Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter
May 7, 2016
Acts 18:23-28, Ps 47, Jn 16:23-28
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- In this Decenarium of the Holy Spirit between the Ascension and Pentecost — which is far more like a “retreat” under Mary’s guidance awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit than a “novena” in which we simply add a prayer or two to the Holy Spirit — there’s a need for us to learn how to grow in the ways that the Holy Spirit is seeking to give us growth.
- In the first reading, we see that growth in the person of Apollos. He had grown up a Jew in Alexandria, Egypt, the real learning center of the empire with its great library and one million Jews. The Jews in Alexandria produced the Greek or Septuagint version of the Old Testament three centuries before and were tremendous scholars of it. Philo taught in Alexandria during this time and perfected the allegorical method of Scriptural interpretation, attempting to show how the entire Old Testament was a true but extended allegory pointing to its fulfillment in the life of the Messiah. It’s very likely that Apollos was trained in this school and when he eventually discovered that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus, he was extremely effective in proving to Jews how Jesus was in fact their long awaited.
- But St. Luke tells us that by the time he arrived in Ephesus, this eloquent speaker and authority on the Scriptures, who “with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus,” who “began to speak boldly in the synagogue,” knew “only the baptism of John” the Baptist. He had only received a baptism of repentance. He hadn’t yet even received the Baptism instituted by Christ to which John’s baptism pointed, the Baptism by the Holy Spirit and by fire that would actually do what John’s baptism foretold: take away our sins. There were so many graces that he was still waiting to receive. And Saints Priscilla and Aquila were the saints to help him. This lay couple, friends of St. Paul by this point, “took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.” St. Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what that entailed, but I think it involved a deeper understanding and reception of the Sacraments, depending far more on God’s grace than his own Scriptural erudition. Having gone from “accurate” to “more accurate,” he desired to go to Achaia, the northwestern region of Greece to continue his preaching. He eventually spent a great deal of time in Corinth and was so effective in his preaching that, as we see in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, some put him on the same level as Paul, Cephas (Peter) and even Jesus. Paul needed to correct them: “Each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:12-13). Then he answered: “Whenever someone says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely human? What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.” Apollos became God’s instrument to water the seeds he had used Paul to plant, but God used Priscilla and Aquila to water in Apollos the seeds that God through John the Baptist and Scripture study had planted.
- That brings us to three lessons for this annual ecclesial retreat.
- The first is that God wants to help us to learn the Way of God more accurately. The Christian life is not a classroom but a pilgrimage, a journey, an exodus, a Passover. Jesus came to us and said, not “Take good notes of what I say,” but rather “Follow me.” He identified himself as the Way and said that no one can come to the Father except through him, by following his footsteps. And the means he sends us to help us to learn this Way of God more accurately is the Holy Spirit, who will lead us into all truth and remind us of everything Jesus has taught us.
- The second is that the Holy Spirit does this work for us through people like Priscilla and Aquila. They were not rabbis or even apostles. They were a lay couple, instructed by Paul, who were not intimidated to help the eloquent Apollos grow in faith. God reveals his wisdom not to the wise and clever of the world, he told us once, but to the childlike, and they helped Apollos become more childlike. We’ve all had Priscillas and Aquilas in our life, people who have helped us learn the way more accurately. Parents. Godparents. Elderly sisters. Recent converts. Strangers. Simple catechists. We give thanks to God for them!
- The third is that the Holy Spirit wants us to become like Priscilla and Aquila for others, including for those whom we think are far more advanced along the way than we are. Sometimes those who are brilliant like Apollos can miss the forest for the trees. I think of the great Lacordaire’s comment after having heard St. John Vianney preach. After Lacordaire had preached Vespers, Fr. Vianney was ebullient and pronounced himself converted. He later asked someone, “Do you know the thought that came to me during Father Lacordaire’s visit? It was this: he who is greatest in knowledge came to humble himself before the one who is lowliest in ignorance. The two extremes met.” But Lacordaire’s impression of hearing the Curé of Ars preach at Mass earlier in the day was even more memorable. Vianney preached about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Lacordaire listened in a spirit of humble recollection to the pastor, commenting later that Fr. Vianney “uttered in a striking way a thought in connection with the Holy Spirit that I myself have been pondering for a long time.” The greatest and most eloquent preacher in 19th century France was helped to walk more accurately in the Way of God by this simple parish priest. Please know, Sisters, that the Holy Spirit will use you to help Superiors, help priests, help theologians, help bishops and who knows even help popes and saints at some point to know and follow the Way of God more accurately, just like God used Priscilla and Aquila to help Apollos, just like he used the Blessed Mother to instruct the Apostles and all the members of the early Church.
- The most important area of growth of all is with regard to our divine filiation. In the Veni Creator Spiritus, we pray to the Holy Spirit, Per te sciamus da Patrem, noscamus atque Filium, “It’s through you we come to know the Father and the Son.” He is the means by which we enter into the communion among the persons of the Trinity in the One Godhead. That’s what Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel. We have this passage fundamentally because of it’s connection to Jesus’ ascension, the words he says at the end of the passage, “Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” But the main message is about our relationship with the Father through the Son, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that he wants us to pray to the Father in his name, which means to ask in his very person, promising that what we ask for we will receive, because the Father cannot deny the Son. To pray in Jesus’ name means to accord our will to his as we ask, like Jesus accorded his will to the Father’s in the Garden of Gethsemane. And Jesus promises that if we do so, our joy will be complete, complete not because we have the transient good for which we ask, but complete because we will experience in the Father’s hearing our prayer the joy of his love for us as he gives himself to us, together with the Son and the Holy Spirit, in response to the prayer. Jesus makes this explicit: “I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God.” The Father loves us! He loves us with the heart of the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He loves us just like he loves Jesus. And he says to us at our baptism what he said about Jesus at his: “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.” This is the most necessary way we’re called to grow during this decenarium, to open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit’s guidance as he leads us into the mystery of God’s personal love for us and to become Priscillas and Aquilas he can use to lead others to that same life-changing awareness.
- The Way of God always leads us in two fundamental directions. It leads us first to greater Communion with God and second out to others to seek to bring them into greater Communion with God and us. That’s why the Holy Spirit always leads us to the Mass and seeks to help us convert our whole life into a Mass. To be instructed more accurately in the Way is to become more and more aware of how the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life and the launching pad for our cooperation with the Holy Spirit in evangelizing the world. Today the Holy Spirit has brought us here. Today we thank him for the Priscillas and Aquilas he has given us. Today we ask him to help us to draw others to be with him here by the eloquence and joy of our life, so that eventually one day with Jesus we may “leave the world and go back to the Father” with him!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 ACTS 18:23-28
Paul left and traveled in orderly sequence
through the Galatian country and Phrygia,
bringing strength to all the disciples.
an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus.
He was an authority on the Scriptures.
He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and,
with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus,
although he knew only the baptism of John.
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue;
but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him,
they took him aside
and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.
And when he wanted to cross to Achaia,
the brothers encouraged him
and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him.
After his arrival he gave great assistance
to those who had come to believe through grace.
He vigorously refuted the Jews in public,
establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus.
Responsorial Psalm PS 47:2-3, 8-9, 10
All you peoples, clap your hands;
shout to God with cries of gladness.
For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.
R. God is king of all the earth.
For king of all the earth is God;
sing hymns of praise.
God reigns over the nations,
God sits upon his holy throne.
R. God is king of all the earth.
The princes of the peoples are gathered together
with the people of the God of Abraham.
For God’s are the guardians of the earth;
he is supreme.
R. God is king of all the earth.
Alleluia JN 16:28
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I came from the Father and have come into the world;
now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 16:23B-28
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.
Until now you have not asked anything in my name;
ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.“
The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures
but I will tell you clearly about the Father.
On that day you will ask in my name,
and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you.
For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me
and have come to believe that I came from God.
I came from the Father and have come into the world.
Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”