Remembering the reason for our hope

By: By Msgr. Stuart Swetland

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 25

Acts 8:5-8,14-17; Psalm 66:1-3,4-5,6-7,20; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

(In the Diocese of Peoria, due to the transfer of the celebration of Ascension to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the epistle and Gospel readings may be taken from the Seventh Sunday of Easter. These would be 1 Peter 4:13-16 and John 17:1-11a.)

Christ is risen! We began the Easter season over a month ago proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. His victory over the ancient enemies of humankind — sin, Satan and death — was our victory as well. “O, death, where is thy victory? O, death, where is thy sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

As we continue to celebrate the paschal season, extending the feast well beyond our 40 days of fasting, we demonstrate that our faith in the resurrection leads us to such peace and joy and fullness of life that we cannot help but celebrate. As the mystic and doctor of the church, St. John of the Cross, who knew great suffering and darkness in his life taught: “The soul of one who loves God always swims in joy, always keeps holiday, and is always in the mood for singing.”

Today’s readings remind us of the newness of life given to us in Christ. The first reading (Acts 8:5-8,14-17) reports on how even the persecution of the first Christians leads to great joy. Philip, one of the first seven deacons of the church, fleeing the persecution in Judea after the death of St. Stephen, is able to bring the good news to the people of Samaria. Philip’s success is confirmed by the apostolic ministry of John and Peter signifying the unity of all who believe in Christ.

The Gospel (John 14:15-21) reminds us of the new way of life given us by Christ. Most importantly, in Jesus there is a new unity with the Triune God. We have access to the inner life of God because of our adoption into the divine family as sons and daughters in the Son. We can never be orphaned for we are a new creation in Christ Jesus who abides with us and shares the Spirit of truth and divine agape with us.

WINNING SOULS, NOT ARGUMENTS
Of course, this new life means that we live our lives in accordance with the new commandments of love revealed to us in Jesus. This begins, as today’s epistle (1 Peter 3:15-18) teaches, by “consecrating (sanctifying) Christ as Lord in your hearts.” The first step in living the new way of Christ is to give one’s entire self to him, establishing him as our first love, the Lord of our lives.

This life-transforming commitment will lead to a new life in the Spirit that others will notice. Thus, Peter reminds us that we must always be ready to give witness to Christ. The first and most powerful apologia for the faith will be our lives. Then our reasoned defense of the faith will be both appealing and effective. This is why Christian apologetics must always be done with “gentleness and reverence” for the persons involved. Authentic Catholic apologetics is interested in winning souls not arguments.

Jesus tells us that the greatest witness to love is the willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (cf. John 15:13). This weekend we celebrate two powerful incarnations of this type of self-sacrificial love.

Memorial Day reminds us of all those who gave their lives to defend the common good and the lives of innocents against those who would destroy and kill. And in Peoria, we are also so blessed to celebrate the ordination of new priests for our diocese. These men willingly lay down their lives in service to the people of God who live in central Illinois.

May God bless them in their ministry and may he also receive into his merciful embrace all those who have given, in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, “the last full measure of devotion” in service to our nation.

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Msgr. Stuart Swetland, a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, is the Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary University in Emmitsburg, Md., and director of the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education.

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