6th. EASTER A)
In the 1st. 7 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke describes the beginning and the development of the Church in Jerusalem, culminating in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.
Starting with chapter 8, St. Luke begins to describe the spread of the Good News outside Jerusalem. Those, who fled from the persecutions in Jerusalem, begin to spread the Good News wherever they went. Again we are reminded that God can bring good out of evil. The persecution of Christians in Jerusalem led to the spread of the Gospel.
V. 5 – Philip, who had been appointed to oversee the distribution of food, becomes the Church’s 1st. missionary. He goes to Samaria & proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is the Promised Messiah. Although the Samaritans had the same basic faith as the Israelites, in the eyes of the average Israelite they were among “the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Mt. 10:6).
In imitation of his Master, Philip performs signs and wonders among the people. (8:6, 13).
He drives out unclean spirits and heals the sick. The miracles he performed made his preaching all the more attractive. If a preacher can back up his preaching with miracles, he will certainly be listened to.
V. 14 -- On hearing that the people of Samaria had accepted the Good News, Peter and John are sent there by the Mother Church to investigate. They were sent down to see what was happening in Samaria. When Peter and John came, they prayed over those, who were baptized by Philip, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Then, they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
(d). St. Luke Seems To Separate The Gift Of The Holy Spirit
From The Waters Of Baptism.
In v. 16 – Luke tells us that the Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit, when they were baptized. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (cf. 2:38). This passage has caused some difficulties for Scripture scholars. All through the writings of St. Paul & the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is bestowed immediately at Baptism. (Acts 1:5, 8:17& 19, 19:6 11:16).
The confession of sinfulness, the waters of Baptism, the laying on of hands and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit are synonomous in all the other writings of the New Testament.
Luke’s Reasons For Separating Them
In this passage, St. Luke seems to separate the gift of the Holy Spirit from the waters of Baptism. Scripture scholars tell us that St. Luke had 3 or 4 reasons for separating them.
(1). First of all, he wants to show that the new mission to Samaria has the approval and the blessing of the Apostles & the Mother Church in Jerusalem. (cf. 1:1-18, 11:22).
(2). By saying that the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of the hands of the Apostles, St. Luke is telling his readers that it is the same Holy Spirit, who was so active in the Mother Church, who is now active in the Church in Samaria.
(3). He is also saying that the Church in Samaria and the Mother Church in Jerusalem form one Christian community, bound together by the Holy Spirit.
(4). Finally, he is also emphasizing the importance of the young Churches in maintaining close contact with the Mother Church in Jerusalem.
The Bishop Of Rome – The Successor Of St. Peter
In the 1st. c., the Church in Jerusalem was the Mother Church. Today, for us Catholics, the Church of Rome is our Mother Church. Just as it was important for all the young Churches to keep in close contact with the Mother Church in Jerusalem, so it is important that all Catholic communities, throughout the world, maintain close links with the Church of Rome, our Mother Church.
Bishop of Palm Beach
It is also important that we maintain close links with the Bishop of Palm Beach, our spiritual leader. The basic structure of our Church leadership is the college of bishops in union with the Pope. Christ established St. Peter and the other Apostles as the primary leaders of the Christian community. As the successors of the Apostles, the college of Bishops, in union with the Pope, are our primary spiritual leaders. In a word, to be Catholic, means to be in close communion with the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter.
To be Catholic, also means to be in close communion with the bishop of Palm Beach, our spiritual leader.
2nd Reading (1Pet. 3:15-18)
The 1st. Letter of Peter was written towards the end of the 1st. c. — obviously it was not written by St. Peter himself. The purpose of the Letter is to encourage the early Christians to persevere in their faith, despite the slander and harassment they are undergoing.
In today's Reading, the author's prime concern is the behaviour of Christians in the face of slander and harassment.
He exhorts them to lead exemplary lives so that they will make a good impression on their pagan neighbours. By leading exemplary lives, they will not only avoid provoking unnecessary persecution, but they will also attract others to the faith. When they are asked about their faith, they are to respond gently and respectfully. Ideally, their conduct will bear witness to the genuineness of their faith. (v. 16). The author quotes a well known Proverb: "It is more noble to suffer wrong than to do wrong".
By quoting the Proverb, the author is telling his readers that it is better to patiently bear slander and harassment than to retaliate in an un-Christian manner. (Mt. 5:44, Rom. 12:24). As he has done all through the Letter, St. Peter exhorts his readers to follow the example of Christ and to persevere in their faith. Though he was innocent, Christ was insulted and suffered to the point of death. Today, many Christians, throughout the world, are being harassed & persecuted. Many have been forced to leave their homeland.
The fact that fellow Christians are being persecuted – even martyred – should be a concern for all of us. Let us pray that every Christian may have the freedom to practice his or faith without harassment or intimidation. Let us pray that God, in his divine providence, will look after & take care of them.
Gospel (Jn. 14:15-21)
This morning's Gospel is part of Christ's Discourse to his Disciples at the Last Supper. Most of Christ's Discourse at the Last Supper is about "Love". Christ reduced all the commandments & precepts of the Old Testament to what are known as The Two Great Commandments Of Love. You know them already: "You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind & with all your strength.... You shall love your neighbour as yourself". (Mk. 12:30)
Loving God above all things: loving others after the example of Christ is what Christianity is all about.
In this morning's Gospel. Christ makes a strong connection between love for himself & keeping his commandments. He says: "If you love me you will keep my commandments.... Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me…. Whoever loves me will keep my Word.". (vv. 15, 21 & 23). Our love relationship with Christ comes first. Then, this love relationship is deepened and strengthened by keeping Christ's Commandments. On the other hand, our love relationship with Christ is weakened or lost by not keeping Christ's Commandments.
Keeping Christ's Commandments must always be the expression of love for him.
In his Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul emphasizes the importance of love as the motive of our actions: "If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing”.
Vv. 2-3 – “If I have the gift of prophecy & if I have faith, strong enough to move mountains, but am without love, then I am nothing at all...
If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever". (ICor.13:1-3).
For St. Paul only those actions, which are done out of a motive of love, have value & merit.
Only those actions, which are done out of a motive of love, have value in God’s eyes.