The first reading from Acts picks up after the killing of St. Stephen. Saul (St. Paul) became a central figure in persecuting the Church. The persecution appears to be especially against the Greek speaking converts from Judaism. The new Christians were fleeing to Samaria to avoid persecution while the Apostles remained in Jerusalem. Samaritans were cut off from Israel’s community and living in heresy.
Philip brings the Good News to the Samaritans and cures many as he proclaims the Messiah. Many become believers in Jesus. Philip (a deacon or a priest) only baptized them, but he does not give them the Holy Spirit. He has to wait until the Apostles Peter and John impose hands on them to give them the Holy Spirit (probably Confirmation).
Peter instructs us on how to deal with persecution. We are in a persecution now which generally does not do physical violence to us, but it challenges our credibility. Because Jesus died for being upright, we are asked to do the same by imitating Him. We must live in hope with the goal of our resurrection and Eternal Life. We must even work for our persecutors’ salvation as well as our own by being courteous and respectful until they become ashamed of their behavior and repent.
The Gospel passage is from the final discourse on the night Jesus was arrested. Jesus, being God, asserts His right for us to love Him by obedience. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” The reward for this love is demonstrated through our imitation of His obedience that has redeemed us. Only then is the gift of the Holy Spirit mysteriously dwelling in us. In other words, Jesus joins His Spirit’s works to His disciples – a powerful relationship to us mere mortals. After His death, He is no longer visible to us in His mortal nature. Only about 500 people had visually seen Him in His risen body. Jesus offers us a much deeper inner vision through faith and the Sacraments. Remember the Sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace. Through faith the Sacraments draw us into an invisible reality of Eternal Time (God always was, always will be, and always remains the same.) back to Jesus’ visible presence two thousand years ago. Human reason cannot comprehend all this, but we do sense something of the supernatural in our lives or we would not be followers of Christ. The Blessed Virgin never had sin touch her through the merits of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection which in her time had not yet occurred. But because God is not in time, she was able to benefit in Jesus’ life on earth through Eternal Time. For us, Eternal Time allows us to go back to Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection and benefit from it 2000 years after the fact. The Mass is not a re-enactment of the Passion, Death and Resurrection. Through a Sacramental sign, we are right there witnessing to God’s love for us.
It helps us to think about why we come to church. What is drawing us to do it every Sunday? It is Christ Himself calling us to repent and believe especially in the resurrection of our bodies at the end of time. But in the mean time we can enjoy the presence of the Kingdom of God in a much diminished way which is sometimes visible, but always invisible. For example, the birth of a baby is obviously visible, but the co-creation with God is not apparent to those who have no faith.
What does it mean if these concepts do not register in our minds and souls? Perhaps we are not putting enough effort into our study of our Catholic faith. Do we read the catechism? I hear more and more people saying to me to feed them with the Word of God, but what are they doing to feed themselves? I cannot eat for them. All of us must contribute to our own education about God and this is found in the best selling book called the Catechism of the Catholic Church. At the Ask Father meetings which I hold every fourth Friday of the month at 7:30 PM, I am rarely asked questions about the faith. They are more concerned with the temporal affairs of the parish than they are about the Word of God. Perhaps some of us are really resisting a teaching of our faith or not being obedient to Christ Who says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” I am there, but I do not see much of an interest in a desire to be fed.