p. Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, May 14, 2023 | Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8:5-8.14-17; 1Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21.
When a sensitive mother is faced with a child who refuses to listen to reason, who perhaps has a tantrum and does not want to listen, instead of raising the tension, with tenderness and intelligence she will ask: Do it for me… And in this way there are many possibilities that the child will take the medicine he hates, or pick up the toys, or not continue fighting with his little brother.
Perhaps this is the most complete and realistic way to understand what Christ tells us today in the Gospel: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
As it happens to the child, even if we have no special desire to be faithful to one of the commandments… we will do it because Jesus asks us to, out of love for Him. Christ is telling us that it will not be difficult for us to keep the commandments when we do so out of pure affection for Him.
And, seen from the other side, if we ask ourselves what we have to do to love Him, we will see that our effort to live the wisdom contained in the Commandments will impel us to love God, because our effort does not remain without His answer. We could say that the first perspective is that of the ascetic life and the second corresponds to our mystical experience.
In any case, Christ himself will tell us that, in reality, all the Commandments, the Law and the Prophets are summed up in a form of love that includes God and neighbor.
In any case, our tendency, not only of Christians, but of the culture we live in, is to give little value to norms and to suppose that individual freedom, together with good will and a supposedly intimate relationship with divine persons, can replace them with advantage. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible. In reality, the Commandments represent an excellent guide for those of us who, naturally, do not fully understand the message of Christ. For example, many of us today are not very sensitive to the Third Commandment: You shall keep holy the Sabbath day.
In a naive and superficial way, there are those who do not delve deeply into St. Augustine’s saying: Love and do what you will, and thus arrive at an individualistic relativism. Perhaps they do not realize that St. Augustine lived a true intellectual humility and declared: I would not believe in the Bible if the Church did not present it to me and explain it to me.
Meditating on the meaning of the Commandments and the one that sums them all up, the Commandment of love, leads us to the second part of today’s Gospel text, a sad moment for the disciples who foresaw a future far from Christ. But it is precisely the Holy Spirit who promises them that is the answer to everything. Yes, the fact of being orphans, as Jesus lets us glimpse, is a misfortune difficult to understand for those who have not suffered it. The Holy Spirit is the divine person who saves us from being orphans.
Normally, we imagine an orphan as a child who has difficulty meeting his or her primary needs, such as food, shelter and a proper education.
But we know more and more about the effects of parental loss or abandonment. Children who have undergone family deprivation display several negative traits and also develop a number of negative characteristics: slow rate of mental development, low IQ, emotional and regulatory disorders, unstable and inadequate self-esteem, anxiety and hostility to adults and low acceptance in the group of peers, poor skills of self-control and of socially acceptable behavior, distorted identity and family image….
So being an orphan does not only mean a difficulty to survive, but especially to have a serene life and healthy relationships. In particular, those who are orphans have serious difficulties to know how to love and to accept love, can one be more unhappy?
The Holy Spirit teaches us to love. That is his fundamental teaching. And this is not an empty or abstract promise; Jesus says that we know the Holy Spirit. Certainly, his presence is unmistakable. To speak of presence is to speak of the assurance of someone before me, someone other than myself. There is no need to insist that the mere presence of a person changes our life. A child will feel safe in front of his parents; a student in an exam will stop thinking about cheating if the teacher stands in front of him, or a basketball team will play better if it hears the roar of the fans cheering it on….
The Holy Spirit makes Himself felt by inclining us to a different love, new, different from the one we may have experienced a few days or minutes ago. This is true presence, beyond the senses. We can notice it because it gives us a peace (Quietude) that allows us to contemplate (Recollection) how we are to treat the one in front of us.
This is neither uncommon nor exceptional. A clear example is what happened at Pentecost: the disciples were full of fear and doubts and the Holy Spirit not only comforted them, but gave them the word that they had to transmit to the crowd, as they did. Perhaps in our lives something as spectacular will not happen to us, but we do experience that, when we receive God’s comfort, we feel ready to comfort and help others.
Here is a true story:
At the beginning of the 20th century, in the Midwest of the United States, a woman visited an orphanage and asked the Head Nurse: Is there a child that no one has wanted to adopt? The nurse replied: Yes, there is a 10-year-old girl, unattractive and humpbacked. The woman said: That’s the girl I want. Thirty-five years later, the State Director of Orphanage Inspection wrote this report about an institution:
This place is exceptional. It is clean, the food is good, the children are very well cared for, and the atmosphere is the best of all the facilities we have visited. The nurse in charge, Mercy Goodfaith, has a heart that oozes love, has a kind look and face and it makes you forget the fact that she is a hunchback. It is evident that the children adore her.
In the case of the Holy Spirit, his presence has many manifestations. One of them is his peculiar way of consoling us. The Holy Spirit is not a painkiller, but he knows how to use everything to bring us closer to him. Today’s First Reading is a good example. After the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the Hellenistic Christians were directly threatened, because for the Jewish authorities they represented a potential danger to their traditions and power. Many fled to Syria and other provinces of the Roman Empire. Among those who fled to Samaria was Philip, who had been chosen as one of those whose mission was to serve the poor. In this Reading we see how Philip’s word was enthusiastically received and changed the lives of the new Christians.
By nowadays, we have all heard of mindfulness, also called complete attention or mindful awareness, which encourages us to be attentive and accept the experience of the moment, without rejection or hasty judgments. Surely, those who esteem this mental practice, which is also used as a therapy for anxiety, stress and depression, will understand the value of the presence of the Holy Spirit, as it helps us to better contemplate the value of events, of all experiences, of suffering.
As Pope Francis said on Pentecost 2022, the Holy Spirit, called “the Comforter,” heals memories. What seemed to us something negative, worth forgetting, takes on new meaning and, literally, unexpectedly, pain leads to joy. In reality, this is the continuous dynamic of our mystical life; we see that something is purified within us and, as a consequence, we feel closer to God, more united to Him.
But also, in a very simple way, in this First Reading we see the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation. The apostles Peter and John, laying their hands on those who had been baptized by Philip “only in the name of the Lord Jesus“, receive the Holy Spirit and in this way they are able to go a step further, they are able to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and go beyond a proper moral life, to become apostles, servants of all.
Moreover, in this Reading we have a perfect example of how the apostolate is always in community. Regardless of how it is carried out, if it is done in faith and humility, one effort or one example of a disciple is confirmed by others, and this will surely have a blessing.
It will never be enough to remember to be humble, especially when we present ourselves as disciples of Christ. Ironic or aggressive comments about “other Catholics”, the arrogance of those who claim to know God better than others, and the claim to have an answer for everything, are true forms of scandal. In the Second Reading, St. Peter encourages us to give a reason for our faith with sweetness, respect and right conscience, for polemic only feeds the separation and vanity of those who pretend to be disciples.
Peter’s final advice is very wise. While persecution and misunderstanding can make us sad, what we should NOT do is… be amazed. Surely it is a sign of weakness that, to our great misfortune, the devil will use as an instrument to alienate us from God and our neighbor. In the words of Pope Francis:
He often anchors us in the past, in regrets, in nostalgia and in what life has not given us; or else he projects us into the future, nourishing fears, fears, illusions and false hopes. The Holy Spirit, instead, leads us to love the here and now, not an ideal world, nor an ideal Church, but reality, in the light of the sun, in transparency and simplicity (Pentecost, 2022).
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,