ACTS 8:5-8, 14-17; PS66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; 1 PT 3:15-18; JN 14:15-21
“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
Our readings this Sunday take us deeper into what Scripture means by calling the Church the Body of Christ. We are truly identified with Christ, so that those who hear us hear him, when his Spirit penetrates our hearts.
The reading from Acts tells of the proclamation of the Gospel to the nations. The deacon Philip goes down to Samaria, to Jerusalem’s closest non-Jewish neighbors. He proclaims Christ, and “the crowds paid attention to him.” Notice already: he points to Christ, and the crowds receive him as Christ.
Philip has the power to bring life to lifeless bodies, to heal what is broken. Here we go beyond him just being a clever preacher or a nice example. Christ has given Philip a share in his divinity, he has given him the power to do what only God can do.
He heals souls, too: “unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people.” Philip shares in the divine authority of Christ. It is as if Jesus himself is present in Philip.
He then gives the people to whom he has preached a share in this divine power. Actually, the deacon calls for the Apostles, Peter and John, “who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit . . . . They laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
This is one of the clearest Scriptural testimonies to Confirmation (see CCC 1288). “They had only been baptized,” but the Apostles had another gift to impart.
First notice that, though it is unclear what exactly this “receiving the Holy Spirit” means, it is a big deal. The Holy Spirit has already brought them to conversion, but now they receive a share in his power, somehow parallel to the power Philip himself has.
Second, notice that it is conferred in a hierarchical way. The key point here is that they aren’t just individuals with spiritual power. They are part of an ordered community, the Church, where all share in the divinity of Christ, but the whole is constituted by the distinct vocations of the members. All receive Confirmation, but only the Apostles can give it, thus binding the Church into one instead of dispersing it into spiritual individualism.
Our reading from First Peter is “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” Ah yes, very nice, we should be educated, and practiced in apologetics, right?
Well, not exactly. Actually, Peter describes the approach to this apostolic “readiness”: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Again it is like Philip. They didn’t listen to Philip because he was such a practiced preacher. They listened to him because Christ was present in him. He shared in the authority, and the divinity of Christ.
Thus Peter says to “do it with gentleness and reverence,” and “good conduct in Christ.” Then he puts a point on it: “It is better to suffer . . . For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, . . . he was brought to life in the Spirit.”
This “readiness to give an explanation” is simply an identification of the whole person with Christ, most pointedly in redemptive suffering. We can preach because Christ is present with us.
Or, as John never tires of saying, and repeats again in our reading this Sunday, “you are in me and I in you.”
John speaks of this in a divine way: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.” This is pure Trinitarian invocation, shooting as high as he can shoot, and his claim is that the life of the Trinity comes to dwell in us. We can bear witness to the Gospel because the Gospel itself dwells in us, “the Spirit of truth.” “You know him, because he remains in you, and will be in you.”
But John also speaks of this in a mundane way, at the beginning and end of our reading: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. . . . Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” The commandments are as high and as lowly as this: to love Jesus, and let him dwell in us.
Do you ever let other “methods” of speaking the Gospel replace simply intimacy with Christ and his Spirit?