Thursday, May 26, 2011

Alive in the Spirit

Detail of Confirmation by Nicolas Poussin, 1645

By Dr. Scott Hahn

Jesus will not leave us alone. He won’t make us children of God in Baptism only to leave us “orphans,” He assures us in Sunday’s Gospel (see Romans 8:14-17) .

He asks the Father to give us His Spirit, to dwell with us and keep us united in the life He shares with the Father.

We see the promised gift of His Spirit being conferred in Sunday’s First Reading.

The scene from Acts apparently depicts a primitive Confirmation rite. Philip, one of the first deacons (see Acts 6:5), proclaims the Gospel in the non-Jewish city of Samaria. The Samaritans accept the Word of God (see Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13) and are baptized.

It remains for the Apostles to send their representatives, Peter and John, to pray and lay hands on the newly baptized — that they might receive the Holy Spirit. This is the origin of our sacrament of Confirmation (see Acts 19:5-6), by which the grace of Baptism is completed and believers are sealed with the Spirit promised by the Lord.

We remain in this grace so long as we love Christ and keep His commandments. And strengthened in the Spirit whom Jesus said would be our Advocate, we are called to bear witness to our salvation — to the tremendous deeds that God has done for us in the name of His Son.

In Sunday’s Psalm, we celebrate our liberation. As He changed the sea into dry land to free the captive Israelites, Christ suffered that He might lead us to God, as we hear in today’s Epistle.

This is the reason for our hope — the hope that sustains us in the face of a world that cannot accept His truth, the hope that sustains us when we are maligned and defamed for His name’s sake.

Put to death in the flesh, He was brought to life in the Spirit, Paul tells us today. And as He himself promises: “Because I live, you will live.”

Exodus and Easter

Israel’s exodus from Egypt forms the background for many of the readings we hear in Easter.

On the Third Sunday, both the Gospel and Epistle describe Jesus “redeeming” or “ransoming” Israel (see Luke 24:21; 1 Peter 1:18). The Greek word in both is only used elsewhere to refer to Israel’s redemption from Egypt (see Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 7:8). In the First Reading, Jesus is said to work “mighty deeds, wonders and signs” (see Acts 2:22) - the same words used to describe Moses’ work (see Exodus 7:3; Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

Moses told the Israelites not to fear but to trust that God would go before and find them a place in the promised land (see Deuteronomy 1:29-32). Jesus uses the same words in the Fifth Sunday’s Gospel. He also quotes Moses to claim that His words are God’s words and His works are God’s works (see Deuteronomy 18:18; 34:10-12).

There is much more exodus imagery in this month’s readings. The point is to show us that Jesus’ death and resurrection marked a new exodus (see Luke 9:31). The Christian life is like the sojourning of the Israelites in the wilderness. We have passed through the waters of Baptism and are now fed with bread from heaven as we make our way to the promised land of eternal life (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 1 Peter 1:4).

Dr. Scott Hahn is professor of theology at Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ohio. He was formerly a Presbyterian minister who converted to Catholicism in 1986. Lighthouse Catholic Media has many of his talks on CD or for download.

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