(See the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019.)
The cab driver was a vehement atheist. He had a long dislike for Christians and would confront them regularly. Every year, he threatened to sue the county over the manger scene displayed at the courthouse during Christmas time. He once told a reporter, “My wife and I never had a Christian do anything nice for us.”
Things changed five years ago when he learned that he had a detached retina and would require surgery. He could not afford the surgery, and because of the eye condition, he could not drive, which meant he could not work. A parishioner at one of the local Christian churches heard of the situation and told her pastor, who contacted the man and offered to help. Begrudgingly, the cab driver said, “Well, if you really want to contribute something, we need groceries.”
The man thought he would see fifty dollars or at most one hundred dollars. A few days latter, the small church sent a check for four hundred dollars. Additional checks followed. The man later said, “I thought I was in the Twilight Zone. These people are acting like what the Bible says a Christian does.”
Nowadays, the cab driver no longer tries to have the manger removed. In fact, he even bought a new star for the top of the Nativity scene.
We have been hearing from the Acts of the Apostles in the first reading at Mass during the Easter Season. Following Pentecost, the apostles and the disciples carry the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection with them. They spread the word and establish the church in locations all throughout the Holy Land, Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and finally in Greece and Rome.
The local church communities gather for worship and fellowship. They reflect on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, they are formed by his word and they support each other in living the Christian life. As a result of such a living witness, many people come to believe and join their number.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus tells the disciples as he is preparing them for his passion: “I have told you this while I am with you. The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
The Holy Spirit is given to the church to animate the life of love. The Holy Spirit guides the faithful in remembering Jesus and his word. The Spirit is the means by which the love of the Father and Son dwell within the Christian community. Hence Jesus offers his peace. It is a gift and fruit of life within the communion of love.
Living the life of love is not always easy, especially when someone or a group of people are antagonistic or indifferent to the Christian life. Yet the mission of love remains the same. There is an old Jewish story that captures this point well. A father is upset that his children have forsaken God and no longer worship the Lord. He goes to his rabbi, tells him the situation and asks: “Rabbi, what am I supposed to do?” The rabbi replies: “Love them more.”
Jesus not only calls us to love — “as I have loved you, you should also love one another” — but he also gives us the ability to love through the presence of the Spirit.
In two weeks, we will celebrate Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit, which marks the birth of the church and illuminates the catholicity of the Gospel message. In the days ahead, we pray for an outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit, so that our communion may be a vibrant and visible expression of love.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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