Thursday of this week, we shall celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ into Heaven. At the news of his intending departure, the apostles were disturbed that their Lord and master was leaving them orphans. Jesus goes on to prepare them for this important milestone in the Christ Event. He assures them in the words of St. John Chrysostom: Instead of afflicting yourselves at our separation, and my going to the Father, you ought, if you truly love me, to testify your affection, by a faithful observance of my commandments. Behold, this is the best proof you can give me of your attachment: it is better than for any exterior sign of grief and tenderness.
Jesus goes on to promise his apostles the Paraclete (ho paraklitos). In the Greek Court, this is the legal adviser who defends the one who stands trial. In our case as Christians, He is the comforter or the advocate. He replicates the life of Christ in us and helps us to continue his divine Mission on earth. In difficult times, he defends us. Limited by our inability to understand Jesus’ words, all at once, he reminds us of all that Jesus has taught us. As we do not know how to pray, he inspires us and makes our prayers intelligible before God. He prays, as it were, in us, and pleads for us. This spirit of truth was not only promised to the persons of the apostles, but also to their successors, through all generations. He remains with each and every-one of us for- ever. There is no greater happiness or security for the faithful, than to have this divine promise, the Spirit of truth, to remain with the Church for ever, to protect her, and preserve her from all errors and heresies. The promise of the Holy Spirit is made to the apostles and their successors. It is attached to their office perpetually. That is why the Holy Spirit perpetually watches over the Catholic Church, and preserves her from both open and secret attacks of her enemies.
The gift of the Holy Spirit once received by the apostles on the day of Pentecost is now transmitted within the holy Church through the sacraments, especially, through baptism and confirmation. In our first reading, Philip’s ministry in Samaria was guided by the Holy Spirit. His successful ministry was associated with great power. The apostles who remained behind in Jerusalem after the dispersion of the Christians, continued to serve as the vital link with the Risen Lord. Their role was more or less to validate authentic expression of the Spirit when it moved out into new areas. That is why when they heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
Like the Apostles and the infant church, each of us has received the gift of the Spirit especially through baptism and confirmation, firstly, to reproduce the life of Jesus Christ in us. Secondly, to enable us to be witnesses of Jesus and his love in the world. Jesus Christ did not leave us orphans. He is always with us in mystery. We should not be afraid or disturbed. That is why St. Peter urges us in our second reading, to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. He tells us, to always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason underlying our hope. In doing so, it should be with gentleness and reverence, keeping our conscience clear, so that, when we are maligned, those who defame our good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.
Many times, we are afraid to bear witness to what we believe because we do not want to lose favors. We are afraid of suffering the loss of friendships and many others. St. Peter tell us today that the greatest evil is not suffering but sin; yet Christians seem more intent on avoiding suffering than avoiding sin. In itself suffering is neither good nor evil. But suffering that comes to us because of our determination to remain faithful to Christ is something noble. That is why he goes on to say: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the Will of God, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit.”