Sixth Sunday of Easter: Cycle A
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
1 Peter 3:15-18
Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to his Apostles after his departure from this world. The Holy Spirit is the Advocate who defends the Apostles and the Spirit of Truth who guides and enlightens them on their journey to the Father.
Jesus declares that the world cannot accept the Spirit of Truth. It rejects the judgment of the Spirit because it chooses to remain in sin. We are encouraged, then, not to follow the way of the world, but rather to keep and observe the commandment of love given by Jesus at the Last Supper, to remain in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. In turn, God the Father will send us the Holy Spirit, to defend us and to dwell within us; the Son will come to us even after his departure from this world and we will see him; finally, we will be loved by God the Father and God the Son, and Jesus will reveal himself to us.
Our observance of the commandment of love and our dwelling in Jesus and in the Spirit are not human conquests. They are not fruit of our efforts alone. We have to see that in all these things we are always responding to and collaborating with God and his grace. This is clear from the first reading. First, the Samaritans respond to and freely accept the word of God. Second, they are incorporated into God’s family through baptism. This incorporation occurs not through their efforts at growing in holiness, but through the power of the Sacrament. The only thing they do is freely welcome God’s grace into their lives and assent, moved by his grace, to the truth of his Word. Thirdly, Peter and John lay hands on them so that they receive the Holy Spirit.
This last element is one of the scriptural foundations for the Sacrament of Confirmation. There is a clear distinction between the effect of the baptism of the deacon Philip and that of the rite of the laying on of hands by the apostles Peter and John. Something similar happens in Acts 19, when Paul baptizes the Ephesians and then lays hands on them (Acts 19:5-6). The Church would come to understand that the sacrament of Confirmation perfects what has been bestowed in Baptism and endows the baptized person with strength for the mission within the Church. The Sacrament of Confirmation puts the seal on that of Baptism as the Mystery of Pentecost completes that of Easter.
The Catechism teaches that Confirmation perfects the grace received in Baptism. The Sacrament gives us the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in divine sonship, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words and deeds (n. 1316).
Another way to look at the Sacrament of Confirmation is to see that through it the Church becomes “spiritual” and her members become attentive to the guiding action of the Holy Spirit. We are made a spiritual people so that we can worship God in the liturgy “in Spirit and in truth”. We are made spiritual so that we can share in the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ.
In the second reading, Peter encourages his listeners to live in the Spirit, to do the will of God, even when it entails suffering. Our model is Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He went about doing good and accomplished the Father’s will. Though he was innocent, he was put to death in the flesh. But his death was not a failure; it was rather a victory over sin. He suffered for our sins, the sins of the unrighteous, so that we may be purified and walk along the way that leads to the Father. We die with Christ to the things of the flesh and rise with him to life in the Spirit.
The work of the Spirit is that of sanctification, of making us grow in holiness. As Peter says: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts”. Our purification from sin in Baptism and the seal of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation leads to this new life in the Spirit. In this way we will be empowered to witness to Christ and give to everyone we encounter a reason for our hope “with gentleness and reverence”.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].