Bearing Witness to the Risen Christ In The Spirit of Truth
Readings: 1st: Acts 8: 5-8. 14-17; Ps 65, 1-7. 16. 20; 2nd: 1Pt 3, 15-18; Gos Jh 14: 15-23
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Today being the sixth Sunday of Easter, the Church in anticipation of Pentecost, invites us to celebrate the coming of the Advocate, Christ’s Spirit of truth to us his people and Church. We are called to celebrate the Spirit of truth because he is our source of strength and animator in the proclamation and dissemination of the message of truth. The message we bear is not false or lie but it comes from the Spirit of truth himself, the advocate whom Christ our Lord asks the Father to send to us.
A story from the ancient moral fables of Aesop’s about the need to bear witness to the truth at all times, rather than to lie or falsehood goes thus: Once there was a shepherd boy who tended his sheep at the foot of a mountain. He used to feel lonely during the day. He thought of an idea whereby he could get some company and excitement. He went down to the village and shouted, “Wolf! Wolf.” On hearing his shouts, the villagers came to save him. But no wolf was seen. The angry villagers went back. The boy enjoyed this trick and after a few days repeated the same act. Once again the villagers came to help him. They realized they had been fooled once more by the naughty boy. One day a wolf actually came to attack the boy and this time, the boy shouted, even louder than before. But the villagers thought that the boy was trying to fool them once again. So no one came out to help him and the wolf took the boy away. As the wise saying goes, “No one can know when a liar speaks the truth.” The message we bear and the spirit in which we proclaim it has the label: “TESTED AND TRUSTED!” It is not a lie because the one who we talk about and the one who help us bear the witness are not lairs, because our “God is not a man that he should lie” (Nu 23, 19) like the shepherd boy. The summary of this message of truth which the advocate, the spirit of truth helps us to propagate is that, the Lord has set his people free and that whoever comes to him now, he will set free! This message is of truth and not a false alarm, it is not a product of the human imagination or flesh (sarx) but of the Spirit of truth himself – the advocate.
In the first reading of today, we continue to see the activities of the apostles and disciples of Jesus as they continue in spite of all odds to make frantic effort to disseminate the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth. Most importantly, in this reading, we see the Samaritans receiving their “Sacrament of Confirmation” for the out pouring of the Holy Spirit upon them. On this day, Peter, the first bishop of Rome and chief shepherd of Jesus’ flock performed his function by going for a pastoral visit to Samaria, “Philip’s Parish,” and there laying hands upon the converts in order that they might receive the Holy Spirit. A few questions suffice here. Since Philip preached to, healed, and baptized these people why did he not lay his hand on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit, why was it necessary for Peter and John to travel the very long distance and through the dangerous paths without fear of being ambushed by brigands and the enemies of the gospel on their way to Samaria, just to lay hands on the already baptized converts of Philip, and why do the Samaritans and of course we, need the Holy Spirit? A tint of Catholic doctrine and catechesis is very important in understanding and answering these questions. The first is that what Philip did by inviting Peter is absolutely in line with the Church’s teaching on Confirmation of already baptized candidate: “The ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation is the bishop. If the need arises, the bishop may grant the faculty…to priests, although, it is fitting that he confers it himself mindful that the celebration of Confirmation has been temporarily separated from baptism for this reason, Bishops are the successors of the apostles” (CCC 1313 p. 299). However, it is unfortunate that today all manners of “religious maniacs, zealots and bigots” have arrogated this authority unto themselves for myriads of selfish reasons. The Samaritans needed the Holy Spirit as much as we do today because, it is the Holy Spirit that strengthens, leaves an indelible mark on the believer, and of course, makes him/her a true soldiers of Jesus Christ, fit to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth (CCC 1303-4). It is the Holy Spirit that helps us bear witness to the truth without fear: “For you did not receive the spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry Abba Father. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s Children” (Rom 8, 15-16). Therefore He is the one that confirms the truth we preach as ambassadors of Jesus Christ and harbingers of truth. Finally, it is the Holy Spirit who is the principal agent of evangelization in the propagation of the gospel truth. We preach, but he converts and confirms the truth we preach which is Christ Himself.
In the second reading of today, Peter encouraged us to have reverence for Christ and even those who oppose us and pick holes in the gospel truth we bear and preach by responding to them courteously and respectfully. He equally, reminds us of the animating power of the Holy Spirit even in the life of Christ: “In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life.” It is the same spirit that raised Jesus that helps us to remain true to ourselves, the other and of course to the Trinitarian God while bearing testimony to the truth. What this means is simply that once the Spirit of God is alive and active in us, we become energized and lively enough to work for Christ this is why Christ says: “What gives life is the spirit of God, the flesh (sarx) profits nothing” (John 6, 63).
In the gospel, as we are a couple of weeks away from Pentecost, Jesus promises us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. However, there is a condition for receiving this Advocate: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” When we do this, he adds: “I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, that spirit of truth…I will not leave you orphans.” What is this commandment that we must keep in order to receive the Spirit of truth? It is: “Go into the whole world and preach the good news to all creation (Mk 16: 15). It is also, loving our God with our whole heart as well as loving our neighbor as we do ourselves (Luke 10, 25-27). When we do these, we are certainly preaching the good news of truth. The promise and the coming of the advocate strengthens us in the way of truth. He comes to make us as firm as the apostles after their “Pentecostal” experience in Acts 2. Christ knows what we need most. That is why he is ready to equip us with the spirit of truth who will help us bear good witness. Therefore, because of this promise, let us all “cry out with joy to God…and say, how tremendous your deed” Lord God of Host; Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Peace be with you all!!