O Breath on Me - Sixth Sunday of Easter

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The Easter season is drawing to a close. Next Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of The Lord. The following Sunday is Pentecost Sunday.

The Church has joyfully proclaimed the Resurrection, but now our attention turns to the mission of the Church. Next Sunday we will be reminded of the Great Commission: "Go out to all the world ....." Pentecost was the occasion when the Church in the person of St Peter first announced its message to the world: "This Jesus whom you crucified has risen from the dead ....."

There is one key aspect to this orientation towards mission. It is mentioned in the first reading and also in the Gospel. This key is the gift of the Holy Spirit. We cannot truly understand the Christian life or the mission of the Church without understanding the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

Notice a very interesting situation described in the first reading today taken  from the Acts of the Apostles. The deacon Phillip preached to people in Samaria and they were converted to the faith and then baptised by Phillip. Deacons can baptise. Then Peter and John went down and laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Sounds like the Sacrament of Confirmation -  the bishop coming to the parish to confirm those previously baptised. The Apostles were concerned that these new Christians receive the Holy Spirit. Becoming a Christian means not only believing in Jesus but includes receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.

A Christian not only believes in Christ and seeks to live the moral life as taught by Jesus, but the Christian lives an inner, spiritual life which is generated and sustained by the Holy Spirit. As a Christian we are to live a dynamic inner life of Grace. God is active within us. God's transforming action is occurring in the soul. As Christians we live the life of grace.

This is the wonder of the Christian life: God has poured his own life into us. We are living now with the inner life of the Holy Trinity: God's own life. That is why St Paul exclaims with great conviction that because God has given us the Holy Spirit we can cry out "Abba, Father".  We have become beloved sons and daughters of God. What a wonderful dignity has been given to us.

This is the fulfilment of the promise of The Lord in the Gospel of today when Jesus says, "I shall ask the Father and he will give you another advocate". The word 'advocate' means helper. Why another advocate? Who is the other advocate?  The other advocated was Jesus, of course.  The disciples had Jesus as their guide, their helper. At the Last Supper he was told them that they will not have him much longer. As he said, "In a short time the world will no longer see me".

He says in the Gospel that he will not leave them orphans. Though he must return to the Father, the Father will send them the Spirit. This was fulfilled at Pentecost. 

Brothers and sisters, the Spirit abides within us, granted to us at Baptism and given in special way at Confirmation. How often we are forgetful of his presence. How rarely do we invoke him with trustful dependence. The Spirit is the most precious gift that God the Father to us. But we so readily neglect this gift. In St Matthew's Gospel Jesus says that the Father longs to give us the Spirit - "How much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him". Of all that God wants to do in our lives the most precious thing is that he wants us to have the Holy Spirit. He wants his life to be within us and be the means of transforming our lives.

We do not struggle alone. We are not just under some pressure to live a good life. God has given us an advocate, a helper. He has given us the Holy Spirit.

His presence and his activity is at once mysterious and real.

The abiding presence of the Spirit is like breathing. How rarely do we consider that we that we are breathing. Only when we climb up a set of stairs or jog or run do we become aware of our breathing. Yet without our breathing we would die. So with the Holy Spirit for our faith and spiritual life. The Holy Spirit abiding within us sustains our faith and nourishes our spiritual life. St Paul reminds us that the Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. He will even help us to pray when we don't know what to say.           

Do you recall the ancient hymn? O breathe on me ye breathe of God. This can be our prayer.  Let us long for the Spirit. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will be stirred within us. Let us turn to the Father and ask for the Spirit. Let us entrust the living of our Christian life to the grace and action of the Spirit.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
24 May 2014