Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 29, 2011 - Sixth Sunday of Easter A

R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
“Blessing Christ”
by Raffaello Sanzio, 1506

Reading 1 Commentary: Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8, 14-17
The first reading opens with Philip’s going away from Jerusalem with many others who were fleeing the persecution. Unfortunately we do not hear today the verses of this chapter about a man named Simon the Magician, who has been working the crowds of Samaria before Philip arrives. Philip preaches the Good News and performs the healing miracles.

The crowds forsake their following of the magician and seek baptism in the name of Jesus.
Philip’s proclamation of the Messiah manifested such power that the whole town of Samaria felt a joy described as at “fever pitch.”

Many in Samaria also are to be confirmed by the Church so Peter and John come to lay hands on those who have heard the Good News and desire to live as “good words” themselves. The Holy Spirit urges incarnation, that is, that those who believe in their hearts might be freed to give flesh to God’s goodness within them. The early Church grew through the work of the Spirit and the works of those who lived what they believed.
More Commentary on Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
St. Philip begins his missionary activities immediately following the death of St. Stephen.  We hear many of the Hellenists were scattered following the deacon’s witness against the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.  St. Philip goes with them into Samaria and proclaims the arrival of the Messiah in Christ.  The Word is spreading through the persecution of Saul.

We note the omission of verses 9-13.  From a historical perspective this passage speaks of the conversion of Simion the magician, important for the community in that it differentiated the signs being done by the Apostles and those believed to be sorcerers by the local inhabitants of the region This important distinction is qualified in Acts 8; 6-7; “With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.”

R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.

Psalm 66 is a song of thanksgiving. As it continues today the selection starts with part of the community blessing of the Lord and follows with the second and third strophes being individual response to the communal prayer. In the final strophe, v.20, we see the usual action of the person who has been rescued coming forward to teach the community what God has done.

Speaking again to the persecuted Christian community, St. Peter tells them to always be ready to bear witness to their faith but to do so without condescension, with love.  Witnessing in this way with “gentleness and reverence” and not being defensive or vehement, their attackers will look cause the Christians to look the victims giving no one a reason to punish them. In this way they were to follow the example of Christ who “suffered” (many sources read “died”) for all mankind, the righteous and the unrighteous.

The farewell speech of the Lord continues with the promise of the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete. We note he says “another advocate”; Jesus himself is the first advocate (in St. John’s Gospel the term used synonymously with spokesman, mediator, intercessor, comforter, and consoler).  
Jesus says this gift is “The Spirit of truth” (from the Quamram or Dead Sea Scrolls- a moral force put into a person by God.). This promise is made because the disciples are becoming worried and are afraid of being left without Jesus’ guidance. In addition to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he leaves his peace, not just the greeting “Shalom” but an inner peace that conquers fear.

As always on the Day of the Lord, we are asked to be imitators of Christ.  Taken as a statement like; “All you need to do to earn a place in heaven is imitate Jesus of Nazareth and do what he asked people to do.”  It sounds so easy, just this one thing.  Yet, even with the practical advice given in Holy Scripture, we find living the commandments of Christ to be the hardest thing we have ever attempted.

We are constantly faced with opportunities to fall from grace.  It is like walking a tight-rope, one moment of inattention, one false step and we loose our balance and fall.  With deeper understanding of the message of Jesus we see how hard it is and may think, “Why try? There is no way I can be like that.”

Into our questioning and doubt comes the Lord with help for us.  Through St. John he tells us (as he told his disciples) that even though he is going home – the join his Father in heaven, he is not making us orphans.  He is leaving us with a “New Advocate”.  He, who is both man and God, leaves us God, indwelling as a guide and counselor.  We feel it as that inner voice guiding us, that warning voice telling us where not to go, that consoling voice that gives us hope.

Strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we should be convinced that what is asked of us by God’s perfect expression of love is possible, a reasonable expectation by the one who created us and should know.  Even though we still doubt (who, after all, has seen the Holy Spirit? (AKA “Holy Ghost”)), we are called onward by the voice of Jesus “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” 

Ironically, it gets easier with that statement.  If we love the Lord and know what pleases him, it becomes a matter of keeping our love for him in the back of our minds constantly.  Like one we are desperately in love with is always on our mind; not to the point of distraction (that is obsession) but always near by.

Still, it is not easy what the Lord asks, commands!  But he did not leave us without resources so we only need to reach for that strength and it will be there.  We pray today for the strength to call on that font of hope and wisdom left to us by the Prince of Peace.

[2] The picture used today is “Blessing Christ” by Raffaello Sanzio, 1506
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.

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