Many of the movies that come out these days are based upon sequels of previous movies. Throughout the fifty days of the Easter Season, the Church has been focusing its attention on one of the greatest sequels in human history—The Acts of the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles is the second part of a two part series known as Luke—Acts. The first part of this series is the Gospel of Luke. In his Gospel, Luke, like the other three evangelists, presents the life of Christ and speaks of the way in which Christ revealed God’s love and salvation for all people who place their faith in Him. In the Gospels, we see how Jesus made God present to humanity, saved them and touched them through His divine person.
In the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, The Acts of the Apostles speaks to us about the way in which Jesus and the Father sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church so that Christ could continue to be encountered in the Church and the Seven Sacraments. As we hear The Acts of the Apostles proclaimed throughout the Easter Season, we are told how the Holy Spirit was sent upon all of the disciples, both Jews and Gentiles, so that Christ might continue to work His saving deeds through His living body, the Church. Much of the focus in the readings in this Easter Season has been on recounting how Christ continues to make His saving deeds present in the world through the Church, its members and Christ’s Seven Sacraments.
One of the most profound words, which expresses how closely Jesus wishes to dwell within the members of His Church, is the word “abide.” This word, which we hear used today in the Gospel of John, speaks to us of Jesus’ desire to actually live within each of His disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ wishes that we should love Him enough that we allow Him to live within us and model our lives upon His love for us. It is impossible for Christ to live within us if we do not live as people of love. Our own hearts must be places of love if He is going to dwell there. If our hearts are filled with lust, hatred or envy, He will be unable to co-habitate there with these incompatible realities. We must make our hearts places of love for Christ to dwell there. We open our hearts to His presence by forgiving those who have trespassed against us and keeping His commandments. His commandments are very easy, when we allow Jesus to assist us by abiding with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. They may be expressed by the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament or the two great commandments which Jesus has given us: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbor as yourself.”
As John tells us today in the second reading from the First Letter of John, the reason that we are to love one another is that God has loved us first. When a Christian understands all that God has done for us by saving us through His Son Jesus, the only proper way to respond is by loving his or her neighbor. As Pope Benedict XVI has stated so beautifully in his encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est” (God is Love), it is God’s love for us which ultimately motivates our charity and love for others.
The easiest way to understand what today’s readings are all about is in the beautiful Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us His Body and Blood so that He might “abide” (dwell) within us. As He gives us His Body and Blood, He shows us how much He loves each of us. In His sacrifice on the altar, Christ lays down His life for us to show us that we are His beloved and intimate friends. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we receive His Holy Spirit and are built up by His grace to continue His saving work in the world. As He comes to abide in us, Christ calls us to love one another in love and charity. The Eucharist is the perfect expression of God’s love and charity, and when we receive it, we are called to become a people of love and charity. As we receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, He abides in us, so that we might love others as He has loved us first. The Eucharist calls us to continue Christ’s work in the world, to make Him present as did those who received the Holy Spirit in The Acts of the Apostles. When we receive the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Christ and His perfect charity, Jesus calls us to make our lives a sequel to the prefect charity which He has shown us.
It is not just in the Eucharist that Christ comes to abide in us. While the Eucharist is the real presence of Christ come to abide in us, during this time when many are unable to be at Mass and receive the Eucharist as a result of the pandemic, we are also reminded that Christ can also come to us through the Holy Spirit as we open ourselves to His Word. For many who may not receive Christ in the Eucharist throughout this pandemic, the reading of Scripture also allows Christ to speak to us so that we might open our hearts to His presence in our lives. As we are called to imitate Him, the Scriptures give us the script by which we might come to understand how we are to model our lives on His example. I would encourage any who are not able to come to Mass during these days of the pandemic to consider picking up the Scriptures and reading the two-part story of Luke-Acts. As you do so, consider how you might add your own life as the third part of this series. The Gospel of John, which we hear read this Sunday, concludes with the beautiful line: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (John 15: 8). To become a disciple who bears fruit is to make our lives a sequel to the wonderful work of Jesus that we read about in the Gospels, see continued in the Acts of the Apostles, and are called to live through our own Baptisms. The sequel that we are called to live as disciples invites us to allow Christ to abide in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We are called to let the Holy Spirit be the director of this adventure; but we must consent to be the actors and to follow where He calls us. We do this as we strive to follow His commandments and to love others as He has taught us to love.
My prayer for all of us is that we might strive to live our part in this story as actors who glorify the Father by the fruit that we bear as His disciples.
Blessings on this Fifth Sunday of Easter!
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor, St. Peter’s Church—Toronto.
This reflection based on the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter—Year B: Acts 9: 26-31; Psalm 22; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8.