Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year A

Paul F. Morrissey, O.S.A.
Adeodatus Prison Ministry
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
Ps 66: 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
1 Pt 3: 15-18
Jn 14: 15-21

Have you ever felt like an orphan? Maybe when a parent died, or when a friend died or left you? When my own mother died suddenly-she was sixty-four and I was thirty-three-it felt like the world ended. How could it go on? How could I go on without her?

I remember saying to some friends, “I’ll never be able to love someone again.” (It hurt that much). They smiled consolingly, especially the mothers, knowing that it was just a feeling of terrible loss. They had gathered around to lay hands on me in prayer. It would heal in time, they believed. And it did. There is still a hole there that aches sometimes, but I have been blessed to love and be loved again. “I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus promised as he prepared to go to the Father.

To show us what he meant by these consoling words, Jesus promised to send us “Another Advocate,” the Spirit of Truth, who will remain with us and be in us. What do you think of this promise? Have you ever experienced this Holy Spirit, especially at those times when you felt like an orphan?

This teaching about the Holy Spirit waxes and wanes in the Church. Some moments in the Church’s history, such as Vatican II, seem to be real outbreaks of the Spirit. Or better said, real “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit, experienced in the Church as a whole and in individuals as well. “I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus promised.

I wish to point out another moment, heard in the first reading today, which shows an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the early Church’s history. Jesus has died. The apostles and others have experienced him Risen from the Dead. Astonished and reborn out of their despair and fear, they begin proclaiming this Gospel-speaking in other languages, casting demons out of possessed people, and curing cripples.

They name this unbelievable transformation of themselves the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the new presence of Jesus Alive in them. And the key factor we hear of in the first reading is that this Holy Spirit is passed to others by the laying on of hands. What does this mean?

The church in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God. They sent Peter and John down to Samaria to pray for them… “that they might receive the Holy Spirit because 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.”

This could make one ask: is our belief in each other a key ingredient that empowers us to “receive the Holy Spirit”? Not just a flippant “I believe in you,” but a deep faith that the indwelling Spirit resides in you, coupled with the prayerful laying on of hands? This belief at the heart of the early Church, that Jesus’ Spirit lives in us, could explain Christians doing “works” with an energy and joy that drove them from Jerusalem to Samaria, to Greece and even India. It could explain our own spiritual energy that we catch by symbiosis when we pray and sing together in church and before conclaves and chapters. “Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest…”

Why not consciously lay hands around each other’s shoulders at such times and call on the Holy Spirit to rise up inside of us? Do we desire this Advocate to be with us or not? If we rouse up this Holy Spirit as a community, and believe in it in each of us, we will know in our hearts that Jesus has surely not left us orphans.