COMPANION, COUNSEL, CHAMPION!

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
6th Sunday of Easter, Year A
April 27, 2008

Today’s liturgy is dedicated to power. It has to do with the power to penetrate barriers; the power from above that makes individuals and persons go counter-cultural, and do the unexpected and the ordinarily unthinkable. Like Christ, who deemed it worth his time to talk about salvation with a Samaritan woman, Philip, one of the seven proto-deacons, “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed Christ to them.” (1st Reading) That power from the “laying on of hands” after which “they received the Holy Spirit,” enabled him to give “great joy to the city,” on account of the many signs he did.

We see power also behind proclamation; power behind Peter’s “confession;” power that shines through one’s ability “to give an explanation to anyone who asks […] for a reason for […] hope.” This is the same power that enables one “to suffer for doing good,” to suffer even death, for, through the outpouring of the Spirit, one can say along with Peter: “Put to death in the flesh, [Christ] was brought to life in the Spirit.” (2nd reading)

We see this same power behind the ability to love. This power of love is linked closely with powerful manifestations. Firstly, we are told that the power of love shows itself in presence – saving presence. Philip showed this loving presence in marginalized and hated Samaria, whose inhabitants ordinarily would have been shunned by any self-respecting Jew from Galilee and Judea. But love knows no barriers. Love mobilizes not only Philip, but the whole Church acting in the persons of the apostles, who sent “Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit.”

Secondly, this same power of love is manifested in hopeful and courageous proclamation and witnessing, in constant readiness to explain the hope that is in one’s heart, even despite suffering, “for Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God,” as St. Peter tells us.

Thirdly, this power of love is linked with obedience, a powerful and unmistakable sign and consequence of love: “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

But this power, as the three readings today tell us, is always connected with our being “gifted,” our being “accompanied,” our being united and related meaningfully. This power we speak of, has to do with our being recipients of an outpouring from above, with being prayed over and laid hands on.

This power is none other than the indwelling presence of God in the Spirit, as sent by the Son. “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.”
The times and the world we live in are wanting in courage. Among many other factors, I would like to suggest that the very strong cultures of individualism, hedonism, minimalism, and materialism – all pointing to a very strong narcissistic trend in the world today, produce a whole lot of isolation, loneliness, and consequently, a sore lack of meaningful connectedness between and among peoples and nations.

In this self-absorbed and self-centered society, we see an increasing number of people living alone, uncommitted, unrelated, and, worse, alienated. If we go by the alarming trend in North America alone, the fact that 50 % of marriages end up in divorce within the period of about 7 years, seems to point to the increasing phenomenon of people living lives devoid of meaningful, deep, and salutary connectedness. Add to this the glaring fact of families having to separate from each other due to labor migration, especially in third world countries like the Philippines, and one sees a picture of loneliness and unwanted solitude and isolation in the lives of millions of people in both developed and underdeveloped countries.

People who can afford, but who have no one to give them company, or who are not meaningfully connected, hire and pay for the services of other people who go under various appellations: caregivers, geishas, Girl Fridays, escorts, and the like. Therapists and counselors are paid handsomely for them to basically provide a willing and empathic listening ear. Tired of dealing with impersonal gadgets like answering machines, PDAs, cellphones, and webcams that provide instant connectivity, lonely people all over the world are looking for company, counsel, and some other persons to champion their seemingly hopeless cause.

We live in a world that could use a lot of the courage and the hope that the late Pope John Paul II spoke of so often, and witnessed to so heroically in his life and in his death. No one amongst us here today, can ever forget the stentorian voice of a sprightly and youthful Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II which challenged the whole world at the start of his pontificate: “Be not afraid!” Nor ought we to forget and gloss over what he said to the teeming suffering masses of poor people all across Latin America at Puebla in Mexico one year after becoming Pope: “Be not afraid!” Be not afraid of God. Be not afraid of man. Be not afraid of the Church. Be not afraid. Period. His words, his life, his dying, and his death all proved to us just how much he believed, how much he personally hoped, and how much courage he had as a man, as a priest, bishop, and Pope – nay more, as a plain Christian believer, beloved, gifted, accompanied, counseled, and championed by God’s gracious gift of the Spirit in and through Christ the Risen Lord!

I would like to take my cue from Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s reflections on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death more than 40 years after. He speaks about the need to do our own “Passover” in a world populated by new oppressive Pharaohs and his powerful cohorts. He counsels us as follows:

“We must reawaken our covenant with the God who spoke through the burning bush to say, ‘I am the God you have always known, the God of your forebears. But not only that. For I am also that One whose name is this: I will be who I will be; I am always becoming.’”

Today, in our Christian liturgy of hope, this 6th Sunday of Easter, God does not just reawaken our memories of a promised covenant. God fulfills His promise in Christ His Son. Christ now reawakens hope as he tells us: “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.”

In this world of bewildering loneliness and alienation, marred by so much hopelessness and discouragement, God gifts us with his abiding presence – the Spirit’s saving presence. As we wander through our own wilderness of painful isolation, we have now the power to become sons of God, the power to become sharers in the glorious liberty of the children of God!

In John Paul II, in the shining examples and witnessing to courage and hope of thousands upon thousands of saints and martyrs, the Spirit makes Himself present, known and experienced. He is the power behind all our “joys, hopes, anxieties, fears” – and even the pains of our human existence – the same power that opens us all up to glorious possibilities attached to our being sons and daughters of God.

The Spirit is our gentle companion in hope. He is our counsel as we go through the welter of our life here on earth, with all its questions and mysteries. He is our champion as we go through our small victories towards the greatest victory of them all – the power “ to walk that patch across the river – to build and grow and enter and become the Promised Land” (Waskow).

Let all the earth cry out to God with joy! (Responsorial Psalm)

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