We are beginning to hear more explicit mention of the Holy Spirit
as we prepare for the vigil and feast of Pentecost. Once we enter
the regular sequence of Sundays after Pentecost, known as "Ordinary
Time", we will hear less explicit mention of the Spirit in our
readings. What a shame, for it is the Spirit who gives life,
conviction and passion to our Christian lives. It is clear from our
readings today that the Christian community is indebted to the
Spirit for its very existence and well-being. It is the Sprit who
stirs up the waters of our baptism in us (as the spiritual says,
"troubles the waters") at crucial stages of our lives. The Spirit is
the animator of our prayers, not just encouraging us to pray, but
groaning in prayer within us. The Spirit is not staid and sedate.
While he/she creates, strengthens and preserves the church, there is
no limiting, or enclosing the Spirit in any one creed or church.
Karl Rahner says the Spirit is also to be found in, "a mysticism of
everyday life outside a verbalized and institutionalized
As one preacher puts it, the Spirit is more verb than noun. God
does not merely observe what creation is doing, but is both Creator
and Participant in the very process of the universe. It is also the
Holy Spirit who shakes us awake into awareness of injustice and sin.
The Spirit causes us to get involved in the less-than-orderly task
of making things right for the disadvantaged and abused of our
world. And because this work of justice seems never to be done, it
is the Spirit who nourishes us in prayer and keeps us committed to
the task of being a co-creator with the Spirit of a new creation. To
repeat: the Spirit is more verb than noun.
The first reading has its roots in a controversy in the early
church. The earliest converts were from Judaism and Jesus himself
couched his message in Jewish imagery and language. But Christianity
spread rapidly beyond its Jewish origins and so controversy arose
about whether, or not, to continue observing the Mosaic law. Two
contrary points of view crystalized: (1) New members were to observe
the Mosaic practices (the view of the "Judaizers") (2) Christianity
was freed from such observances and they were not crucial to belief
These conflicting views emerge in the reading as the "Judaizers"
come from Judea to the new community in Antioch to preach observance
of the Mosaic code. The issue is settled by the community back in
Jerusalem and their response is bold in its presumption: "It is the
decision of the Holy Spirit and ours too, not to lay on you any
burden beyond that which is strictly necessary...." The church
leaders changed the custom of centuries in a sweeping move that
expresses confidence in the Spirit’s active and ongoing presence
with them. The guidelines they give are brief and exhibit trust in
the ability of the new community in Antioch to come to its own
specifics on how to live out the teaching of Jesus. In other words,
the apostles and elders have confidence, that what Jesus promised
them (in today’s Gospel), has truly happened: the Spirit, the
Paraclete, was in their midst, "to instruct you in everything and
remind you of all that I told you."
We too have the confidence of not having been left orphans devoid
of Jesus’ guiding presence. There are many signs of this presence in
our church that the preacher might use for illustrations, but one
way his presence and guidance is available to us is in the lives of
his faith-filled witnesses. They concretely show us that Jesus’ life
is possible in our age. These witnesses also fulfill what Jesus
promised in today’s Gospel; that the promised Spirit (Paraclete)
would "remind" us of all that Jesus told us. The preacher should be
concrete and give an example of such witnesses – those people who
are sure signs that the Spirit continues to animate and inspire us
with the life of Christ. Such witnesses also "instruct" us by their
lives, how to live Jesus’ message in our day. It might be best when
giving such examples to draw them from everyday life so that the
ordinary Christian can feel Spirit-life is within our grasp.
A little caution here: there are three themes in today’s Gospel
reading: (1) love as the force that unites us to God; (2) the
promise of the Holy Spirit; (3) the peace and joy that comes from
Jesus’ return to God. All three would be too much for the preacher
to cover adequately, it might be best to choose one.
Thus, in anticipation of Pentecost, the preacher might choose to
focus on the coming and the role of the Spirit in the church. The
community to whom this Gospel was written (circa 90) was at a
crucial stage. The apostles and eye witnesses to Jesus were dead and
still he had not returned. They were a persecuted community and
needed his presence desperately. Thus, they would be encouraged by
signs that his Spirit was still with him. Here is another example of
the graciousness of God, for the disciples do not have to earn the
Spirit. The Spirit is crucial for the living faith of the church and
so God will give the Spirit. We learn from Jesus today that this
Spirit will be sent "in Jesus’" name, and so will link us with the
life of Jesus. The Spirit will also teach what we need to more fully
incorporate the life of Christ in our daily lives. With these
activities of the Spirit in our midst there will be ample signs of
Jesus’ continued presence in the life of the church and the public
witness of its members.
Another preaching focus might be the gift of peace that Jesus
leaves with his disciples. This word ("shalom") has rich meaning in
the Jewish community. It was used in greetings and partings – a wish
for a life of harmony in God’s community; a life lacking nothing; a
life of complete fullness. This life would be instituted with the
arrival of the Messiah. Jesus brings his "peace" and all that it
implies to his followers. The peace he gives us also stirs up in us
a desire that such a peace be experienced by all and so the disciple
is spurred to make this peace a reality in the world. Rather than
being a source of contention or division, the disciple at home and
in the market place works to create a healthy and life-sustaining
harmony in the community.
And sometimes, to create a truly caring and healthy community, a
community of shalom, the disciple may even have to disturb an
unhealthy and superficial harmony so as to create one that is true
for all members. For example, a group working to change unhealthy
working conditions in sweat shops in the inner city, or a developing
country might seem troublesome to those who gain from such
oppressive labor practices. They might be accused of disturbing the
peace. But the reality may be, that the disciple of Christ is really
working so that all might enjoy his "shalom," all might live and
enjoy fullness of life.
Thus, if we experience the peace and assurance of Jesus at this
eucharistic celebration today, what will we do to make such a peace
available to others? How can we help them experience a more complete
life? What do the lives of those around us still lack so that they
too can experience the peace Jesus offers us today?
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
The Second Synod of Orange taught with firm authority
that nothing human can demand, merit or buy the gift of
divine grace and that all cooperation with it is a prior
gift of that same grace: "Even the desire to be cleansed
comes about in us through the outpouring and working of
the Holy Spirit." Subsequently, the Council of Trent,
while emphasizing the importance of our cooperation for
spiritual growth, reaffirmed that dogmatic teaching. "We
are said to be justified gratuitously because noting
that precedes justification, neither faith nor works,
merits the grace of justification; for ‘if it is by
grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise,
grace would no longer be grace’ (Rom 11:6)."
---Pope Francis, "Apostolic
Exhortation: Gaudete et Exsultate," #53
peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you!
Setting aside our praises to God at Masses, how often do you hear
others praising God in your everyday world? How often do you
celebrate God in your life? We should be a joyous people especially
in Easter season but often, we get right back on to our old familiar
saddle. So, I am posting one of the most joyous praises in our
Catholic faith--a joyous thank you to God for the creation. Have
some spiritual fun and try writing your own praise of creation this
The Canticle of Creation by St. Francis of Assisi
O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God, to you belong praise,
glory, honor and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation and especially for our
Brother Sun, who brings us the day and the light; he is strong and
shines magnificently. O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and for the stars which you
have set shining and lovely in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Brothers Wind and Air and every kind
of weather by which you, Lord, uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water, who is very useful to us,
and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire, through whom you give us
light in the darkness: he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Earth, our Mother, who nourishes
us and sustains us, bringing forth fruits and vegetables of many
kinds and flowers of many colors.
Be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive for love of you; and
for those who bear sickness and weakness in peace and patience- you
will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death, whom we must all face.
I praise and bless you, Lord, and I give thanks to you, and I
will serve you in all humility.
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Book of Revelation reading:
angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God.
Revelation keeps our feet firmly rooted in our present struggles
to live the Christian life; but it also focuses our eyes on what is
to come. The world’s indomitable powers, despite present
appearances, will be overcome. In the meanwhile, John is inviting us
to turn away from the false values and powers of the world and focus
on the vision of the new Holy City where we will dwell with God and
So we ask ourselves:
- How does our hope in a permanent future with God affect our
- What signs do I see that strengthen my hope in the power of
good over evil?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Robbie D. Locklear #0246186 (On death row since 5/14/96)
- Archie L. Billings #0471315 (6/5/96)
- Angel Guevara #0506556 (6/20/96)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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