Sunday, May 29, 2011

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
6th Sunday of Easter

May 29, 2011
John 14: 15-21
Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
Willow Towers, N.R.
St. Vincent's Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14: 15).
[There’s a beautiful rendition of this verse by Thomas Tallis, as sung for Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to England last fall, at

Our gospel reading today comes from Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Those words make a very long passage of 5 chapters. Some of the themes in it are love—Jesus’ love for his disciples, and his command that we should love one another, which he calls his “new commandment” (13:34); and the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus will send to us.The Last Supper: bas relief in the Tempio di Don Bosco at Colle Don Bosco, Castelnuovo (Piedmont)

Within the context of his love for us, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (15:13), and his disciples are his friends if they do what he has commanded them (15:14). He makes the point that he has chosen us to be his friends, not his slaves, and because we’re his friends he’s shared with us everything from his Father (15:15). He greatly desires a relationship with us founded on love and friendship, not on fear and power.The Roman historian Sallust described a strong friendship as “wanting the same things and not wanting the same things.”[1] Doesn’t that ring true when we consider Jesus’ words? If we’re his friends, we want the same things that he does, such things as he calls his “commandments,” love in its many manifestations for all Jesus’ brothers and sisters. If we’re his friends, we don’t want whatever he doesn’t want—those words and actions and desires that we generally refer to as “sin.” If we love Jesus, if we’re his friends, we’ll do everything we can to keep his commandments. “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (14:21).

In 1849 a 7-year-old boy in northern Italy who was making his First Communion understood that so well that he made 4 remarkable resolutions: to go to confession and communion often; to keep Sundays and feast days holy; to be a friend of Jesus and Mary; and to die rather than commit sin. Note those last 2: friendship with Jesus and his holy Mother, and the avoidance of sin.[2] This 7-year-old grasped what Jesus wanted, grasped the importance of loving Jesus, and grasped the means suited to maintain a friendship with Jesus: the sacraments and prayer (observing holy days as well as developing a relationship with Jesus and Mary). That 7-year-old was Dominic Savio, who later became a pupil of St. John Bosco. It’s St. John Bosco who informs us of young Dominic’s life. The Church has canonized young Dominic’s way of holiness by the act of canonizing Dominic a saint in 1954.

Portrait of St. Dominic Savio with his friend Jesus, in one of the Salesian houses in Israel.

How can we know what Jesus wants and what Jesus doesn’t want? “The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (14:16-18). Jesus left us physically after his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, but he and his Father have remained with us thru their Holy Spirit. As we’ll celebrate in 2 more weeks, on Pentecost Day the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles, upon the Virgin Mary, upon all the disciples gathered around them in the upper room. Empowered and encouraged by the Spirit, they all went forth to preach Jesus’ message, the word of life, the gospel of truth.
And we heard an example of that in our 1st reading, which records how the deacon Philip “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them” (Acts 8:5) and baptized them. And then the apostles Peter and John followed up by confirming the Samaritan believers: they “went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (8:15,17). The Holy Spirit is given not just to the apostles, to Mary, and to the 1st believers, but to the entire Church, everywhere and in all ages. As Jesus says at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:20).Mary and the Twelve in the upper room after Jesus' ascension: bas relief in the Tempio di Don Bosco at Colle Don Bosco, Castelnuovo (Piedmont)

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus and of the Father, is our advocate, our helper, and our teacher of truth. He enables us to understand in the 21st century what Jesus wants, what Jesus commands, what Jesus teaches. The Holy Spirit speaks to us thru the Sacred Scriptures, of which he’s the ultimate author, the one who inspired those whom we call “the sacred writers”— the historians of God’s people, the prophets, the gospel-writers, the letter-writers. The 1st place where we all have to turn if we want to know what Jesus wants, what Jesus commands, is to the Gospels, to the letters of Paul and the other apostles, to the rest of the Bible. Christians have to read and reflect upon and pray with the Bible.
The Holy Spirit also speaks to us thru the Church, the assembly of Jesus’ disciples. The Spirit came down upon the disciples gathered together, and Jesus promised to remain with his disciples thru the ages. So we firmly believe that the Spirit of Jesus continues to guide the Church. In the Creed that we profess every Sunday, we express what we believe of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Under our belief “in the Holy Spirit,” we profess that “he has spoken thru the prophets; our belief in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”; our belief in the Spirit’s living work in the Church, thru “baptism for the forgiveness of sins”—you’re familiar with Jesus’ words that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again of water and Spirit” (John 3:5), which refers to Baptism; our belief also in the Spirit’s work in us for the future: “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” for he is “the Lord, the giver of life,” the Creed affirms. In sum, the Catholic Church, still inspired by the Holy Spirit, teaches us today what Jesus wants, what Jesus commands, how we are to maintain our friendship with him, and offers us the sacramental means to foster that friendship, just as much as in the days of Philip, Peter, and John.

[1] Nam idem velle atque idem nolle, ea demum firma amicitia est (Bellum Catalinae, XX, 4).
[2] St. John Bosco, The Life of St. Dominic Savio (New Rochelle, 1996), p. 34.

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