We begin this evening the Sixth Sunday of Easter. This beautiful piece of music by the English Tudor composer Thomas Tallis is a setting of part of this Sunday’s gospel reading, John 14:15-21. [Click on the image below to listen on YouTube].
Next Thursday is Ascension Day (as it is a Holy Day [even though the obligation is suspended because of Covid-19] you may want to make a special effort to participate in a livestreamed Mass) and as part of this, in the last two weeks of Eastertide, we begin to think about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In the Last Supper as depicted in John, Jesus promises his disciples the gift of the Spirit – and this promise, and gift, is linked to the love we need to show for him. We have the opportunity through different and sometimes difficult ways of praying during this virus to deepen that love, to hold fast to what really matters in life, to look at our lives and the life of the world in the midst of all that’s happening. One way we show love for Jesus is through the love we try to show to others – our own loved ones, with whom we may well be spending far more time than usual, and those who suffer most in the world, particularly those with the virus or those whose lives are being damaged because of what the virus has brought about in the world, especially those in poor countries.
Part of how we understand the coming of the Holy Spirit is an assertion that he breaks down the barriers between peoples. The first reading this Sunday from Acts (8: 5-8, 14-17) shows an early celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation (which we have to postpone this year – it was due in June) in Samaria. The deacon Philip engages in what the Holy Father would describe as a ‘ministry to the margins’ by going to the north of Israel, to the community there which had been detached from what became mainstream Judaism centuries before. Samaritans were Israelites, venerating the Law of Moses, but seen as heretics and apostates, rejecting the centre of Jewish worship, the Temple in Jerusalem. For the early Christians to go there to evangelise would have filled many devout Jews with horror. Early on the Church realises and proclaims that God’s Spirit breaks down barriers between people, a message we still need to assert.
God bless, take care, ‘Good Sunday’
Biblical extracts chosen for our Mass readings on Sunday are designed to enable us to focus on one or two things at a time – and this is helpful for preachers. This may mean in some cases having to do a ‘scissors and paste job’ (a phrase which is probably already meaningless to anyone under thirty) and leave out some parts of Biblical passages. In an earlier post, looking at today’s first reading from Acts chapter 8, I focussed on the mission to the Samaritans and their subsequent Baptism and Confirmation. But spliced into this account, if you look up Acts chapter 8 in your Bibles, in Samaria we come across the strange figure of Simon ‘Magus’ or ‘the Magician’, and his story is cut out of the extract for Mass today. He’s been practising magic, gets baptised as a Christian, but then, perhaps in line with his professional career, offers the apostles money to get the Holy Spirit and its power. He is rebuffed.
Peter says to him ‘May your money perish with you! You think you can buy God’s gift with money…’ Simon’s important because he’s given his name to a specific offence in Church law: ‘Simony’. This is the offence and sin, for clergy, of asking for money or fees for administering sacraments or other acts of worship. While in other churches fees are charged for weddings and funerals (for the Church of England this is enshrined in Acts of Parliament, and so are the rates) in the Catholic Church you are simply invited to make a financial offering for the Church and the maintenance of the clergy – it is not a fee (unfortunately for many Funeral Directors this distinction is a bit blurred, and the offering tends to be the same amount as the fee). But perhaps more importantly the story of Simon Magus (and it’s a pity he is cut out of the reading today) warns all of us against love of money. This always poisons the Church, and it always poisons each of us. Perhaps something we can learn in the current crisis is that gold is always fool’s gold: greed and love of money are always a blind alley. The people we are depending on most in this country during this pandemic are amongst those paid rather badly for what they do: the rich are nowhere to be seen. Nevertheless love of money, like the sad figure of Simon Magus, is still here in lots of ways.
God bless and take care