I find it curious that we have not yet reached the Feast of Pentecost and yet our first reading today happens after the Spirit came upon the disciples. This timing issue is compounded by the gospel reading which happens in that upper room the night before Jesus went through his passion. I mention this because there are some among us who are more focused on finite details rather than paying attention to what God is trying to say to each of us as we deal with the impact of his death, his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I remember a time when someone was extremely upset because a candle next to the altar was not lit during the mass. Listening to that person, you would have the impression the mass was invalid because of an unlit candle. I could go on with other stories but it is not necessary to help you understand there is only one thing important in our spiritual journey. How are we responding to the two great gifts of God – Jesus and the Holy Spirit? The scriptures and our churches teaching are clear in that there is only one way to salvation and that is through Jesus Christ. The question is how do we appropriate salvation for ourselves and then how do we live it in order to be witnesses of that reality rather than get lost in the inconsequential issues of our faith.
God’s plan for you and I is clearly seen in the earliest relationship with his chosen people – we are to love our God with all our hearts, mind, strength and soul. Jesus reemphasized this desire and added a caveat that we are to love our neighbor as well. How can we as selfish as we are love God and neighbor every day and every time? The truth is we cannot and God knew this so he provided a way for us able to follow God’s way to righteousness.
He made you and I a New Covenant through which God promises to change our hearts and his promise includes his forgiving and forgetting our sins. I invite you to take the time to read these promises of God made to us through the prophet Jeremiah (31:33-34) and Ezekiel (36:26-27). As you read them take the time to meditate on each of them. Then as sit in mass this week or next week ask God in prayer to help you understand exactly how to apply those promises to your life. .
Those promises are important for us because the scriptures of today and of next Sunday are getting us ready to celebrate Pentecost when these promises of God became a reality for each of us. Do not let the things that surround us as we gather to worship distract us from appropriating for ourselves these promises of God. We can easily get off track by our biases about candles, music, kids moving or crying, perfume, the casual dress of today, people’s posture and other such trivial things. What is important is how we are responding to the presence of God as we gather to worship. Today Peter reminds us to “sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts” and to “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.”
What does this mean to sanctify Christ and how would this do anything to help us ignore the unimportant things which seem to occupy our attention as we try to connect with God? He is saying to us that we need to make Jesus our route to holiness. Why Jesus? Well in the words of Jesus himself he is the only way to the Father. If we sanctify Christ in our hearts we move him to the center of all we do and he will at our asking baptize us in the Holy Spirit and fire. This is the baptism which John the Baptist told us Jesus would do for us. That act by Jesus to flood us with the Holy Spirit will not only complete the promise of God to change our hearts but it will allow us to realize how completely God forgives our sin.
Why would we want this baptism of the Spirit we hear about in today’s gospel? We have been baptized and we have already received the spirit? I guess the better question for us is why would you not want the very thing God designed to change our hearts so we are less worried about doing things right and less worried about the place of candles as we worship. We will, with the Spirit guiding us, worship in spirit and in truth. We will also be more in tune with the Spirit guiding us and transforms us into holy women and men of God.
Come Holy Spirit, come kindle within us the fire of God’s love and change our hearts. Then we will always be ready to give an explanation for our hope, our joy, our peace and we will always do that with gentleness and reverence.