On this Sixth Sunday of Easter, the Liturgy gives us an instruction on love. This is a most fitting topic for this Season, which is drawing near its culmination, for Easter begins with the revelation of the greatest love of all, on display from the Cross and triumphant from the tomb, and concludes with the gift of Love poured into our hearts on Pentecost – the Holy Spirit. In today’s Gospel, Christ himself, who has loved us with an everlasting love, repeats the word “love” five times. Pondering what he reveals gives us an opportunity to respond better, and to find greater fulfillment in reciprocating the one whom we love in the way that he wants to be loved.
Jesus associates love with obedience, with keeping his commandments. We can liken this expectation to that of spouses, who promise to be faithful to one another, and who expect their spouse to honor his or her part of the vow. But like in marriage, we all need help to keep our part of the covenant of love. The help that Jesus provides is not just some life hack or success tip but a Person – the Holy Spirit. He describes the Holy Spirit as “another Advocate.” The Holy Spirit is like Jesus Christ, the first Advocate, in every way; he stands by us and guides us. “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” As another Advocate for us, the Holy Spirit defends us and champions us. We receive the Spirit as a gift from Christ’s salvific sacrifice on the Cross. Christ saved each one of us through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. And the Holy Spirit confirms this gift of salvation, unleashing its power in us.
We can see an example of how this works in today’s first reading. The early Christians are extending the proclamation of the Gospel beyond the region of Jerusalem. As St. Mark notes in his Gospel, when the disciples of Jesus “go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature,” their proclamation will be accompanied by various signs (Mk 16:15-17). One of the prominent evangelizers, Philip, reaches Samaria. The signs that accompany his ministry are the casting out of unclean spirits and the cure of many paralyzed people. “There was great joy in the city” as the people of Samaria accept Jesus Christ in their lives as their liberator and healer.
Philip’s ministry was certainly done by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, the Spirit “had not yet fallen upon” any of the Samaritans. They had been “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” but their faith needed a further confirmation. Thus, the Church in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria to be with them and pray for them. When the Apostles laid hands on them, “they received the Holy Spirit” and were confirmed in their Christian faith. They were given the power to be “good Samaritans.” Our own reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation is an invocation of the Holy Spirit to seal our Baptism with his Gifts. As we were taught in our catechism classes, when we are confirmed, we become soldiers of Christ. With the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Spirit gives us the strength of a mature and fruitful faith.
One sign of spiritual maturity is the capacity to testify to others about our faith. St. Peter exhorts us in the second reading, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” He qualifies that this explanation should be offered, not with brash exuberance or self-righteousness, but “with gentleness and reverence.” This qualification stems from our conformity to the style of Jesus who “suffered for sins…, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous.” Maturity in faith is therefore always a greater conformity to Christ. Peter reminds us that Christ was “put to death in the flesh,” and then “he was brought to life in the Spirit.” We who are confirmed disciples of Christ follow this very pattern. The action of the Holy Spirit sanctifies us in Christ, bringing us to life after the death of our tendency to self-glorification.
In addition to confirming us and sanctifying us, the Holy Spirit also enkindles joy and praise. The exuberance of today’s Psalm gives us a sense of what the Spirit is doing. He stirs in us hope that the whole of creation will “cry out to God with joy.” We shout joyfully to God, praising and worshipping him. We marvel at how tremendous are the deeds he has done for us. We proclaim his mighty reign forever. We gratefully and joyfully acknowledge his kindness. On our own, we tend to have short memories; we easily forget God and all his marvelous deeds. But with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, our spiritual memories are rekindled.
All these actions of the Holy Spirit are the work of love – for the Spirit is the Love of the Father and the Son. The Spirit makes it possible for us to obey Christ’s commandments and love him in return for his love. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him.” It is the Spirit who enables us to love, thereby preparing us to be loved. We receive the Spirit of Love, the Love of the Father and the Son, as a gift. The Holy Spirit is both a Giver, “the Lord the giver of life,” and a Gift. When we open our hearts to respond to love with love, to keep the commandments of love, we are truly caught up in the Trinitarian whirlwind of love – which is the blessed condition for which we were created.
How have I experienced the strength of the Holy Spirit as my faith becomes mature and fruitful? After my Confirmation, how has the Holy Spirit instilled gentleness and reverence in me? When have I felt the Spirit standing by and guiding me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.