Getting Into the Heart
May 1, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixth Sunday of Easter
Reading I (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17) Reading II (1 Peter 3:15-18)
Gospel (St. John 14:15-21)
In the readings today, we see a clear shift in the readings that the Church is asking us to have as we proceed through the Easter season. Over these last five weeks, the focus has been very much on the Resurrection itself. Today we see that the shift has taken place as we begin to prepare for Pentecost, the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when Our Lord rose from the dead. It is not enough that He would rise from the dead. While it is the most important of all the things that happened in human history, it is still not enough. That is not the fulfillment of everything, because if all Our Lord did was to rise from the dead, it would mean that one day we could rise from the dead – and then we would hang around this world in our bodies for the rest of eternity. Not a good idea. It was necessary that there would be even more than just the Resurrection. So now we prepare for the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven, and then the gift that He is going to grant us once He is in heaven.
That gift, of course, is as He promised in the Gospel: another Advocate to be with us always, the Holy Spirit that He is going to pour forth into our hearts once He is in heaven. The reason that He waited until He was in heaven for this to take place is because He was still with us physically on earth. And because He was with us physically in those days after the Resurrection, He was not able to be in His disciples, but rather He could only be with His disciples. He told us in the Gospel reading today that we will know at that time that He is in His Father, and we are in Him, and He is in us. He promised us also the Advocate, Who would be with us and in us. On the day that we were baptized, the Holy Trinity came to dwell within our souls, and the Trinity remains in our souls as long as we are in the state of sanctifying grace.
When we see in the first reading today the apostles laying hands upon the people of Samaria, people who had been baptized only in the Name of the Lord Jesus, we wonder where the signs and wonders are. After all, if the Holy Spirit is in us, why do we not see extraordinary things happening? Well, first of all, Our Lord told us in the Gospel reading today that the world will not believe in the Holy Spirit because it cannot see Him. It is precisely the problem that we deal with in our day and age. It is a material society, and therefore if we cannot see it (or at least if we cannot see the effect), it must not be real. There are radio waves and micro waves and television waves and all that stuff out there, but at least we can turn on our radios and TV’s and microwaves and we can see the effect. We know they are there because we can see what happens. We might look at ourselves and say, “But I don’t see all these extraordinary things happening in my life, how do I know that the Holy Spirit is there? If I can’t see Him and I don’t immediately see the effect, how am I to believe?”
Early on, of course, there were some extraordinary revelations and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The reason for that was precisely so the people would believe, just like when the people of Israel went to Mount Sinai and God showed Himself in all kinds of extraordinary ways: in the thunder, in the wind, in the earthquake, and so on. But when Elijah, a number of years later, went to the exact same mountain, God was not in the wind or the earthquake or the thunder or anything else; God was found in the tiniest little breeze – silent, quiet. So it is with us. Initially, in order to prove that He was real, God showed Himself to the Israelites in powerful ways. Once that was demonstrated, He did not need to do it any longer. They simply needed to have faith. So too, initially the Holy Spirit was given in extraordinary manifestations, but we know that is the case and it is not necessary for it to happen within us. In fact, the saints would tell us that if we are having those kinds of extraordinary manifestations we should pray that they go away because it is about faith. We live by faith not by sight, Saint Paul says.
However, Our Lord does tell us in the Gospel reading that for anyone who keeps His commandments and loves Him, He will manifest Himself; He will reveal Himself to that person. And so if these extraordinary manifestations are not what we are looking for, then what is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Well, Saint Peter is the one who states it most clearly right in the first line of the second reading today; he says, Sanctify Christ in your hearts. Now just like in the Our Father, we do not make God holy; we are not going to make Jesus holy by sanctifying Him in our hearts. Rather what it means is “allow Christ to be holy within you; reverence Him in your hearts.” Most of us reverence Christ with our minds. We acknowledge Who He is, we believe in the truths, but we do not let Him into our hearts. Consequently, we do not see the revelation of Christ, this revelation that is given through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, recall (as Saint Paul says), is necessary even for us to be able to say “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and so we see that the Holy Spirit is present within us if we can make that acknowledgment of truth with our minds. But Saint Peter is asking us to get into the heart.
If we get into the heart, the most astounding manifestation of the Holy Spirit is going to be given, and that manifestation is the change that will take place in our lives, that we will actually become holy, that all of the areas we have struggled with over time suddenly start falling into place. We are able to grow in virtue and uproot vice within our lives. As we continue to pray, it seems that these things will happen for the most part on their own; a little bit of effort on our part, but we all know how hard at times we have tried to overcome certain things in our lives and we have been completely unable to do so. All of a sudden, when you get into the heart and there you reverence Christ, what you will find is that your life will begin to be transformed. You will become like Christ, you will be conformed to Christ, and ultimately you will be transformed into Christ. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit Who overshadowed our Blessed Lady so that Jesus would be conceived in her womb is the same Holy Spirit Who will overshadow us so that we will be transformed into another Christ. Then the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the world is going to be in and through each one of us, not because we are speaking in tongues or prophesying about the future, but because we are living the life of Christ, because we will be holy.
In the same chapter that the Gospel is taken from today, Our Lord tells us that whoever loves Him, His heavenly Father will love that person, and they will come to him and make their dwelling within him. That is the promise of Our Lord Himself: that God will dwell within each one of us if we love Him. And how do we love Him? He says, Keep My commandments. So if we want to be able to see the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, we need to pray and we need to ask Him to help us to keep the commandments, not only the Ten Commandments but the ultimate commandment, that is, love God and love neighbor. When we see ourselves truly loving the people around us, there will be no one to whom the Holy Spirit is manifested more powerfully than to we ourselves because I think most of us know very well the struggle that we have to try to love the people around us. How we need to practice charity, or, as Saint Peter told us today, gentleness and reverence. That is the way we have to answer those who will question us, who will ridicule us for our way of life – with gentleness and reverence. All you need to do is ask yourself, “Is that the way I approach people when they are not kind to me, with gentleness and reverence?” If it is not, then we are not sanctifying Christ in our hearts to the depth that we need to.
We need to enter deeply into our hearts. It is good that we already sanctify Him in our minds, but “in our minds” is not going to change our lives. Sanctifying Him in our minds will get us to the point where we might do the right thing because it is the right thing. We will confess our sins simply because we know that we did something which was wrong. But when we sanctify Christ in our hearts, we enter into a relationship and there we will do what is right because we love Him, not just because it is objectively the right thing to do, but out of love and reverence for Christ. We will confess our sins because we have violated the relationship with the Person we love, not just because at an arm’s distance we can look at it and say, “Oh, yeah, that was the wrong thing to do. That was in the list that was in the examination of conscience, so I guess I’d better confess that too.” That is just in the head; Saint Peter is asking us to get into the heart.
If we are willing to get into the heart, we will change – and that is the reason most people do not want to get into the heart: because they are afraid of the change. But that change will be nothing less than the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in us, the manifestation to us of the reality that the Holy Spirit is within, and the manifestation to the rest of the world because Christ will be shining through us. We will live the life of Christ, and people will be able to recognize that. It is no longer we that they will see, but it is Christ living in us, a new incarnation, if you will, through the power of the Holy Spirit Who brought about the Incarnation two thousand years ago. That can happen in each one of us, not to conceive Christ in a womb, but to be transformed to live the life of Jesus Christ. If we love Him, if we keep His commandments, we will be in Him and He will be in us; and the Holy Spirit Whom He gives to us will be manifest within us. What will be manifest in us is not extraordinary signs and wonders, but rather the most extraordinary, most wonderful sign of all: the transformation of our lives into Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.