9th May, 2021

Silhouette of hands held together to form a heart against a setting sun background

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

All of today’s readings encourage us not only to strain our ears to hear this most important Word that was spoken to us during this liturgy, but above all to open our hearts to truly accept this Word, to proclaim it, and – most importantly – to implement this extraordinary Word of God in our daily lives. We could say that this particular sixth Sunday of Easter could be called ‘Sunday of love’ or ‘Sunday of people in love’, because especially in the second reading but also in the Gospel we heard this word ‘Love’ at least several times, and at some stage I thought to myself that it would be a perfect Sunday for Valentine’s Day or weddings with readings that are very suitable for such occasions.

However, in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we didn’t hear about love, but rather about the phenomenal and spectacular action of the Holy Spirit that took place shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. As Peter eagerly and courageously preached the Good News sharing his faith in Jesus, one day he came to the house of Cornelius, who was an ordinary pagan, a high-ranking army commander, and who at that stage probably had heard very little and knew very little about Jesus. As we heard, Peter and his companions came to the house where the whole family and friends of Cornelius were gathered with him, and when he began to speak, enthusiastically sharing his faith in God and his divine power, then something completely unexpected happened, because – as we heard – the Holy Spirit suddenly interrupted Peter’s speech and came down on all the listeners. And – as we heard a little further – this incredible event astonished Peter very much, and not only him, but also all the Jewish believers who had accompanied him. Why? The same reading explains it to us a bit further: Because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the pagans too and they could speak strange languages and proclaim the greatness of God. So, then Peter asked his companions a very interesting question: Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have. And then without any hesitation Peter ordered his friends – that is other Jewish believers – to baptize all the people gathered in the house of Cornelius. As I read this passage a while ago, I tried to imagine that it must have been a very amazing experience for Peter and his companions. Moreover, we can say that it was the turning point in the history of the Church because at this stage the Good News or the Gospel had begun to be preached not only to Jews but also to pagans and to everyone around the world.

When I was reflecting on this first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, I thought to myself that since the Holy Spirit wanted so much to come down on the pagans, and since He came to them at such an unexpected moment and interrupted Peter while he was still speaking, since the Holy Spirit so much wanted his gifts to be poured out on the pagans too, the more we should be prepared for his coming because he really wants to be present in our lives too, and He wants to give us His gifts generously and abundantly as He gave them to Cornelius and his loved ones. In two weeks, we will celebrate Pentecost Sunday, and I think it would be great if we were prepared for this great feast, for the coming of the Holy Spirit as Cornelius and his family were.

In today’s gospel, we heard a very short but I think the most beautiful sentence in the entire Bible: “God is love”, God is true love! Even if this sentence may sound like a slogan to some of us, Saint John the Evangelist wants to remind us of something extremely important and obvious at the same time that we should love one another because God loves us, and because He called us to love one another. The one who comes from God – loves others. The one who does not come from God – does not have love in himself. The Holy Spirit who came down on us on the day of our Confirmation and who still comes down on us every year 50 days after Easter on Pentecost Sunday, he enables us to accept this love which is God Himself, but also to share this love with others.

And finally, in today’s Gospel of Saint John, Jesus wants to tell us something else. He says: If you want to be friends of God, if you want to be my friends, love one another and you can express your love for God only in one way by keeping the commandments I have given you. These commandments are very simple: love God and love others. It is phenomenal that in today’s Gospel we can find this word ‘Love’ 10 times as if Saint John wanted to remind us of the importance of this word to which we are used to and perhaps it doesn’t impress us anymore. Let us think for a moment whether there is such a real longing for true love in us, whether there is such a real longing for the Holy Spirit who comes to us sometimes unexpectedly and surprisingly, that we too, like Cornelius and his family, may be able to proclaim the greatness of God with real zeal and enthusiasm first in our families and wherever we are.

Fr Gregory