The world has been on lockdown and edge for nearly two months as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Lives have been disrupted in significant ways. Although this is not unheard of in a human history that is marked with war, disease and natural disasters, it is new to many people alive today. And such disruptions are a severe blow to our sense of well-being and safety. To stand and live in joyful hope as a Christian is more important than ever; for others as well as for ourselves.
In the first reading today, we hear about Philip’s trip to Samaria where he proclaimed the Gospel. Philip was not one of the Apostles; he was one of the Church’s first deacons. The crowds responded positively to his words and his acts. Peter and John followed Philip when they heard about his success. The people were baptized, hands were laid on them and they received the Holy Spirit. It is written, “There was great joy in that city.” (see Acts 8:5-8, 14-17)
Great joy! What brought them great joy? Was it the Gospel… receiving the Holy Spirit?
Think about the setting. Jesus had been crucified. His followers had been scattered. This new faith was coming out of Judaism and they were Samaritans. Yet they heard, they saw, they believed and were baptized! They experienced great joy!
Do you share that same joy today?
Frankly, in these times, it can sometimes be very difficult to feel any joy or hope. We have definitely experienced a coarsening of our society and a decline in general civility among people. And now, in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, holding onto Christian joy and hope is more important than ever to ward off despair and continue to proclaim the gospel.
In our stressful lives, maybe we have forgotten the reason for the joy that we should have. The greatest truth is that God exists. The second greatest truth is that God loves you.
Pope Francis reminds us, writing in The Joy of the Gospel, “The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make them known?”
So too does St. Peter teach us. In our second reading today, Peter tells us to always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that is in us, whenever we are asked. We are to do so, he says, with gentleness and reverence… with love as our motive and act.
Do you share that same joy today? Do you feel that joy deep within you, wanting to be shared?
Maybe you have family members or friends who do not share your faith, or at least do not understand why your faith means so much to you. Maybe you have even been criticized for your beliefs… or worse.
St. Peter reminds us that this will always be the case, that not everyone will be open to Christ and His Gospel, but—and this is of supreme importance—the hope and joy that is in you should never lead you to do or say hateful things or to be less than charitable. Our joy and hope must be constant. The motive for our evangelizing and our explaining the faith must always be love of God and love of neighbor.
Jesus speaks of this love in today’s Gospel passage from St. John. The setting is the Last Supper Discourse. Over the past weeks, we have been hearing Jesus prepare his disciples for his departure. Love is a principal theme running through this discourse. How do we know we love the Lord? Jesus tells us. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21).
Jesus speaks of the need for obedience. This is not the law of tyranny, but of love and order of love. He promises the Holy Spirit to those who love him. He promises that as he is in the Father, so too will we be in him and he in us. This is the language of love… of an intimate and abiding relationship… of family.
In one of Pope Francis’ early homilies after becoming pope, he said, “The Church begins there in the heart of the Father, who had this idea . . . of love. So this love story began; a story that has gone on for so long, and is not yet ended. We, the women and men of the Church, we are in the middle of a love story: each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is.”
Pope Francis has a way of getting right to the heart of the matter. His words should help us understand the import of today’s readings. Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit who is prosecutor and yet, also defender. How is this possible? Because the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, is also the love of God that dwells within us and that we are to share with others.
God is there with us, no matter what trials we go through. At this moment of pandemic, we have a duty to remain positive and joyful witnesses for the Lord. He is our cause of joy and our Hope. The Hope that is in us is the Presence of Almighty God and his love for us. That’s something to rejoice about!
This is the reality that connects us with one another. The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes (Joys and hopes), opens with the following insight:
“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds” (Gaudium et spes, #1).
God loves us. He loves me and He loves my family members, my friends, and people I do not even know. His loving Providence cares for us all. He has revealed Himself to us and redeemed us through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our God, our Savior, Our King and our brother. Together we are sojourners who journey to heaven. Now there is cause for real joy and hope!
Into the deep…
Reflection on the Mass readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A) — Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalms 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; First Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21.
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