As Eastertide enters its last two weeks, the readings turn our attention toward the Holy Spirit.
The first reading — Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 — tells of the reception of the gospel in Samaria. Philip was one of the seven who were appointed to “wait on tables” to insure equity in the daily distribution, as we heard in last week’s first reading. In chapters 6 and 7 we hear of Stephen’s works, preaching, trial, and martyrdom. Now another deacon is preaching the gospel. Despite the reason behind their selection for ministry (with an installation which has marks of ordination), they cannot refrain from proclaiming the gospel.
Stephen’s activity was in Jerusalem, but Philip goes to Samaria. Up to this point, we have only heard of the Church in Jerusalem — the work and preaching of the Apostles there and the opposition from the Sanhedrin, culminating with the martyrdom of Stephen. Philip is the first to proclaim the gospel outside Jewish territory. The Church had to verify that this extension of the faith into foreign territory was authentic.
The apostles’ prayer brings the Holy Spirit manifestly upon the Samaritans. Although Baptism brings the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promises, there was with Jesus and the early Church an empowering anointing by the Holy Spirit which believers received. We can see this as corresponding to Confirmation.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 66 — speaks generally of our joy in the goodness of the Lord. Our joy is based on the Resurrection of Jesus, with all it means. The response, extending the call for joy to all the earth, can remind us of the extension of the gospel beyond Judea.
In the second reading — 1 Peter 3:15-18 — there is a “stream of consciousness” which calls us to good conduct of various sorts and concludes with a reminder of Jesus’ saving work. This connects with the theme of the Holy Spirit in two ways. There is an explicit reference to the Spirit’s place in Jesus’ resurrected life. Beyond that, it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to sanctify Christ, to give respectful explanations of our faith, and to keep our consciences clear by avoiding evil conduct and doing good.
The gospel — John 14:15-21— like last Sunday’s is an excerpt from Jesus’ discourse at the Last Supper. He is looking forward to the time after his ascension. He promises the sending of the Holy Spirit, here called Advocate and Spirit of truth. This promise was first fulfilled at Pentecost, again at Samaria and on other occasions recounted in Acts, and the Holy Spirit continues to be given to believers, to dwell in us.
Jesus then promises that his ascension will not leave us orphans: he will come to us. He will return at the end of time to gather those who love him to himself. It seems there is more to this promise than simply that. We will see him when the world no longer sees him. We see him in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. We see him in another way in the least of his brethren.
Next, Jesus tells us that he is in the Father and in us, and we are in him. Elsewhere he has told us the Father is also in him (John 14:10). Implicitly, then when we are in Jesus, we are also in the Father and the Father is in us — and as Jesus had just said, the Holy Spirit is in us. This reciprocal indwelling of the faithful and the Trinity is the form which our baptismal adoption takes. We participate in the life of God, which is eternal life.
An Italian Salesian daily missal I got many years ago draws this point out in a way that explains why Jesus’ command at 15:12 is not “Love your neighbor,” but “Love one another as I have loved you.” The love which exists among the followers of Jesus is of a higher order that that which can exist with non-believers, since it is a share in the internal love of the Persons of the Trinity. Nevertheless, we are also called to love all our fellow humans. It seems to me that this love is analogous to God’s love. The love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was so great that it “had to” express itself in the creation of a loved universe, including humans with whom the love could be reciprocally shared. God loves all people and wants them to be saved, and the divine love in us must also overflow into to love for all and a desire for them to be saved. This love should motivate us as it motivated Philip’s preaching in Samaria. We should not neglect opportunities to explain the reason for our hope; and our lives — keeping Jesus’ commandments — should reflect God’s goodness.