Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A.

Rev Fr Francis Adelabu

“My story. Who can make a change?” A book which sold almost a million copies on the very first day of its release two years ago is the life story of an influential and highly beloved woman.

A woman loved for her elegance, wisdom and wit; a confluence of intelligence and grace, power and humility. Book title: “Becoming”. Character: ‘Michelle Obama’.

The first part of the book, “Becoming me” describes Michelle growing up in an upstairs apartment in Chicago South, sharing a bedroom with her brother Craig.

Michelle Robinson never let her humble beginnings deter her from graduating from Harvard Law School and later becoming the first black woman to live in the White House as a First Lady.

A great transformation. A twist in the story. Mrs. Obama might have become great through hard work, humility and diligence…these qualities too have a divine origin.

There is a scene in Luke 9:51-56. Jesus prepares to go to Jerusalem. He sends his messengers ahead to a certain town. But they are rejected. The mission appears to be a total failure. The names of the messengers are not mentioned, but that of the town is. Samaria.

Samaria, in the New Testament, is a geographical region occupied by the Samaritans. The hostility between the Jews and Samaritans was historical and phenomenal.

Since the Samaritans were descendants of those left in the land who mixed with foreigners while the Jews were taken into exile, the Jews had always loathed the Samaritans as impure while the Samaritans could barely stand the sight of Jews too.

It is no little wonder then today that Philip in the first reading is successful in the city of Samaria. Philip was able to work many miracles in Samaria and there was great joy in the city.

As a matter of fact, they were baptized in the name of Jesus – and would later receive the Holy Spirit when Peter and John eventually come down from Jerusalem. Now don’t rush – did we say they baptized in the name of the One whom they had just recently rebuffed? So what transformed Samaria from a hostile city to a hosting city? What changed her?

The answer can be found in today’s gospel passage. Jesus is addressing his disciples for the last time before he leaves them. It is part of Jesus’ long discourse at dinner (John 13–17) in the gospel of John.

Though he was about to depart from them, Jesus promises to give them another Counsellor who would be with them forever. The Greek word translated as Counsellor is “Paraklētos”, the Paraclete.

The original sense of a Paraclete is one who appears on another’s behalf, a helper and mediator. In ancient courts, a Paraclete will be one who stands beside an accused person who did not have the means to hire a lawyer.

The Paraclete mediates and often does so freely. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete sent by the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is the One who pleads our cause before our accuser. And beyond interceding for us, the Holy Spirit changes our story forever. He continues to act in our hearts to make us more like Jesus.

In the gospel reading, Jesus makes a slight distinction on the manner the Holy Spirit lives with us: “You know him (the Paraclete), for he dwells with you, and will be in you”. The first manner of dwelling – cohabitation, dwelling with, has often been sacramentally linked to the gift of Baptism.

At baptism, we receive the Spirit of God. Yet, our sanctification is not yet perfected. It is only in the Sacrament of Confirmation, that baptismal grace is perfected.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the sacrament of Confirmation binds the baptized more perfectly to the Church and enriches them with a special strength of the Holy Spirit (cf. no. 1285).

Hence, the full indwelling of the Holy Spirit is attained at the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation. How often do we recall the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as confirmed Catholics? How often do we invoke the Holy Spirit in moments of trials and temptations? How deeply have we surrendered to the Holy Spirit to have His way in our hearts and lives?

Let us remember again that the Holy Spirit is also our Comforter. Commenting on this passage, Gregory of Nazianzus notes that the Holy Spirit came after Christ so that we might not lack a Comforter.

The fourth century Alexandrian theologian, Didymus, who became blind at the age of four, reminds us that the Holy Spirit is a Comforter in the sense of consoling our griefs. And really, isn’t humanity grieving at this time?

The number of mass graves and grieving families in different parts of the world chime the need for a Consoler, who would come to wipe away tears from every mourning cheek, and declare that there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain (cf. Rev. 21:4). We pray for an end to the pandemic.

Theodore of Mopsuestia assures us that the Holy Spirit as a Comforter, will make afflictions lighter – and we really pray He quickly does. May He send His Gifts and prepare us adequately for His coming.

St Peter who has been guiding us in the Second Readings during this season of Easter admonishes us to have a ready answer for anyone who calls us to account for our faith.

Many have challenged the essence and relevance of faith in God. Self-declaration and self-propagation as atheist or agnostic has become the fashion of the day, even when the speaker is hardly sufficiently knowledgeable of what he/she is saying.

In the face of hostility towards the Church and some wrong accusations of clerics of pedophilia, let us not hesitate to say our side of the story. Let us not shy away from describing the beauty of our faith-experience, the happiness we feel when we receive the sacraments and the enchantment of our participation in the sacred liturgy.

Let us not hesitate to defend our faith and give reasons for our hope in Christ. Our stories have indeed changed, because Christ decided to love us first. Our testimony is continual, because Jesus decided to give us His Holy Spirit.

May the Holy Spirit dwell fully and mightily within us, so that we might be able to become all that God wants us to be. Happy Sunday dearly beloved.

Image credit @Pixabay