Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; 1 Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21 All during this season between Easter and Pentecost, the Sunday readings have included selections from the Acts of the Apostles. At the conclusion of the Gospel of Luke — the first volume of Luke’s work — and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, the Risen Christ instructs his disciples to proclaim the Gospel message of "forgiveness" and to be his "witnesses" to the whole world, beginning "in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." In his narrative Luke portrays the early church as doing just that — preaching the Gospel fearlessly first in Jerusalem itself, then moving out through the surrounding region of Judea, then Samaria (as narrated in today’s first reading), and then through the missionary journeys of Paul and other apostles reaching to Rome itself. This is a sign of the Gospel’s universal outreach. Luke concludes Acts with a paradoxical ending. Paul is under house arrest in Rome (and likely to be martyred shortly thereafter) but, Luke notes, he was able to preach about Jesus "with complete assurance and without hindrance." Nothing or no one could stop the work of the Spirit to reach out to the world. An emphasis on the worldwide mission of the church has been a hallmark of Pope Francis, a topic of many of his exhortations and exemplified in his own wide embrace of people of all types and places. Right from the start, he challenged the church "to get out" into the wider world. At the same time, the pope has insisted that the church’s missionary efforts are not to be coercive or without respect for the dignity and convictions of others. He has called for the church to foster a "culture of encounter," to engage in dialogue with others who may not share our belief in Jesus. Some critics of the pope think that a call for "dialogue" is really an invitation to compromise our faith, watering it down in order to find common ground with others. But this is not at all what Pope Francis means. He insists that we must be true to ourselves and our Catholic and Christian identity in the midst of dialogue with others. I was reminded of this in reflecting on the second reading for today, a famous passage from the First Letter of Peter. The author writes to a cluster of Christian communities in Asia Minor. From the entire letter we learn that these communities are minority communities, suffering insults and threats from the surrounding majority population. The author addresses the recipients as "aliens" and "migrants." Yet, instead of suggesting they isolate themselves and withdraw from the world, the author urges them to "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for the reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and respect." Understanding mission as Christian witness to the wider world is precisely what Pope Francis has urged the church to carry out, offering the beauty of the Gospel with its characteristic values of reconciliation, justice, care for the poor and a spirit of openness to the stranger. The church’s mission, the pope has said, is to hold out to the world the ideal of a "civilization of love." To carry out such a mission to our world today is no easy task. Here is where today’s reading today from John’s Gospel gives us an important reminder. The selection is from the final discourse of Jesus on the eve of his death where Jesus’ reminds his disciples of his love commandment and promises, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." He promises to send the Paraclete, John’s characteristic name for the Spirit, a Greek word that means at once to "encourage," to "embolden," to "console." This "another Paraclete" (like Jesus himself ) or "Advocate" will abide with the community and make Jesus’ own presence with his disciples felt. This Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, will enable the community to carry out its mission to the world with courage and graciousness.