The Gift Within
Sixth Sunday of Easter. Fr John Farrell suggests that we all need to receive the Holy Spirit anew this Eastertide.
Today’s readings relate to the past, the present and the future of Christ’s people. The first reading gives us the moment in the earliest days of he Church when the Jewish-Christian followers of the Risen Lord opened the Church to non-Jewish disciples, the likes of most of us. In their closeness to the Holy Spirit of God they can say ‘It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us’.
The second reading gives us a vision of that same closeness between God and his people at the final culmination of the Church. There will be no need of a temple in the new city of God because ‘the Lord God and the Lamb were themselves the temple, and the city did not need sun or moon for light since it was lit by the radiant glory of God and the Lamb was a lighted torch for it’.
Here in the present, Jesus addresses us directly from the upper room of the Last Supper, through all the generations and continents of the Church’s mission to wherever we attend to his living gospel voice resounding today. ‘We, the Father and the Son, will come to you who keep my words and love me, and we will make our home in you’. As he will go on to say in the next chapter, in the image of the Vine and the branches: ‘Abide in me as I abide in you.’
This ‘abiding’ is an indwelling of the whole Trinity because Jesus goes on to promise us the Holy Spirit. Reading this at this point in Eastertide makes us aware that the liturgical year is now heading towards the culmination of the long Lent-Eastertide season with the feasts of Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity.
We often associate the gift of the Holy Spirit with those who are strong in faith – the great saints and heroes of the faith. True enough. But just as Christ came not for the healthy but the sick, not for the righteous but for sinners, there might be some questions to ask which concern ourselves and the Holy Spirit given to us. Why would we need a Teacher if we had everything sorted out for ourselves? Why would we need a Counsellor if were not in need of guidance? Why an Advocate if we were not too weak to stand up for ourselves? Why a Recaller of the things of Christ if we were not only too likely to live our daily lives according to the logic of this Age and not according to the truthful gentleness of Jesus, the indwelling Trinity and the needs of our neighbours? The Holy Spirit is given to those who need the Holy Spirit. To the weak and not the strong.
Today’s gospel passage goes on to give us the words that make up the two prayers said after the Our Father at Mass: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid’ and ‘Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you…’ Prayers shared as we prepare to receive the whole Trinity in Holy Communion.
The life of faith for the Spirit-filled Christian disciple involves the head, the heart and the hands. The head – the truths of the faith and their interconnection and depth and resonance in creation and daily living. For this the Spirit gives us insight. The heart – the life of prayerfulness, of belonging as sons and daughters, and faithful attentiveness to God – for which the Spirit gives us joy in believing. And the hands – the practical living-out of the faith in loving neighbour, self and God – for which the Spirit gives us courage and hope. All three are needed and need to inter-react as one.
The early Christians that we met in the first reading prayed constantly for courage and ‘boldness in believing’, aware of their human vulnerability and fragility yet empowered to say ‘it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us’, bringing in such a significant change as the reception of Gentiles. The contemporary Church, exposed in its sinfulness and shame, demoralised and ridiculed is a Church in need of repentance and radical renewal in the Holy Spirit. The contemporary Christian, every one, needs to be recalled home: ‘make your home in me, as I make mine in you’.
The contemporary Christian, demoralised, confused, anxious, has already received the Pentecostal Spirit for those who need it. As St Paul says at the beginning of his second letter to Timothy ‘fan into flames, rekindle, the gift of God that is within you.’