Sunday Sermon for May 17, 2020, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Pet 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21
In the second reading today St. Peter tells us to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Jesus is holy in an absolute sense, so we cannot make Him holy in our hearts, so what is St. Peter talking about? It is very similar to what Jesus taught us in the Our Father when we pray “hallowed be Thy Name.” God’s Name is holy and it cannot be anything other than holy. So, we are not praying that God’s Name would be made holy, but that we would have the proper reverence for the holy Name of God.
The same is true with what St. Peter is telling us. We cannot make Jesus any more holy than He is, so to sanctify (make holy) Him in our hearts can only be addressing our disposition toward the Lord. There are two aspects to this. First, and the point at which I think St. Peter is addressing, is that in the depths of our hearts we must have the proper love and reverence for Jesus that needs to be given to Him as God.
In other words, this does not mean simply to believe and accept what the Church teaches about Jesus. That is already assumed as St. Peter makes clear in the very next line of the reading when he tells us to be ready to give an explanation to anyone who inquires about our reason for hope. To give such an explanation requires objective truth. What St. Peter is asking is that we would allow that objective truth, to which we give credence, to become subjective so that we not only know the truth, but we embrace that truth in our hearts and live it in love.
For the people of Peter’s time this may have been a novel concept: to be in a relationship of love with God! For the pagans, the gods were most often to be feared. While the people may have needed to respect their perceived power, the “relationship” was one of servitude. Jesus told us He no longer calls us slaves, but friends. Too often, people today have misused and abused this concept, treating Jesus as our “buddy.”
To be in a relationship of love implies total giving one’s self to another and the receiving of the other’s gift to one’s self. In the first reading we are told about the people from Samaria who came to believe in Jesus through the preaching and example of the Deacon, St. Philip. When the Apostles came to them, they laid hands on the people who had been baptized in the Name of Jesus, and these people received the Holy Spirit. This is not merely the reception of grace and charisms. This is the second meaning of sanctifying God in our hearts: it is the reception of the Person of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had told His Apostles this would happen. In the Gospel reading today our Lord told His disciples that if they love Him He would send another Advocate (Paraclete) to be with them. This Spirit of truth the world cannot accept because it neither knows Him nor sees Him. While we do not see Him either, Jesus says: “You know Him, because He remains with you, and will be in you.” Notice that our Lord begins with the love we have for Him, then tells us the Holy Spirit, who is the Love of God, will be in us.
We know that where one Person of the Most Holy Trinity is present, all Three are present. Jesus addresses this point in the verses that follow the Gospel passage we hear today. He tells us that if we love Him, the Father will love us, and Jesus and the Father will come to us and make their abode within us. Spiritually speaking, the place where the Lord dwells within us is in our hearts. I say spiritually speaking because Jesus does not dwell in the physical organ of our heart any more than when we tell someone we love that we give them our heart or that we love them will all our heart.
When God dwells in us, St. Teresa of Jesus tells us that His dwelling is the innermost “part” of the soul. He dwells in the deepest part of our being. This makes sense because for us to love God with our whole heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, is not just an emotional kind of love, but true charity. For this to happen, we must first open our hearts to God’s love, which is His very self, and we must love Him in return. To love God in this way means having the greatest reverence for Him, sanctifying Him in our hearts with His own Love, with the Holy Spirit Who is Love!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.