Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Rev. 21: 10-14, 22-23; John 14: 23-29
St. Francis of Assisi was an ardent advocate of the doctrine of the indwelling of God in man. It enabled him to love every one equally whatever his status in life. One day he met a fellow who had no love for God. As they walked along they met a man who was blind and paralyzed. St. Francis asked the sightless cripple: “Tell me if I were to restore your eyesight and the use of your limbs, would you love me?” “Ah,” replied the beggar, “I would not only love you but I would be your slave for the rest of my life.” “See,” said Francis to the man who maintained that he could not love God, “this man would love me if I gave him his sight and his health. Why don’t you love God Who created you with eyesight and strong limbs?” That is what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. If we love him because of the countless blessings he has given us by “keeping his words” he will start dwelling within us in the company of his Father and the Holy Spirit, making us the temples of the Triune God. (Msgr. Arthur Tonne)
Introduction: Today’s readings show us the effects of the abiding presence of God in His Church and of His indwelling in each one of us. The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, tells us how the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the Church, helped the apostles to solve a major doctrinal problem which shook the very foundation of the early Church. The second reading from the Book of Revelation describes the Church as the Heavenly Jerusalem, a city united in love, with the victorious Jesus, residing in it and in each of its members, replacing the holy presence of God in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. The gospel passage reminds us that the Holy Spirit, abiding within us, is our teacher and the source of all peace. The passage offers a vision of hope. Jesus promises his followers that the Holy Spirit will come and instruct them in everything they need to know.
The first reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29: The first major controversy in the infant Church was about "what must one do to be saved." For the first 15 to 20 years of the Christian era, all Jesus’ followers were Jewish. During that period, any Gentiles who wanted to become Jesus’ disciples were expected first to become Jews. They had to attend Sabbath synagogue services and keep the 613 Torah laws. This situation began to change when a few “liberal” Christian communities like the newly founded Church of the Gentiles in Antioch, began to admit Gentiles into their number without demanding that they first be converted to Judaism. Some of the Judeo-Christians from Judea and Jerusalem argued that the new Gentile converts must observe the Mosaic Law of circumcision, dietary regulations, purification rituals, etc. The issue couldn't be settled on a local level, although Paul and Barnabas tried that at first. Hence, they had to go to Jerusalem to consult the apostles. The apostles convened the first synod at Jerusalem and, with the clear leading of the Holy Spirit, decided that the Gentiles need not become Jews first, to be saved as Christians. The decision was momentous for two reasons. First, it marked a significant break of Christianity with Judaism. Second, it put the burden of salvation on God rather than on man. In other words, it is God’s love that saves us -- not prayers, sacrifices or keeping of the Law, which are only expressions of our gratitude to God. We see Saint Paul wrestling with this question, first in Galatians, then, in a more polished way, in Romans.
The second reading, Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23: The Book of Revelation was written to bolster the faith of the persecuted early Christians. It describes the Church as the Heavenly Jerusalem, a city united in love, with the victorious Jesus residing in it. While the earthly Temple was often thought of as a reflection of the heavenly Temple, there will be no Temple in the New Jerusalem because the Almighty and the Lamb will be the Temple. They will provide all the light that is necessary, so there will be no need for the sun or the moon. Ancient Jerusalem had long been for the Jews a token of God's presence with them. God had aided them in capturing and holding it, in making it their capital, in building the Temple there, and in returning to it after their exile in Babylon. Within the holiest chamber of the Jerusalem Temple, they kept the stone tablets of the Law, given by God, in an enthroned chest known as the Ark of the Covenant. God dwelt in a particular way in the space above the ark. This is, in the end, a metaphor for the Church, which is called to reveal to the human race God's presence among us.
Exegesis: John (Chapter 14) continues to recount Jesus’ farewell sermon after the Last Supper. Today's Gospel passage explains the doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Trinity in the human soul, and the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
1) The abiding presence of God in the human soul: The promise of God's abiding presence must have been of great comfort to John's community who knew that the Temple in Jerusalem -- the symbol of God's presence with His people -- had been destroyed by the Roman army. In today's gospel passage, Jesus tells us that the one thing in life which we can always trust is God’s presence. God inhabits our hearts so deeply and intimately that we become the visible dwelling place of God. His living and life-affirming Presence is always with us, yet '"hidden" in the very things we so often take for granted. Thus, we are invited to look for and encounter "God-with-us," yet "hidden" -- hidden in the person sitting next to us, in the words we speak and the songs we sing at worship.
2) Condition for the indwelling of the Holy Trinity: Jesus teaches us the condition for this indwelling of the Holy Trinity, namely, we have to show our love of God by keeping his word. And this keeping of his word will be facilitated by the Holy Spirit, God's Holy Breath.
3) The role of the Holy Spirit is twofold: a) to "teach" the disciples and b) to “remind" them of what Jesus has already taught them” (v. 26). Jesus affirms that even though He will no longer be visibly with them, he will continue to be present among them through His Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth will continue teaching them and helping them to understand and to build on what Jesus has already taught them. The Advocate will bring no new revelation because God has already revealed Himself in Jesus. But the Advocate will deepen their understanding of the revelation given by Jesus.
4) Jesus gives his followers four gifts: First, he gives them his love, which will enable them to keep his word. Next, he gives them the Holy Spirit, who will teach them everything they need to know. The Holy Spirit is the abiding love of God available to us, enabling us to accept the friendship of Jesus, while imitating Him, the Master. Third, he gives them his peace to strengthen them from fear in the face of trouble. Here "peace" is not just the absence of conflict, but also the far wider concept of shalom, the total well-being of the person and community. The promise of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will bring a peace that will quell their fears of the unfolding darkness ahead. “In Johannine language, peace, truth, light, life and joy are figurative terms reflecting different facets of the great gift that Jesus has brought from God to the world. 'Peace is my gift to you,' is another way of saying, 'I give them eternal life' (Jn 10:28) (Raymond E. Brown). The Holy Spirit is available as Comforter and Guide to those who believe in Jesus and follow in his way. The One God -- the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – is pure love. This Love, the Triune God, comes and lives in us, takes residence up in us and lives in our body. When God’s love lives in us, and we live in Him, there is much more peace in our families, our churches, our offices. Fourth, Jesus rewards them with the assurance of his second coming.
Life messages: 1) Let us be aware of the abiding presence of God within us: We live in the New Covenant of Jesus, daily facing uncertainty, conflict, and temptations. It is the abiding presence of God within us that enables us to face the future with undying hope and true Christian courage. The Spirit of the risen Lord prompts us to turn to His Holy Scriptures for support and encouragement, enables us to learn the divine truths, and grants us His peace at all times. However, to be able to receive these gifts, it is necessary for us to spend a little time each day in personal prayer, talking to God and listening to Him. We must deepen our relationship with Jesus, learn to get in touch with him, and sincerely love him. When we listen to the Holy Spirit, we will know His plan for our life and His solutions to whatever problems we face. We will be able to love our fellow human beings, and there will be a core of peace within us. The Holy Spirit teaches us through the Scriptures and preaching during the Holy Mass as well as in our prayer and our private reading of Scripture. Jesus loves us and comes to us in Communion. When the Mass is ended, we go forth in the peace of Christ -- all this under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2) We are not alone: One of the great social and ethical problems of our time is isolation. Today approximately 25% of all adults live alone. Spouses, parents and children often live as virtual strangers to one another. This is unfortunate because we never need to be alone. Jesus can always be present to us. He shares with us his joy and replaces the burden of our guilt with the freedom of forgiveness. He takes our grief and turns it into joy. We need only allow Jesus into our lives to be rid of this loneliness. Oneness with Jesus is the greatest gift we can give our children, our friends, or those who see no purpose in life. We can help to bring people to unity with Jesus, a unity that will change their lives. As we celebrate this Last Supper, let us celebrate in a special way the price Jesus paid for our redemption. Let this Eucharistic meal empower us to lead a true Life of the Spirit.
There is a of a little girl who, was taking her first train ride with her parents. As night descended, the mother took the girl, who was clearly quite anxious, and placed her on the upper bunk of the sleeper. She told her little one that up there she would be nearer to God and that God would watch over her. As silence enveloped the young lady she became afraid and called softly, "Mommy, are you there?" "Yes dear," came the response. A little later, in a louder voice, the child called, "Daddy, are you there, too?" "Yes dear," was the reply. After this had been repeated several times one of the passengers sharing their sleeper car finally lost his patience and shouted loudly, "Yes, we're all here, your father, your mother, your brother, and all your aunts and cousins; now settle down and go to sleep!" There was a moment of silence and then, in hushed tones a little voice asked, "Mommy, was that God?" Jesus, in offering peace, does not say, "I'm here, the Holy Spirit's here and God is here, now be at peace!" The peace that Jesus offers cannot be had simply by desiring it. The peace of God is a gift; it can only be received as a by-product of faith. That's why the world is largely a stranger to it.
(Source: Homilies Fr. Tony Kadavil)
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