ACTS 8:5-8, 14-17; PSALM 66; 1PETER 3:15-18; JOHN 14:15-21
We have two sets of homily notes here for our reflection and prayers
Rev. Fr. Paul K. Oredipe
LOVE OR FEAR : PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT
I love Jesus of Galilee; For He has done so very much for me; He has forgiven me all my sins and sent the Holy Ghost to me I love that man of Galilee.
In the gospel of today, we hear the farewell speech of Jesus, the very last words at the last supper before his passion, death and resurrection. The part selected for today may be seen in two perspectives – our motive for obeying the commandment of Jesus and the strength we need to actually obey such commandments.
In the opening sentence, Jesus said: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” ‘If you love me.’ Was it that Jesus did not trust us? Was it that Jesus was not sure of us? ‘If you love me.’ conditional, biconditional or equivalence. Yes, Jesus had to say it that way. ‘If you love me.’ For Him, there was no doubt of His love for us. In love He obeyed the Father and took our nature to save us.
Service, suffering and sacrifice are the most powerful vehicle for the expression of love, and the ultimate suffering is the pain of wounds that lead to death itself. ‘No greater love has a man than that he die to save his friends.’ The proof of Jesus’ love is the cross and beyond it, the resurrection. If not for love, how can you explain the paschal mysteries?
Let us do a small exercise. Think of someone who loves you most or someone you love most – whoever the person may be – the one you love most. How do you show that love for the person? How do you experience that love from the person? How many times have you risked much [if not all] for this person? How many times have you really gone out of your way to do what that person wishes, wants or even commands? Fulfilling the heart’s desire of that person? If you do not really love that person, can you just do what he or she wants?
Brothers and sisters, the actual reality of sin, another name for sin is absence of love. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Failure to follow and obey Christ is simply due to the fact that our love for him is doubtful and questionable. If you really and sincerely love, as St Paul says, that love of Christ will urge you. It will move you. It will sustain you. It will carry you through. If He can love us enough to die for us, do we love him enough to live for him? Let us examine our lives and hearts.
Each time we fail to live up to the expectations of Jesus, it is simply due to a drop in the standard and measure of our love for Him. Something else or someone else, at that time, knowingly or unknowingly, has taken over, has taken the first place and pushed Jesus to the second class, third or even no class at all. There is then a space between us and we begin to move away from Him. This is the reality of sin.
In the real sense, apart from God’s love revealed to us at Bethlehem and at Calvary, we are all wretchedly and pitiably poor, blind, and destitute (cf. Rev. 3:17). We are what we are because of love – God’s own love, his very being. And so a life lived without real and sincere love is wasted. The truth is that “there is nothing else that can expand the human soul, actualise the human potential for growth, or bring a person into the full possession of life more than love which is unconditional.” Without love, one does nothing good with one’s life. Life has no meaning without love. In sin love is denied and thereby death comes in. Hence the scripture says: ‘the wages of sin is death’.
The Gospel continues: “Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him.”
So we can ask ourselves: what moves us to keep God’s commandments? Is it out of fear of punishment; hope for reward? Or real love for Jesus who first loved us and loved us to the very depth of his being? A religion based solely on fear of punishment or hope of reward tends to be short-lived. On the other hand, a religion based on love seeks opportunities. Love seeks only to be of service. In the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick: “Fear tends to paralyze, love releases. Fear imprisons, love frees. Fear sours, love sweetens. Fear wounds, love heals. Fear avoids, love invites.”
Jesus himself knows about this; that we are made out of love, for love and that we cannot do it all by ourselves. To make us capable of this love, He even went further to prepare a definite insurance for us. The gospel of today continues “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” Jesus is about to leave his apostles but promises not to leave them alone or desolate, but to send them a helper – the Holy Spirit.
A Christian is someone who is never alone. “I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you”, not in person, but through his Spirit. This Sunday, in a certain way anticipates the feast of Pentecost. In the First Reading we heard about Philip, one of the seven deacons, as he began to preach, to baptise and to perform miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. We also read how Peter and John paid a visit to the newly baptised. When they laid their hands on them, they received the extra-ordinary signs and gifts of the Spirit. The Second Reading talks about the persecution of the church. In that passage, Peter exhorts the Christians not to give in to feelings of discouragement because Christ is near them.
The promise of the Spirit by Jesus is to help us in our love for him. Jesus himself accomplished what He did for us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Realizing this, He also promised to give us the same helper; indeed, as the evangelist John calls it in today’s gospel – an Advocate, the Paraclete, a Counsellor, one who always stands by the side of a person to defend him or her. In this we see the indispensability and inevitability of the Holy Spirit – to accompany us on the journey of life and to accomplish the will of God. Without the Spirit, we shall be thrown back on our own resources which are clearly inadequate. But with the help of the Spirit, when the going gets tough, in the time of difficulties and distress, the courage and hope of the disciples came through the Holy Spirit.
All our efforts are made effective through the Holy Spirit. “Not by might and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
The Church that was born from the pierced side of Jesus, as He hung on the cross, was launched and powerfully announced to the world on that Pentecost day. “We are witnesses to this, we and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32) “… the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.” (Eucharistic Prayer, IV.)
Reflecting on this indispensable role of the Holy Spirit, we have been encouraged to have a renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. The SPIRIT WHO GIVES LIFE:
The Church professes her faith in the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life.” The Incarnation of the Son-Word came about “by the power of the Holy Spirit.” “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”(Lk. 1:34f) ” … Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. … before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.”(Matt. 1:18) Joseph receives the following explanation in a dream: “Do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit;” (Matt. 1:20f)
The conception and birth of Jesus Christ are in fact the greatest work accomplished by the Holy Spirit in the history of creation and salvation. The Holy Spirit itself is the motive for the creation of the world and it is the motivation for the Incarnation as well. All this is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And as St Paul affirms: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God … If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Rom. 8:14, 17) CCC 1831.
The gifts of the Spirit are for the fulfillment of the mission of the Church through the sanctification of the person who receives them. The Spirit is not only intimately present within us but also silently and actively working to transform us. If we attune ourselves to its silent promptings, then the gifts of the Holy Spirit become experienced realities in our life. The same Spirit dwelling in each of us empowers us to live the same priestly, prophetic and kingly life that was manifested in Jesus Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn. 14:6).
LOVE: “God is Love” (I Jn. 4:8,16) and love is the first gift, containing all others. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5). CCC. 733. The Holy Spirit is the love which proceeds from the Father and the Son and, for this very reason, God’s gift to man, since the first gift of love is always love itself.
So the power to love Jesus is through the Holy Spirit. The strength to keep the commandments is also in the Holy Spirit. When we are perplexed about what we should do or say, the Holy Spirit will guide us and give us wisdom. When we are fearful, He will give us courage. He longs to strengthen our faith and overcome our doubts. He desires to set our hearts on fire with love for both God and neighbour. He will give us the power we need to live out our faith and do what we know to be right.
The Spirit offers the human race ‘the light and strength to respond to its highest calling. … The Spirit’s presence and activity affect not only individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions. … The Spirit of God with marvellous foresight directs the course of the ages and renews the face of the earth.’
St Paul reminds us that the Spirit we have received is not one of fear but one of adoption which makes us call God ‘Abba’ Father. “All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God; for what you received was not the spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out ‘Abba’, Father.” (Rom. 8:14 – 15)
Today we can therefore ask ourselves: how sensitive are we to this Holy Spirit? How attentive are we to his guidance and how obedient are we to his directives?
Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful; … and enkindle in them the fire of your love. That fire must be kept burning in you and me. Without that fire of love, we ourselves and our entire world grow cold and lukewarm. Without that fire, we become dead. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Let us take advantage of the period before the feast of Pentecost to renew ourselves for the Holy Spirit. Let us refresh our love.
Nothing, no one and no circumstance or situation should cut us off from the love of Jesus. As St. Paul asks: “Can anything cut us off from the love of Christ – can hardships or distress, or persecution, or lack of food and clothing, or threats or violence; as scripture says: For your sake we are being massacred all day long, treated as sheep to be slaughtered? No; we come through all these things triumphantly victorious, by the power of him who loved us. For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35 – 39)
May the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the everlasting love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
The main theme of today’s readings is Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit – the Counselor. In the gospel, Jesus speaks about his departure and his promise of the Holy Spirit. As his departure was certain in the ascension so his promised of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost. When he promises he never fails. Jesus says “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor”. This simply means that Jesus is a counselor and at his departure no vacuum another Counselor will come. A Counsellor is a person, trained to give guidance on problems personal or otherwise. A Counsellor help people to overcome their problems and to make appropriate changes to their lives. The Greek word used here is “Paraklete” but it has been translated as “counselor,” “advocate,” “comforter,” “intercessor,” “strengthener,” and “standby.” The fact remains that this promised advocate, or counselor, is the Holy Spirit. The various names used rather reflect his functions.
Thus, the promise of Jesus at his departure is to show that his followers are not alone. Beloved in Christ, we are not alone, even in that situation you are not alone, in this present pandemic you are not alone. Men may fail to guide you, men may watch out for your down fall even when they assist you, but there is a counselor who guides and strengthens you. It is not bad to be open to men’s ideas, but the Holy Spirit should be our primary influence and counselor. Without the Counselor in you; you will be endangered with men’s ideas. That is why many people tend to follow what is trending not knowing that it is not right. Abortion may be trending but the Counselor says it is a grave sin. Fornication may be trending, it looks as if without it you cannot get married, it appears so attractive that it makes you look awkward in the midst of your peers. It trends and renders you helpless; at that point, only the Counsellor, the Comforter, the Intercessor, the Strengthener, the Standby can help you overcome the ways of the flesh.
Again, we need to have the right disposition for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is necessary as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost. While the second reading invites us to keep our conscience clear the gospel says we must have a heart of love and obedience. The Holy Spirit is the love of the Father and the Son. The Voice of the Holy Spirit is loud to those who keep his word. Therefore, as we await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we must make every effort to live in love and keep his commandment.
Lastly, the first reading presents us with a structure for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The scripture says; after they have received the word of God and have been baptized, they sent for Peter and John who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Beloved in Christ, don’t claim to be Spirit-filled when you are not yet baptized. Part of the crisis of truth today is that people neglect baptism, neglect the word of God and claim to be Spirit-filled. Many preachers today don’t emphasize baptism and repentance their primary interest is on the Holy Spirit and his various gifts. What is baptism of the Holy Spirit when you have not been baptized by water? In John 3:5 Jesus said to Nicodemus “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The Church is conscious of this sacred pattern and so she gives us Catechesis – where we learn the Word of God, then the Sacrament of Baptism before the Sacrament of Confirmation. Today, what do we have? Questionable disposition and Christianity that is devoid of pattern. May the Holy Spirit lead us to the complete truth.
Let us pray
Act of Contrition
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
Act of Spiritual Communion
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.