We have the Holy Spirit, even if we can’t receive the sacraments
In a time when the world has been dramatically transformed, many people feel disconnected and abandoned by God. Today’s readings reveal that we are not alone, for the Holy Spirit is with us. As we near the feast of Pentecost, we are reminded of the power of the Spirit in the world.
I will not leave you; I will come to you. (Jn 14:18)
How does Scripture help you during moments of crisis?
What can you do to stay connected to God and your community?
How can you show love for your community?
In the Gospel, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit as an advocate for his followers. The Spirit will offer them support by being within the community after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Recognizing the distress of his friends, Jesus reveals that although he would physically leave the earth, the Holy Spirit would sustain them.
Jesus’ promise is both comforting and instructive. While foretelling the role of the Spirit, Jesus proclaims the importance of love within the community: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments'' (Jn 14:15). In the previous chapter of John, Jesus offers a new command, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34)—a modified version of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lv 19:18). By loving one another, we come to receive the Spirit.
Similarly, in Acts, we hear about the role of the Spirit in early Christian communities. The first reading builds on the readings from the past two weeks. On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we heard about Peter baptizing converts so that they would repent and receive the Holy Spirit. On the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we heard of the selection of leaders who were filled with the Holy Spirit. Today, these ideas emerge again when one of the selected members, Phillip, preaches to Samaritans who are converted and believe in Christ. Peter and John pray for these new converts, baptize them and lay hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit, ritual actions that inspire the sacraments of initiation, baptism and confirmation.
In a time of social distancing, the reception of sacraments has been limited or delayed. Because physical, sacramental rituals are an important way to express faith and connection with God and one another, the absence of them can lead to a feeling of abandonment, similar to that of the apostles in the Gospel. How can people receive the Spirit without baptism and confirmation? How can we have God within us without regularly receiving the Eucharist?
Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is not constrained in the same ways we are. Sacraments connect us to God’s grace in concrete and visible ways, but they are not the only vehicles for grace. Remember that when Jesus promises the Spirit, he does not limit it to baptism or laying on hands. The Spirit is promised freely as an advocate (Gk. paraclete), a defender and a comforter, who resides within the community whose members love one another.
Over the past months, there have been countless stories of love: health care workers caring for the sick, delivery people ensuring the arrival of goods, agricultural workers producing food, people and organizations creating and donating masks and protective gear, anyone in an essential service, anyone who stayed home to save lives. All of these are examples of love. So, in the absence of physical connections and sacramental actions, trust that the Holy Spirit sustains all of us who love one another.