The rabbis taught that humans have two tendencies: one bad, born at the time of conception, and one good that manifests only at the age of 13. The evil inclination exercises its power even from the embryo and can dominate until the ’70s and ‘80s. How to resist? The rabbis gave these tips: ‘God created the evil inclination and the Torah, the Law, as an antidote to it. If you engaged yourself with the Torah, you would not fall into its power.’ ‘If a despicable temptation comes to you, drag it to the house where the Torah is studied.’ ‘When you engage yourself with the Torah, your evil inclination is given to your power and not you in the power of evil.’ If you were wrong, then the Torah is like a signpost: it indicates direction, but it does not propel. It needs a force to drive it to its destination.
Jesus has not taught only ‘the way.’ He communicated his Spirit, his force to reach the goal.
• To internalize the message, we repeat:
“Create in us, O Lord, a new heart, infuse in us your Holy Spirit.”
First Reading: Acts 8:5-8,14-17
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city.
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
For five or six years after the death of Jesus, the Church did not spread outside of the city of Jerusalem. The apostles did not yet understand that the Gospel was to be proclaimed throughout the whole world. A dramatic event triggered this universal opening: the persecution unleashed against the young community after the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1-4). The persecution did not hit Christians indiscriminately, but only the group of Hellenists we talked about last Sunday. The Jewish Christians and the apostles themselves, however, were left in peace. The Jews thought that they could still reason with them. They showed themselves as respectful and faithful to the Law of Moses and the traditions, while the Hellenists were a danger to the Jewish religious structure.
Persecuted Christians fled from Jerusalem and dispersed throughout Palestine. Some sought refuge in the homes of relatives or friends living abroad, in Syria and other provinces of the Roman Empire. They announced to their brother and sister Jews the good news of Christ’s resurrection wherever they arrived. In Antioch, someone had already begun to speak about Jesus to the Gentiles. It was the beginning of a new era for the Church, which ceased to be linked solely to Israel and began to open up to other people, to those who were not descendants of Abraham.
Today’s reading tells what happened to Philip. Last Sunday, we heard something about him. He was one of those chosen to serve the poor. He is, therefore, a Hellenist. In order not to end up like Stephen, he went north. He arrived in Samaria and commenced preaching the Gospel and baptizing those who embraced the faith. The Spirit accompanied the work of this first missionary giving strength to his words and confirming his proclamation through signs. The life of the people of that city changed radically, and they were all filled with joy (vv. 5-8).
The second part of the reading (vv. 14-17) depicts the apostles, Peter and John, visiting the baptized in Samaria. This visit was born from the need to unite the new communities that were beginning to arise alongside the mother church of Jerusalem. Upon their arrival, the two apostles laid their hands on the new Christians to communicate the Spirit to them.
Then, we may well ask: how is it possible that the Samaritans, baptized by Philip, had not received the Spirit? Is this gift not, perhaps, conferred through baptism? Indeed, the Samaritans had received the Holy Spirit at the moment of baptism. However, this divine presence in them had not caused the extraordinary outward manifestations that used to occur in the early days of the Church. Let us recall: the baptized began to speak in tongues, prophesy, and become rapt in ecstasy. Immediately after receiving Peter and John's laying on of hands, these phenomena occurred, even among the Samaritans.
Luke relates this episode to help us understand that new communities spontaneously arise where the Gospel is announced. However, they do not grow, develop and live in a completely autonomous and independent way. They must establish bonds of communion with the universal Church. Only then will the Spirit fully manifest itself in them.
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18
Beloved: Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.
After having touched on slavery, the preacher feels that his listeners need an enlightening word on the painful situation the community is experiencing. The more or less violent persecution broke out like bursting fire and will continue for approximately 250 years. The newly baptized must know that a difficult time awaits them. They must not be surprised as something unforeseen, unexpected, and unusual (1 P 4:12). “All those who wish to live fully in Jesus Christ—even Paul assures—will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). How should the disciples behave with those who ridicule and make a mockery of their faith?
Above all, they are invited to be aware that Christ is near them, accompanying them, and in their hearts (v. 15). The unleashed hate is not aimed at them but at the Lord.
They must always be ready to respond to whoever seeks a rationale for the hope that animates them. Hence, there is need to build on a solid foundation, on the profound convictions of their faith. Those ruled by passing emotions, devotional intimacies, or miraculous enthusiasm are fragile, precarious, and uncertain. Only when they refer to the Word of God are they firm, solid, stable (Rom 10:17). Those who own it have no difficulty justifying and demonstrating that it leads to a serious, reliable, and wise choice in life.
Peter also shows non-believers how to respond. Whether they are asked by private citizens or are called to respond to public officials, the Christian believer must avoid every offensive, disrespectful or irreverent word. Their language must always inspire goodwill, respect, and a clear conscience (v. 16). Polemics, aggression, or verbal violence may extend a discussion but do not promote an evangelical proposal, the only goal the disciple must aim (vv. 16-17).
The passage concludes by recalling the example of Christ: he also suffered for practicing justice; his disciples certainly cannot expect a different fate (Mt 10:25).
Gospel: John 14:15-21
Jesus said to his disciples: “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 always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Like last Sunday’s, even today's Gospel is taken from the first of three farewell speeches given by Jesus at the Last Supper. The disciples have understood that Jesus is leaving them. They are sad and ask themselves how they can continue to be united and love him if he is gone. Jesus promised not to leave them alone, without protection and guidance. He said he would pray to the Father and ‘send the other Paraclete,’ who will always be with them (v. 16). It is the promise of the gift of that Spirit that Jesus possesses in its fullness (Lk 4:1,14,18) and will be infused into the disciples.
Jesus clarifies (vv. 15,17) that the Spirit could be received only by those in accord with him, with his plans and works of love. The world cannot receive it. What is this world to which the Spirit is not destined? Is it the pagans, those far away who do not belong to the group of the disciples, or is it the members of other religions? The world as Jesus intends it. It is not the people but parts in the heart—of each person—wherein darkness, sin, and death reign. Where there is hatred, lust, and unregulated passion, the world is present with a spirit contrary to Christ's. Paul reminds the Corinthians of it as they allow themselves to be guided by human wisdom.
The Spirit is called by two names. The Comforter (Paraclete) and the Spirit of Truth, the two functions he exercises on behalf of the believers. Comforter is not a good translation of the Greek Parakletos. Paraclete, a term taken from legal language and indicates someone called to stand beside another.
In ancient times, there was no establishment of lawyers; each defendant had to stand for themselves, trying to bring witnesses to exonerate themselves. It sometimes happenedthat some, though not guilty, were unable to prove innocence or deserved forgivenessdespite having committed the crime. For them, there remained one last hope: that there would be a person honored by all for his moral integrity in the assembly. That blameless person, without uttering any word, would get up and place himself at his side. This gesture is equivalent to an acquittal. No one would have dared to ask for more condemnation. This ‘defender’ is called the ‘Paraclete,’ ‘one who is called to the side of another who finds himself in trouble.’
The meaning of this first title is, therefore, protector, helper, and defender. Jesus promises his disciples another Paraclete, since they already have one, he himself, as John explains in his first letter: “My little children, I write you these things so that you may not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have a Paraclete by the Father’s side: the righteous Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 2:1). And Jesus is the Paraclete in so far as he is our advocate with the Father, not because he defends us from his wrath, provoked by our sin (the Father is always on our side, as Jesus). He protects us against our accuser, our opponent, and against sin. The enemy is sin, and Jesus knows how to refute and reduce it to impotence.
The second task of the Paraclete does not replace the first but fulfills a mission. He is sent together with Jesus, who ‘returns’ into the midst of his own (v. 18). Jesus is not going away; he simply changes the type of presence, no longer the physical one, but the Risen One. He stays with his disciples in a new way, infinitely more real—even in its invisibility—more lasting and unlimited than before.
The Spirit is the Paraclete because he helps the disciples battle against the world, that is, against the forces of evil (Jn 16:7-11). John reminds the Christians of his community of this truth so that they would not be discouraged, despair, or lose their serenity, peace of heart, or joy in the difficulties of life. The disciple believes in the assistance of the Spirit. He is not afraid or brakes down, even if he admits that there are still so many spiritual miseries, frailties, and evil inclinations. He is convinced of the strength of the Paraclete,and he is sure not to be defeated.
The second title is the Spirit of truth, which sets out another function of the Paraclete. His work in the service of truth is expressed in various ways. Let’s start with the simplest. We all know what happens when a story goes from mouth to mouth. It is subject to deformation and can be altered to such an extent as to become unrecognizable.
The message of Jesus is for all people. It must be preached until the end of the world. Who assures us that it won’t be corrupted? Humanly speaking, the venture seems desperate. However, we have certainty that all will obtain it from the pure source of the Gospel. In the Church, which is charged to announce it, the force of the Spirit of truth promised by Jesus is working.
His service to the truth is not limited to the part that we could call negative. He does not just deal with the avoidance of error in the transmission of the message of Christ. He performs a positive function as well: introducing the disciples to the fullness of the truth. There are truths that Jesus has not explicitly dealt with or developed in full detail because the disciples could not understand (Jn 16:12-15). He knew that throughout the centuries,new problems and questions would arise. Where could authentic responses that conform to his thoughts be found?
Jesus also promises the intervention of the Spirit at this level: He is charged to introduce the disciples to the discovery of the whole truth. He will not say anything new or contrary to him. He will help to capture his message in its fullness. Christians must remain open to the impulse of the Spirit, who always reveals new things. He is, by his nature, the one who renews the face of the earth (Ps 104:30).
It is a sin against the Spirit (and grave indeed cf. Mt 12:31) to oppose renewal, to refuse innovations that favor the life of the community, that bring people closer to Christ and to the brethren, that increase joy and peace, that help people to pray better and free the heart from useless fear. Those who stubbornly remain attached to already obsolete and worn-out religious traditions, who are not diligently given to the study of the Word of God, who do not accept updating of rites, formulae, or liturgical gestures, who offer old solutions to new problems, who do not accept with joy the discovery of biblical exegesis, place themselves in opposition to the Spirit of truth.
For the evangelist John, the term truth has a more profound meaning. It indicates a God who manifests himself in Jesus. He is the truth (Jn 14:6) because the total revelation of God is realized in him. To refuse him is a lie; it is a choice contrary to his truth. Satan, the enemy of the truth, the father of lies (Jn 8:44), is far from Christ.
The Spirit acts in an opposite way: he introduces the truth, acts in intimacy with each person, and does so freely; he tends to choose Christ and adheres to his plans. He is likethe wind that sweeps towards higher ground and opens an irresistible path to salvation. It is difficult to imagine that the impulse of the Holy Spirit fails to introduce everyone to thetruth. However tenuous it may be, why have doubt that this divine impulse towards life is stronger than the world still present in each of us?
READ: Jesus assures his followers of a helper, the Paraclete, so that they will not feel orphaned or abandoned. If they show their love for Jesus through obedience to his words, they will be loved by the Father and the Son, and the Spirit will dwell within them.
REFLECT: Living in Christian fidelity is no easy task when the world invites us to go the other way. We cannot do it by ourselves; we need a helper. Thus, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit as the indwelling helper to see us through the Christian mandate. Where does my allegiance lie, and on whom do I lean—the spirit of the world or the indwelling Spirit of God? And why?
PRAY: Let the Spirit guide our discernment and decision always. Let us be sensitive to His inspiration in the ordinary events of our life.
ACT: Practice the examination of conscience daily to see where God is leading us always.