Following the Holy Spirit’s Often Surprising Lead, 5th Saturday of Easter, May 20, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Bernardine of Siena
May 20, 2017
Acts 16:1-10, Ps 100, Jn 15:18-21


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the first reading we come to one of the truly pivotal events in the history of the spread of the Gospel, but it’s something that may initially surprise us. St. Luke tells us in Acts that Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled through Phrygia and Galatia wanting to go spread the Gospel in the “province of Asia” around Ephesus, but they were “prevented by the Holy Spirit.”  A little later they tried to go into Bithynia, a north central province of modern day Turkey “but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”
  • They were trying to spread the Gospel, to plant the seeds of faith, something that they and we both should anticipate that the Holy Spirit would have facilitated and blessed. But he did the exact opposite. He closed the doors. Why he did this appears a little later. After they have arrived in Troas, Paul had a dream of a Macedonian standing before him imploring, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” The following morning the three sought passage there at once, concluding that God had called them to proclaim the Gospel to them as well. Macedonia was in Europe, at the very north of Greece. The Holy Spirit shut the doors to Ephesus and to Bithynia precisely so that they could take the Gospel sooner to Europe, where the seeds of the Gospel would flourish. (Other Christians would continue the expansion into the province of Asia and into Bithynia, and Paul himself would eventually get to Ephesus).
  • There’s a very important spiritual lesson here for all of us. Many times when we’re doing good things for the Lord, we can presume that God wants what we want, and when he seems to slam a door in our face, we wonder why he treats us that way. But often he forcefully closes one door so that we will notice that he wants us to walk through another. Docility to the Holy Spirit means that we’re docile even when he prevents us from doing something good for God so that he can have us rather do something that will advance his kingdom in the way he knows is more needed. We lose a job in which we were doing a lot of good and can’t figure out why, until much later we see with God’s help that he wanted us to transfer to something else to build his kingdom. I had tried to apply to become a seminarians for my home Archdiocese of Boston, but the vocation director wouldn’t even give me an application. It seemed like such a contradiction, but if I had been accepted to the Archdiocese, then I would have never come to the Diocese of Fall River, likely never have received the type of great seminary formation with which I was blessed, never had a chance to be able to help the Archdiocese as an outside during the priestly sexual abuse scandals and so many other things. Likewise over the course of my priesthood there have been many times that the Holy Spirit said no to various assignments that I had been asked for, but if anyone of those had happened, I would not be here in New York, serving at the United Nations, with the privilege to start each day ministering to the Sisters of Life! Many times it’s through the seeming contradictions and even through the suffering one experiences, rather than foreseeable and obvious apostolic opportunities, that God can reach people he never otherwise would have reached. I can multiply examples from my life and I’m sure each of you can as well. The point is that we just never know what the Holy Spirit has in mind. Our task is to accept everything, whether seemingly adverse or propitious, and allowing him with faith to blow as he wills.
  • We see a tremendous illustration of this in Jesus’ words in the Gospel, which conclude the 15th chapter of St. John, which we’ve been pondering all week. It seems at first glance a very surprising conclusion. Jesus began the chapter with the image of the Vine and the Branches, promising that if we abide in him and him in us we will bear much fruit. Then he goes on to tell us how much he loves us — just as much as the Father loves him. He tells us how to remain in that love by keeping his commandments, especially his command to love others in the same self-sacrificial way he has loved us. He informs us that he has revealed to us everything he heard from the Father. He calls us his friends. He discloses that he has chosen us — out of all the rest — and appointed us together with him to bear fruit. He has told us that whatever we ask the Father in his name the Father will hear. And he stated that he has told us all of this so that his own joy — the joy of the happiest person who has ever lived — will be in us and our joy fulfilled. Yet, after all of these tremendously consoling revelations, he tells us today that the world will hate us and persecute us just like it hated and persecuted him. It seems like such a non-sequitur, but it’s not, because Jesus revealed everything ahead of time so that even when we’re suffering on account of his name, even when we’re experiencing the brunt of their opposition to him, to his word, to the Father, he wants us not to forget that we’re still attached to him on the Vine, that he’s still abiding in us, that he still loves us as the Father loves him, that we’re still his friends, that we’re still chosen, and that we’re abiding in his love as we lay down our lives in love and prayer for those who are persecuting and hating us. It’s obviously a temptation for us to think the opposite. When we’re doing the Lord’s work, we figure that he’s going to make everything turn to gold. But that gold comes only after the crucible. And the same Spirit sometimes allows us to suffer, as he did the martyrs, because he knows that the way we’ll proclaim the Gospel in suffering may bring far more people to Christ than if we proclaimed the Gospel normally without suffering and persecution.
  • Today we celebrate a saint who illustrates these principles. He was orphaned at six, but became a great spiritual father. He preached against many of the vices of the day — usury, gambling, sodomy — and that did not ingratiate him to the people enslaved by those vices. To help overcome the divisions led by the Guelph-Ghibelline conflict, in which both like gang members in the Cripps and Bloods today sought to proclaim their allegiance in markers, he wanted Christians to have their own, and so he made it, the trigrammaton, IHS, which are the first three consonants in Greek of the name Jesus and an acronym in Latin for Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus Savior of Men. In promoting devotion to Jesus’ holy name, he was actually accused of heresy and summoned to Rome, but after the Pope heard him preach, he was asked by him to give a mission that lasted 80 days to help Roman Catholics come to deeper faith in the power of Jesus’ name and person. So every circumstance that happened to him was converted into something that would make it possible for him to bear fruit that would last.
  • Today, as we recall that Jesus said all of these words on Holy Thursday as he was preparing to receive on Calvary all the hatred and persecution that the world could muster so that our hearts wouldn’t be troubled or afraid. It’s here that he was giving us his love to the full. It’s here that he was attaching us to him on the Vine. It’s here that the Holy Spirit constantly comes to help us open the door to Christ and then follow Christ the way out to wherever the Holy Spirit leads, glorifying the Lord with our life. It’s here that St. Bernardine received the nourishment to do all he did, and we will receive the strength to hallow God’s name now and forever.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ACTS 16:1-10

Paul reached also Derbe and Lystra
where there was a disciple named Timothy,
the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer,
but his father was a Greek.
The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him,
and Paul wanted him to come along with him.
On account of the Jews of that region, Paul had him circumcised,
for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
As they traveled from city to city,
they handed on to the people for observance the decisions
reached by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem.
Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith
and increased in number.They traveled through the Phrygian and Galatian territory
because they had been prevented by the Holy Spirit
from preaching the message in the province of Asia.
When they came to Mysia, they tried to go on into Bithynia,
but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them,
so they crossed through Mysia and came down to Troas.
During the night Paul had a vision.
A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words,
“Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
When he had seen the vision,
we sought passage to Macedonia at once,
concluding that God had called us to proclaim the Good News to them.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 100:1B-2, 3, 5

R. (2a) Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
R. Alleluia.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
R. Alleluia.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
R. Alleluia.
The LORD is good:
his kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
R. Alleluia.

JN 15:18-21

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
and I have chosen you out of the world,
the world hates you.
Remember the word I spoke to you,
‘No slave is greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
And they will do all these things to you on account of my name,
because they do not know the one who sent me.”