Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Homily: Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A)
I think I was eleven when I first made the journey to Samaria. It was a long time ago, and I only have vague memories of it now. But fortunately, I’ve been to Samaria many times since, and I have to say, every trip back has been worth it. Since becoming a bishop, the frequency of visits has multiplied exponentially.
I’m not alone in making this journey. The vast bulk of you participating in this Mass have also been to Samaria, even if you haven’t realised it before. For in faith, and by grace, Samaria is our common spiritual home in the Holy Spirit, as it represents the location – wherever it occurred for you – that we received the Sacrament of Confirmation.
We heard in our first reading today how Philip travelled to Samaria, a region just north of Jerusalem, to tell its inhabitants about Jesus Christ, and to demonstrate by healing the power inherent in the name of Jesus. This was the first time we know of that the apostles had travelled outside of Jerusalem after Pentecost, to bring the Christian faith to a new group of people. And we are told that word got back to Jerusalem that the Samaritans accepted the word of God with great rejoicing.
As a consequence, Peter and John were sent to that Samaritan city, specifically to bring the gift of the Holy Spirit to them. In a gesture that still occurs today, the apostles laid their hands upon those who had been baptised in Jesus’ name by Philip, and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And in so doing, the first Confirmations were held. By prayer and the laying on of hands by the first bishops, those people received the grace of the Holy Spirit, strengthening them in their faith and commissioning them as disciples of the Lord.
When the bishop – or his delegate – came to confirm you, you were receiving the same Spirit of Jesus that Peter and John brought to the Samaritan believers. This gift would strengthen them in their faith, just as the same Holy Spirit strengthened you at your Confirmation. It is this same Spirit who is your Advocate today, the Paraclete who stands by your side as your helper and defender. We who have been Confirmed are Samaritan inhabitants, and it is the spiritual location to where we can always journey home. Having received the fullness of God’s Spirit, we are truly present-day Samaritans.
When we struggle in faith – and don’t we all do that at times! – it is the Holy Spirit of God who will uphold us, and help us to persevere. When we are despondent or troubled, it is the Holy Spirit who comforts and assures us. When we are saddened by our circumstances or disheartened by the ways of the world, it is the Holy Spirit who comes with a grace of joy and hope. It is the Holy Spirit of Jesus who continues to abide with and in us, and who shows us that we are loved.
As we make a shift towards Pentecost this Easter, I invite you to recall your own Confirmation, or ask someone in your family to tell you the story of “when we went to Samaria.” Share with those around you your confirmation name – Can you remember it? – and recall something of that saint’s life (Mr Google can help!). And if you haven’t been Confirmed – if you are yet to receive the fullness of God’s Spirit – and are not sure how to get there, then make a simple prayer to Jesus, asking him to guide you along the journey.
And always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have, for you are bearers of the name of Jesus, and recipients of his encouraging Spirit.