Sixth Sunday of Easter
THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT:
From dependency on others to self-reliance
First Reading : ( Acts 8:5-8,14-17) : The Samaritan faithful received the Holy Spirit
Second Reading : ( 1 Pet 3:15-18) : Trust in the Lord when facing a test
Gospel : ( Jn 14:15-21) : The Father will send the Advocate , the Spirit
“When I first started studying, there was no doubt at all. Then, the doubts gradually came in. Halfway through, every section posed doubt. After going through this phase, the doubts were gradually clarified until there were no more doubts and all knowledge was integrated. This was when learning began.” (1)
In Chapter XIV of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus said to the apostles, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (Jn 14:15-17)
Sometimes Christ’s Church gives an incorrect impression to people, who think incorrectly that the Church is a religion whose members are dependent on others. This is because we speak of a hierarchy. In a hierarchical Church members relationships with each other are in a descending order, from top to bottom, from Pope to Bishops to priests, right down to the laity. We must listen to church superiors (priests). From them we receive the sacraments, they pass on to us Christ’s teachings, they bring us the means of salvation. They nourish us and govern us.
Church members seem very dependent in a descending order, a church controlled by external authority. The ordinary Christian seems very passive: they listen to instruction, receive the sacraments, accept nourishment. This model of Church fits well into our concept of ‘Christology.’ Christ established the Church, told the apostles to watch over it; the apostles in turn chose successors to continue to manage the Church.
However this is only one side of the Church. Before Jesus departed this world and ascended into Heaven, he already promised the apostles he would send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot accept. The world cannot see nor recognize the Holy Spirit. However Christ’s followers recognize the Holy Spirit because the Spirit is with us and in us.
Today’s reading from the first Epistle of Peter has a clear description of the actions of the Spirit in our daily lives. ‘In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, may be put to shame.’(Ref 1 Pet 3 :15-16)
From our internal reverence for Christ and in our response to people, we can explain our reasons for remaining hopeful, the reasons for our belief and continuing the struggle, preserving a clear conscience, listening to it and being attentive to its promptings. All these are actions of the Holy Spirit.
Members of the Holy Spirit’s Church are self-reliant self-development, not only dependent. This type of Church emphasizes the importance of each individual, each person’s faith gradually taking form, growing and maturing.
I would like to compare what Zhu Xi said about “learning” with the belief of “self-power”. Zhu Xi said: “When I first started studying, there was no doubt at all. Then, the doubts gradually came in. Halfway through, every section posed doubt. After going through this phase, gradually the doubts were clarified until there were no more doubts and all knowledge is integrated. This was when learning began.” (Zhu Xi , The Work of the Senile Old Man) The Holy Spirit resides in our hearts and helps us monitor our beliefs. The process is similar to Zhu Xi’s process of learning.
The Holy Spirit within our hearts is not the same as Christ. Christ’s Church is a visible Church and within it we can ask and listen and submit directly. What we do not understand, we can ask a priest or theologian. However this visible church is only one aspect of the Church, the Church also has an invisible part. Within it is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has no fixed form or image but moves like the wind. The Spirit cannot be grasped. If one has a problem and one asks the Holy Spirit, there will not be a direct reply. The Holy Spirit lives within our hearts, we can only feel and learn this gradually and slowly understand the reply.
In fact, when we study the deeds of the saints or listen to the comments of wise people, we see the essence of their experience through their lives. Aided by their experience and words, we can go into the inner world of the saints. In the same way, through the words of Scripture and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can go into the world of Christ’s heart. At that time God the Holy Spirit will help us to understand the meaning behind the words and convert the words to become our desires, ideals and demands on our selves. Then we are able to decide upon how we should reply. The replies then are no longer the replies of the saints or of Scripture but a reply totally our own. It is our own response to God, a personal, unique decision we have made.
The Holy Spirit helps us make this decision, it is the Holy Spirit within our hearts who, together with us finds the answer. We can say this is the reply from our conscience, a reply from our own self. Because the Holy Spirit is within us.
Jesus said, ‘The Holy Spirit abides with you, and he will be in you.’ Hence, when we go into the depth of our lives, we will be in contact with the Holy Spirit. Only through the Holy Spirit, then can we learn more about Christ and recognize God our Father. Thus Christ said, ‘On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ (Jn 14:20-21)
O Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts to become the motivation in our lives, to be our friend. We would go into the depths of our conscience and speak with our friend, our consoler, the Holy Spirit. We believe the Spirit will help us to understand your words better. O Lord, give the Holy Spirit to us, to the Church, and to all people.