May 20, 2017

6th Sunday of Easter: Love is Loyaty

"He will give you another Advocate to be with you always"

Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
1 Peter 3: 15-18
John 14: 15-21

If you are old enough to remember the Catholic Church in the later 60’s and early 70’s you likely remember what became known as the “Catholic Charismatic Movement.”  To tell the truth I went to prayer meetings, attended a large gathering of “Catholic Charismatics,” sang in a folk group for our parish “guitar Mass” when I was in high school.  Although, I would honestly say that I wasn’t a complete charismatic I certainly was intrigued.  What became known as the baptism in the Spirit became somewhat of a problem, however, for many.  I never claimed to speak in tongues, although I certainly remember hearing some who felt they did so.  Yet, if you were ever asked by a well-meaning “charismatic: “Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?” it may have raised your shackles a bit and you proudly said to yourself, “I’ve been baptized already.  I thought I received the Spirit in my earlier water baptism.”

And yes you did and continue to do so in other non-sacramental ways.  Water baptism, the reception of the Spirit, forgiveness of original sin, and the seeds of faith are all connected with our understanding of baptism.  What more probably was meant by the phrase, baptism in the Spirit, was a desire for a deeper personal experience of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. 

What, then, would be the purpose of the Spirit in our lives? Jesus words today indicate the Spirit will be an “Advocate, the spirit of truth, and will remain with you.” Sounds wonderful!  The Gospel scene today is a kind of farewell, a last promise to the Apostles before Jesus returns to his Father.  They know he has given them much to ponder and to understand. And he here reassures them that if they truly remain in his love, they will be able to understand more fully and deeply all that he has given them.  The Spirit will come to them and abide with them as the Spirit will gradually unfold for them the fullness of who Jesus is and what their mission is all about. That is divine reassurance that though he leaves, he comes back in his Spirit. This will bring about what every Christian should desire and hope for: that deeper experience of the love of God. In this case, Jesus is not referring to affection, emotion, or warm feelings, the usual indicator of love for another.  What he is requesting of his Apostles is their loyalty.  We can rephrase: “If you are loyal to me (love me), you will keep my commandments.”

For example, married couples show their deepest love for the other by their loyalty: for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death. I will remain faithful or loyal to you throughout our marriage and in that way I indicate my true love for you. It is beyond feelings and sharing good times.

Loyalty would also imply a certain common understanding; to be of one mind and heart or to be on the same page as it were in our thinking and perspective.  Like a married couple who in the best sense of marriage find themselves compatible with each other in the things they enjoy, in the faith they share with each other and their children, in the common values they live by. If a husband stands in defense of his wife or a wife in defense of her husband, that certainly indicates a level of love that is lived out in loyalty.

Jesus calls us to be of a common mind and heart with him.  If you keep my commandments, I see your loyalty; you prove your love for me and in that way express your love for the Father who will send you the “Advocate to be with you always.” 

The Spirit is the gift of the Father to us.  The Spirit was a reassurance to the Apostles that they would not be alone, especially in times when decisions would need to be made.  Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a wonderful example of this.  The pressure was on for the early Christian communities in Jerusalem and that area since they were increasingly becoming viewed as a threat to Judaism and the Jewish way of life with its multiple legal requirements.  The Catholic Church has nothing over early Judaism which had more than 800 legal prescriptions for each Jew. These new “Christians” seem far more lax and dismissive of these precepts, yet they began as Jews. 

So, the mission was seen as needing to leave the confines of the Jerusalem communities and reach out beyond those borders to the larger – Gentile – world. This was bold and revolutionary.  Yet, as we read today, those non-Jewish communities responded with enthusiasm and embraced the Gospel preached to them. With St. Paul it reached a peak; a no looking back pitch. Peter and John go down to Samaria to pray over those baptized, to receive the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit has taught them about the future and God’s full intent in Christ.   

As the early Apostles and the early Christians found themselves with a new direction and a new social order of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and service, they came to understand more deeply the meaning of Jesus’ mission and that of their own in the world.  In the end, this made them very different from the culture around them.  Yet, they remained loyal to the end and countless thousands even went to martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel. 

This call to love and loyalty is what we hear today.  Not as a thing of the past, an interesting historical study but as a clarion call to us today.  The Gospel is timeless and the Spirit is constantly present guiding us to understand that “deposit of faith” as we call it. 

In spite of so many contrary attractions around us, can we remain loyal to Christ and his Church?  We will be different and by that difference model for others a better way based in love for God and others. Jesus invites his Apostles and all who would believe into a common relationship with God through him in the power of the Spirit.  “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father . . . and I will reveal myself to him.”

Our common share in the Eucharist is the undeniable sign that the Gospel of Christ is meant for all.  Here we gather as one family in a blind acceptance of the differences among us and gratefulness for the gift of diversity, which is a sign of the fullness and richness of God.  

Grant, almighty God, 
that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy,
which we keep in honor of the risen Lord, 
and that what we relive in remembrance
we may always hold to in what we do. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(Collect of Mass)