1 May 2016
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
Some years ago my uncle was dying in a hospital and he was aware of this. He asked his brother to do all he could to help his wife look after his young children after he died. The brother assured him that he would faithfully carry out this promise which in fact he did. My dying uncle wanted to leave behind him someone he knew would carry on where he left off.
In the gospel today we have something similar. Jesus knows that he will die soon and that his disciples will need support after he has gone. So he consoles them that those who keep his word will find that the Heavenly Father and Jesus himself will make their home in them to encourage, console and strengthen them in the difficult times ahead. Not only that but he promises them the help of the Advocate, that is the Holy Spirit to be there for them too. We all know that in a court of law it is very important to have a good advocate or lawyer to plead our case so as to obtain justice. The Advocate Jesus gives us is the very best, no one less than the Holy Spirit.
Jesus assures us that this Spirit will teach us everything that we will need in difficult times. Even more he will remind the disciples of all that Jesus had taught them. The Spirit is the interpreter of what Jesus about. So in going back to his Father Jesus did not leave us alone. The Spirit takes the place of Jesus, not in a physical sense but by a divine indwelling. With the Spirit’s help we will be able to discern in each subsequent age what God wants of us, be courageous in following Jesus and having the gift of knowing what is the way forward depending on the challenges of the time in question.
We see a practical application of this in the first reading. There was disagreement among the early disciples about what the Gentiles wishing to become Christians should be asked to do. It is a measure of the extraordinary openness of at least some of the Jerusalem Church that what has been called the First General Council of the Church came out with a very new and radical decision. After all, the church leaders of the time were living in Jerusalem, at the heart of the Jewish faith and practice which they themselves had grown up with and which they still revered. Yet they decided it was not necessary for converts to the Way of Jesus to follow the Jewish Mosaic Laws, especially all the ritual aspects of it. So pagan converts didn’t have to follow all the laws about the washing of hands, eating pork etc. What they were asked to follow as regards the Jewish law was kept to a minimum: ‘to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from fornication meaning most likely irregular unions within certain degrees of blood kinship and from the meat of strangled animals’. That was all, no dietary regulations, no obligatory circumcision etc. In the situation of the time this was a revolutionary decision. When the decision was proclaimed, the elders of the Church used a very significant phrase: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”. They didn’t appeal to tradition to justify their decision but to the Spirit, and they expected the Spirit to guide them to the right decision.
In the 1960’s the Second Vatican Council looked at many issues and the bishops decided to change many of the traditional laws. Now we dialogue with our brothers and sisters of other faiths. We as Christians believe that the Holy Spirit can work through anyone. So we have learned to respect and even revere the work of great people who are not Christians, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King etc. Even our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, is seeking to listen to the signs of the times, in conformity with the will of God, and reaching out to many who have been alienated by the unmerciful application of rules and regulations written for a different time and situation.
Following the lead of Pope Francis, will you have the courage – will the Church as a whole – listen deeply to the voice of the Holy Spirit and make life-giving decisions that may move us away from traditional practices? How real is the Holy Spirit for us, how often do we pray to the Indwelling Holy Spirit for guidance? Have we enough trust that the Spirit will guide us today to make decisions after the mind and heart of Jesus?
Today’s gospel is a gospel of consolation, a gospel of encouragement. In it not only are we promised the Holy Spirit to guide us but Jesus assures us the He and the Father are with anyone who tries to live a life of love and service especially for the poor. The Spirit is with those who work for justice and peace in spite of much opposition. Finally Jesus tells us that if we try honestly to follow the prompting of the Spirit we will experience his peace. This is not just the absence of conflict or war but a peace, a deep down joy even when we may be struggling to do what is most loving. A deep peace even in time suffering because of our efforts to live out the invitation of Jesus to follow his ways.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for not leaving us orphans. Thank you for the free gift of the Holy Spirit. Help us to call upon and trust more and more the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA – Cork