Father Donald Senior, CP

May 17: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Gifts of the Spirit

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

Pentecost is two weeks away, but the readings for this Sunday seem to anticipate it with their focus on the Holy Spirit. No doubt for most of us, comprehending the Spirit as the third person of the Holy Trinity is challenging. 

From our human experience we can glimpse the meaning of God as father — thinking of God as the most loving of any parent we might possibly hope for. From the Gospels we know the compassionate beauty of Jesus as teacher, healer and savior — one who is the faithful son of God. But in contemplating the Spirit it is hard to draw on any single human analogy or metaphor to help us. To experience the Spirit, in fact, is to perceive the full impact of God’s presence in our lives.

The readings today illustrate different dimensions of that divine presence. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles continues to chart the expanding mission of the early Christian community, as the apostle Philip brings the Gospel to Samaria, an area north of Jerusalem whose Jewish inhabitants were for centuries in tension with the Jews of Judea to the south. Philip’s mission of teaching and healing brings joy to Samaria, a joy capped when Peter and John follow up by laying hands on these new converts and transmitting to them the gift of the Spirit. 

Throughout his Gospel and Acts, Luke emphasizes the dynamic and centrifugal power of the Spirit. The Spirit animates Jesus’ own mission to embrace the poor and sick. As promised by the risen Christ, the gift of the Spirit will drive the early Christian community to take the message of the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.” 

It is interesting to note the different accent that Paul gives to the impact of the Spirit in his letters. For Paul, the Spirit is a powerful unifying factor that enables different members of the Body of Christ to become one. “There are many gifts,” Paul proclaims in the 12th chapter of his letter to the Corinthians, “but there is one Spirit who is in all and over all.”

As is often the case, the Gospel of John has a different slant on things and that is true of the way the Johannine Jesus speaks of the Spirit in today’s Gospel reading. On the eve of his death, Jesus promises to send “another advocate to be with you always.” 

The Greek word John uses is “paraclete,” literally translated as “advocate” or “consoler.” Jesus speaks of another advocate because the Spirit will do for the disciples precisely what Jesus did for them: console them, animate them, defend them, abide with them.  

But in his words to his disciples, Jesus will add one other important function of the Spirit — to help the disciples remember and understand what Jesus said and did. The Spirit, in effect, becomes the living memory of the church as it moves out into history. The Spirit will keep alive the memory of Jesus and inspire the writers of the New Testament. The Spirit will open the minds and hearts of the great saints who, over the centuries, exemplify authentic holiness. The “Spirit of truth” will guide the theologians and teachers of the church to remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus and to interpret it wisely for each new generation.

The powerful reading for today from the First Letter of Peter demonstrates another aspect of the Spirit. This letter was written to a series of small Christian communities in Asia Minor that were apparently under threat of persecution from the surrounding population. 

Instead of counseling them to withdraw from contact with the outside world, the author urges them to give fearless testimony. But the tone is remarkable. The Christians should be willing to give an explanation to their neighbors for “the reason for your hope,” but they should do so, “with gentleness and respect.” Through the goodness of their lives, the author notes, they can win over those who are hostile to them.

Outreach, cohesion, faithful memories and fearless and respectful witness, these are the gifts of the Spirit entrusted to you.


  • scripture