts (Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8,14-17). No sooner is he involved in
this chair ministry than he is asked to go out and be the first to
preach to the dreaded Samaritans.
The Samaritans were considered unclean and unacceptable. Just imagine any group of people in any culture that is considered
second-class. I love the stories in the Acts of the Apostles. We sense that these ordinary men called into service were filled with something
very extraordinary. The power is always described as if Jesus is the
one doing it. Philip goes to Samaria to preach and teach.
In his preaching, unclean spirits go shrieking out of people. Paralyzed and
crippled people are cured. All of a sudden, its as if
Jesus has returned. The listener of the story then understands that the promise of Jesus is that
He is with His disciples, and He will go wherever
they go. Philip is filled with this Spirit of Jesus. As Philip preaches
and teaches the people, it becomes clear that they must become filled with the
Holy Spirit before they are able to do the work Philip is doing.
Now we know that in order to be fully initiated in the Catholic tradition, we receive
three sacraments: Baptism, the Eucharist and
Confirmation. Those are the three steps in terms of entering the Church.
The power we receive from God enables us to deal with life in a new way. We
die to the old way, and we rise with Christ in
Baptism, receiving the gifts of redemption. We need to be
nourished and supported by the presence of Jesus through the
Eucharist. But we also need this mysterious ingredient called the Spirit. And so,
the Spirit comes and gives us the power to do the work. Its interesting
that Philip is not the conduit through which the people receive the Spirit. Others came and laid hands on
the people so they could receive the Spirit.
In the reading from 1Peter (3:15-18), we hear about suffering. This is the
hard part of Christianity. If we are to cooperate with the Spirit, the
Advocate entering into us, we have to learn from the example of Christ.
Christ was obedient. Obedience has to do with
listening attentively to what God is asking, and then doing it. Always, always, in our tradition we are told
that if we are to do the work of Jesus, we are going to suffer. I get
caught, as maybe you do, in the misconception that if I were doing everything right, there wouldnt be
so much suffering in the world. If people were good Catholics or
good Baptists or good Lutherans or Methodists, we wouldnt experience
suffering. Well, there may be some truth to that, in the sense that a lot of
suffering in the world is due to sin. But here we
have a sense that suffering is a key ingredient in the process of being transformed by the
Its the Plan. The truth in the reading
from Peter is that since we all have to suffer in order to grow, its better to
suffer for doing the right thing than for having done the wrong
thing. We shouldnt fall into the trap of thinking
that if we are always doing the right thing, we are not going to suffer. People
suffer for doing the right thing. Why is suffering
so important? One of the great traps of our culture is always wanting things to be
fixed and perfect. We fall into the trap of
always wanting to be comfortable and in control. Those are just the natural instincts
of human beings. Suffering is the experience that breaks the
illusion of that kind of system. Everyone who tries to micro-manage or fix everything knows that
there is a point where we can have some strong influence on making things better around us, but its a very
frustrating, unhappy disposition overall. Ultimately, we experience frustration
after frustration because we are not in control. We cant make everything all right
around us, especially if we are trying to fix things so that we can be in a comfort zone.
Fear of the Lord
Peter reminds us that if we are to receive the Gifts of the Spirit and open ourselves to
the Power dwelling within us, we will be empowered to endure the process that
is essential. One of those truths is that we have to suffer. We are thrown up
against the very hard truth that things are not always going to be the way we
want them to be. We cant make the world the way we want it to be. We have to submit. To suffer means
to submit. The fact that life doesnt go the way we want it is the most universal experience for those of us who are control freaks.
There are lots of us control freaks out there. We are supposed to give in to those experiences that are not what we wish they
would be. Thats one of the dispositions of the Spirit that Christianity
seeks to put us in touch with. When Jesus speaks to His disciples in the gospel
from John (14:15-21), He asks all of us to be in a disposition of truly entering into the work that
Jesus came into the world to accomplish. Jesus suffered
a great deal. Through Jesus obedience and suffering,
He learned to deal with life in the way the Father asked
Him to do. Jesus was not so critical, not so judgmental.
Jesus was filled with compassion, understanding,
and forgiveness for all that was so messed up around Him.
Where did Jesus get that? Unless Jesus somehow learned to give in to the way things
are, rather than ranting and raving about the way things are supposed to be.
Jesus never seemed to fall into that trap.
Jesus was a human being just like us, but because He
was free of sin, He wasnt as resistant
as we tend to be to the grace of God working through Him. We see in
Jesus the perfect representation of the Father. Jesus
was a perfect vehicle through which the Father worked out
His mysterious plan. That mysterious
plan includes embracing things the way they are.
How do we possibly love people? How can we be in this disposition Jesus
invites us to be in, if we become too focused on trying to make things a certain way? Instead, if we embrace people for who and
what they are, we are able to love. We learn from Jesus of the
wonderful invitation to embrace all things.
Its the Spirit that enables us to embrace all things. The Spirit
gives us wonderful balance and focus. Jesus looks at
people and wants them to be better. Jesus wants us to choose a way of life that brings
life to ourselves and others. Jesus says over and over again that
He is asking us to do these things not so that He can sit back and
say, Look what a great ambassador I have been for God the Father because I have had an extraordinarily effective
a sickness that can creep into all of us who are involved in ministry. Instead, Jesus
has come into the world so that He can give people a sense of hope.
Jesus wants us to have this sense of hope so that we can be
happy. Ultimately, Jesus ministry is to come into the world so that we will experience
joy: I have come into the world to show you the way, and I long for your
joy to be complete. I long for your joy to be complete just as Mine has been complete, even though My life has been a mess at times. Even
though I ended up being so misunderstood that I experienced a painful death.
Even though all of that happened, Jesus was happy because
He knew that what He was doing was the Will of
His Father. Jesus took enormous joy in fulfilling
His destiny. Jesus found His joy not so much in
the way things were going on the outside, but in His deep, deep respect for His
own ministry. For His own work. For His own authenticity. For
His own submission to a wonderful plan God had given Him. This gives us
a wonderful insight into the peace that Jesus always talks about. If there is
one phrase Jesus used in His post-resurrection
experiences, it was this one: I want you to be at peace. Life is
hard. Life has a lot of pain and suffering, but it doesnt have to be
filled with anxiety. Life doesnt have to be filled with experiences that rob
it of the joy that is our inheritance.
Our challenge during this season is to embrace and love the message, which is so very
hopeful. We all struggle in a Church that hasnt always directly
spoken the message of Jesus to us. Sometimes because of the weakness of all of
us who are called to be ministers, we havent heard the fullness of the message. We end up living in a way that is more like our
culture than the way of Jesus that we are asked to follow. And yet, I have hope
that the message is so clear in the Scriptures that we can get past the misconceptions.
Jesus is filled with so much forgiveness and
compassion that He doesnt rant and rave
at sinners and tell
them that they
have to stop or they have to get out. Instead, as
sinners we are encouraged to avoid the
sin. In order to be happy
and full, we are told to avoid the
sins that rob
us of life. We need to embrace the Spirit that enables us to accomplish this wonderful task
of finding the joy at the heart of the ministry Jesus calls us into. And as we
embrace the way of Jesus, we will find the wonderful gift of peace