16th / 17th April 2020

posted 18 May 2020, 05:59 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixth Week of Easter, Year A (17/5/20)


This coming Thursday is the Solemnity of the Ascension, and in today’s Gospel, Christ is preparing His disciples for when He will ascend to the Father.  He said He would not leave us orphans.  So what has He left us?


Well, firstly He says that He will ask the Father to send us the Holy Spirit.  We can often neglect and forget about the Holy Spirit; He seems to be sometimes the forgotten person of the Holy Trinity.  We pray to the Father, we pray to the Son, but the Holy Spirit hardly gets a mention.  The Holy Spirit is not some vague “force” like in Star Wars; the Holy Spirit is a person – we can pray to Him just as we can pray to the Father and the Son.  Perhaps at this time when churches remain closed, we can spend some of this time rediscovering the Holy Spirit, praying to the Holy Spirit – of course the days between The Ascension and Pentecost are nine days of intense prayer praying for the Holy Spirit to descend on the Church – it’s the scriptural origin of the Catholic practice of praying a novena – nine days of prayer asking for something important to happen.


We also find the Holy Spirit present in all of the sacraments, which were also given to us by Christ.  The first sacrament we ever receive is baptism.  When we are baptised, the Holy Spirit sets up His dwelling place in our soul.  We receive the gift of what is known as sanctifying grace, which is only lost by mortal sin, and can be restored by going to another sacrament, the sacrament of confession.


In the first reading, the Philip it refers to is not the apostle St Philip, but rather one of the first deacons, ordained a bit earlier on in the book of Acts.  It is because he is a deacon that he baptises the new converts in Samaria, but can’t confirm them.  So the apostles in Jerusalem send Peter and John, who were both bishops in terms of the sacrament of holy orders, and they lay hands on them, i.e. they confirm them, and they receive the Holy Spirit.


You could ask, if they had already received the Holy Spirit at baptism, why did they need to receive Him again?  What’s the difference?  There’s only one Holy Spirit.  Yes, but there are many different sacraments, graces and charisms that the Holy Spirit gives.  Baptism is different to Confirmation.  Confirmation is yet another way in which the Holy Spirit empowers us to serve the Lord and bear witness to Him in the world.


The Holy Spirit works through all of the sacraments.  It’s by the action of the Holy Spirit that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Just as the sacrament of Holy Orders involves the laying on of hands, just as the sacraments of confirmation and anointing of the sick involve first the laying on of hands, so at Mass, when the bell is rung for the first time, the priest lays his hands over the gifts of bread and wine as the first stage.  Then, at the second stage, the words of consecration are said, and the bread, and then the wine, are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  He is present amongst us again.


So now another question:  if we receive baptism once, and confirmation once, why receive Holy Communion more than once?  And why so often?  Well, for one thing, each sacrament is different.  In Holy Communion, we are united with the Lord, a bit like a marriage.  A couple say they love each other when they get married, but that’s just the start, not the end of their declaration of love for each other.  In the same way, Holy Communion unites us with the Lord, but love means that we stay in regular contact and reaffirm our love for the Lord regularly, as He does for us in Holy Communion.


Of course it’s a bit of a sore point at the moment, with public Masses suspended.  Spiritual Communion is better than nothing at all, but nothing beats actually receiving the Lord sacramentally, just the same as seeing someone on a computer screen is not the same as being in the same room with that person.  A while ago a video was put together by Catholics across the country, with quite a few from this Archdiocese, asking for churches to be re-opened, and even if we can’t have Mass yet, then at least for us to go and pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  There is the saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Maybe one of the good things to have come from churches being closed is a growth in appreciation of the Mass and the other sacraments of the Church.  At the moment we are  being put to the test.  Will we allow our faith to grow lukewarm, or will it grow more fervent?  Time to pray to the Holy Spirit – enkindle in us the fire of your love.