‘Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect.”
Peter’s instruction to the newly baptised, that they should be ready to explain the hope in their hearts, presumed that faithful lives would become an unspoken and attractive invitation to learn more about the Christ who had so transformed their lives. It was hardly surprising. When the Resurrection becomes more than words, when it becomes the underlying conviction of who we are and what life is for, we are changed in ways that attract a searching curiosity.
To experience the power of Christ’s Resurrection in our hearts is to know that we are loved by the Father, and to know that through his Son he is leading us to healing and wholeness. To know the power of Christ’s Resurrection is to regard a broken world with hope and love, so fulfilling the commandment that we should love one another as Christ has loved us.
The infectious love of Pope Francis has reminded us that, as the bearers of such love, we are at the forefront of the Church’s most fundamental call: to make known the good news of the Father’s love revealed in the resurrection of his Son. Lives rooted in such love cannot be hidden. They inevitably prompt a world searching for love to seek the hope that is within us. Becoming a missionary people is, first and foremost, to become a people whose joy, love and peace attracts a weary world.
The Acts of the Apostles chronicles the impact of faithful disciples on an unbelieving world. We hear that when Philip visited a Samaritan town the people were united in welcoming his message, and that there was great rejoicing at his coming.
The warmth of Philip’s welcome must be contrasted with the ingrained distrust that, for many centuries, had divided Jew and Samaritan. We are told that the people were won over by the miracles worked by Philip in the name of Jesus. The possessed were delivered from unclean spirits and the sick were healed. We cannot claim to work miracles. What we can claim, if we choose, is the presence of Christ, whose Resurrection lives in our hearts. Then, without words, our lives shall become a healing presence. People are rarely won over by words, but they are attracted by what we have become.
The Samaritans were clearly won over by Philip, but their conversion was, as yet, incomplete. Only with the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of hands, did they experience within themselves the hope that had so clearly attracted them in Philip. They were filled with the Spirit for which Jesus had prayed and which he had seen as the completion of his work in the hearts of all believers. “If you love me you will keep my commandments. I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive, since it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him because he is with you, he is in you.”
This Spirit, the outpouring of a love that we could never deserve, brings the healing for which we long. We are scarcely alive until we have been held in the love of another. The Holy Spirit, in a way that can be experienced, but never fully described, brings this longing to fulfilment in us. “On that day you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you. Anybody who loves me will be loved by my father, and I shall love him and show myself to him.”
Come, Holy Spirit, awaken in us the hope of your abiding love.