Witnesses of Hope, Sixth Sunday of Easter (A), May 29, 2011

Fr. Roger J. Landry

St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A

May 29, 2011

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1Pet 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21

 

 The following text guided this homily:

WITNESSES TO HOPE

  • Earlier this month we celebrated the beatification of Pope John Paul II. One of the most memorable speeches of his pontificate occurred in 1995 at the United Nations, where he addressed the challenges facing our world. One of the great threats he articulated was the lack of hope. The 20th century began, he said, with humanity full of self-confidence and certain that it had come of age; throughout it we saw great developments in medicine, science and technology. But we also witnessed a “century of sorrow,” with two world wars, a protracted cold war, and more people massacred for political and religious reasons than in all other centuries combined. A century that began with such optimism for tomorrow was ending with fear. He then described the Christian response to this situation, and how the Catholic Church wishes to serve the world of our time. The Christian is meant to bring hope, hope flowing from the human person’s being created in the image and likeness of God, hope flowing from natural endowment of conscience, freedom and the natural law God has given the person, hope from God’s grace, hope from God’s love for the human race. He concluded his discourse by giving himself a new title that incarnated what he saw as his mission. He didn’t choose any of the titles long given to the successor of St. Peter — Vicar of Christ, Bishop of Rome, Servant of the Servants of God. He said that he had come to the General Assembly of the United Nations not merely as the leader of the Vatican City State, and not merely as the shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church: He came as a “witness to hope.”
  • Pope Benedict has also diagnosed that this great problem of lack of hope in the world remains. His second encyclical, published in 2007, was called “Spe Salvi,” “Saved in hope.” He diagnosed how many people are living without hope and therefore living without salvation, and he wrote an encyclical precisely to help us all grow in hope.
  • More than 1900 years before John Paul II went to New York, and Pope Benedict wrote his letter, their predecessor, St. Peter, the first Pope, addressed the early Christians and us today and told us that we are ALL supposed to be WITNESSES TO HOPE. He said, in our second reading, “Be always ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” St. Peter’s statement implies, first, that Catholics are supposed to be persons of hope; secondly, that we need to be ready to give the reasons for our hope to all we encounter — at home, at work, at school, on the streets, in hospitals and nursing homes, in prisons, even, if necessary, in concentration camps and Gulags. This proclamation of a grounded yet soaring hope is one of the reasons why the Gospel we bear is Good News.
  • And as the recent popes have pointed out so well, the world is in desperate need of this Gospel of Hope because so many in our world are living in fear, pain, depression and despair.
  • Many are led to fear and despair by things in the world, the threat of terrorism, the lack of peace in countries like Iraq and the Holy Land, the problems flowing from drugs and poverty in our own country.
  • Many lose hope due to situations in their own lives —problems at home in their marriages or with their children, difficulties with bosses or colleagues at work, various health complications flowing from illness or old age and countless other personal situations.
  • Even within the Church, there are other problems that make people forlorn: how many people are not practicing the faith, the Church closings due to the shortage of priestly vocations, the shame of the clergy sex abuse crisis.
  • All of these problems are beyond the personal frustrations we feel when we cannot seem to kick our addiction to sin and succeed in the struggle to live as God wants.
  • Despite all of these challenges, despite everything that can cause us to lose hope, St. Peter calls us to be “always ready to give an explanation for the hope that is within us to anyone who asks.” This hope to which he calls us to give witness has nothing to do with cheery personalities or upbeat ideas. Pope Benedict suggests in Spe Salvi that hope is living with God in the world.  “I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus tells us. But he’s not just with us, he’s with us loving us, telling us twice that he loves us just as the Father loves him and that we’re called to love others just as he has loved us. This love is shown in his providential care, his mercy.
  • He gives us another great reason for hope in the Gospel today. The gift of the Holy Spirit. Another advocate. The word Paraclete means an advocate, a helper, a defender, a coach. He says the Holy Spirit will be “another Paraclete,” because Jesus is our first advocate, helper, defender and strong-right arm. The Holy Spirit helps us in each of the three “settings” for growing in hope that Pope Benedict described in his encyclical.
  1. The first is prayer. Pope Benedict XVI calls prayer a “school of hope.” The Holy Spirit fills us with hope by teaching us how to pray. Prayer puts our hope into action. St. Paul tells us, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26-27).
  2. The second is action. Pope Benedict XVI 16: “All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action … Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere.” The Christian life is “Life according to the Holy Spirit.”
  • The Holy Spirit fills us with hope by making us aware of our dignity as beloved sons and daughters of God. “Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Gal 4:6-7).  The Holy Spirit convinces us that we are “heirs” of all God has promised us — including the promise of heaven! — which obviously fills us with Christian hope. With St. John we can say, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are! … We are God’s children NOW; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be LIKE HIM, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:1).
  • The Holy Spirit makes us hopeful by leading us “into all truth” (Jn 16:13) and teaching us everything (Jn 14:26). Sometimes we can feel so lost and bewildered by events that we begin to despair that there’s any meaning to it all. The Holy Spirit works within us — through his gifts of knowledge and understanding, wisdom and prudence — to allow the truth about God, about ourselves, and about His love for us, to set us free (cf. Jn 8:32). The Holy Spirit does this objectively through the Church, so that we can be even more certain that we’re not deceived and find God’s light when we’re walking in the valley of darkness.
  • The Holy Spirit lifts up our hearts by “remind[ing] us of everything Jesus has taught us” (Jn 14:26). He prevents us from forgetting all that Jesus said and did, and Jesus’ words and actions for our salvation fill us with a deep, imperishable hope, no matter what situation we’re in.
  • The Holy Spirit makes us hopeful by allowing us to share in God’s life here in this world. He is active in all the sacraments, making and keeping us a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19). In Baptism, he comes down upon us, as he did on Jesus in the Jordan (cf. Lk 3:22). In Confirmation, he seals us with his strength for the Christian life. By his power, men are made to be other Christs in the sacrament of Holy Orders. By his power working through the priest, our sins are forgiven and the bread and wine become Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity. The Holy Spirit’s mission is to overshadow us like he overshadowed Mary, so that we, like her, may be tabernacles of God. When the Lord is with us, and we’re aware of it, we, like Mary, cry out “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Lk 1:46-47).
  1. The third setting is suffering. Setting of second reading from St. Peter. Suffering in early Church. The Holy Spirit helps us to rejoice in suffering, suffering for good, suffering for God, and it’s the Holy Spirit who helps us to do this. Cardinal Van Thuan. Hope in the midst of imprisonment.
  • The Eucharist. Jesus has not left us orphans. He’s here teaching us how to pray. He’s here sharing our life. He’s here teaching us the meaning of suffering. He’s here helping us to become witnesses to the hope that will save us.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1ACTS 8:5-8, 14-17

Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city.

Now when the apostles in Jerusalem
heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God,
they sent them Peter and John,
who went down and prayed for them,
that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
for it had not yet fallen upon any of them;
they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid hands on them
and they received the Holy Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm PS 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20

R/ (1) Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R/ Alleluia.
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth,
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!”
R/ Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R/ Alleluia.
“Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,
sing praise to your name!”
Come and see the works of God,
his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.
R/ Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R/ Alleluia.
He has changed the sea into dry land;
through the river they passed on foot;
therefore let us rejoice in him.
He rules by his might forever.
R/ Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R/ Alleluia.
Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare
what he has done for me.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!
R/ Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
or:
R/ Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 PT 3:15-18

Beloved:
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,
but do it with gentleness and reverence,
keeping your conscience clear,
so that, when you are maligned,
those who defame your good conduct in Christ
may themselves be put to shame.
For it is better to suffer for doing good,
if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.

For Christ also suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.
Put to death in the flesh,
he was brought to life in the Spirit.

Gospel JN 14:15-21

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”