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Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 14, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore the Holy Spirit that stretches through time, as we approach Pentecost, with the help of womanist theologian Monica Coleman; engage the Holy Spirit through Catholic Social Teaching’s call to participate in community; and embody the Spirit through the examples of unions and ACT UP’s fight against an unresponsive government and public amid the HIV/AIDS pandemic.


Commentary by Ben Stegbauer and Tess GC

Sixth Sunday of Easter


Reading 1

Acts 8:5-8,14-17

Philip went down to the town of Samaria and there proclaimed the Messiah to them.
Without exception, the crowds paid close attention to Philip,
listening to his message and taking note of the miracles he performed.
Many people were freed from unclean spirits, which came out shrieking loudly.
Many people who could not move or could not walk were cured.
The rejoicing in the town rose to a fever pitch.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God,
they sent Peter and John to them.
The two went down to these people and prayed that
they might receive the Holy Spirit.
She had not yet come down upon any of them,
since they had only been baptized in the name of Jesus.
Upon arriving, the pair laid hands on the Samaritans
and they received the Holy Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 66

Response: Make a joyful sound to God, all the earth.

Make a joyful sound to God, / all the earth;
Sing the glory of God’s Name; / give glorious praise!
R: Make a joyful sound to God, all the earth.

All the earth worships You, / and sings praises to You, sings praise to Your Name.
Come and see what God has done: / tremendous are God’s deeds.
R: Make a joyful sound to God, all the earth.

God turned the sea into dry land; / people passed through the river on foot.
There did we rejoice in God, / who rules with might forever.
R: Make a joyful sound to God, all the earth.

Come and hear, all you who fear God,
And I will tell you what the Holy One has done for me.
Blessed by God, who has not rejected my prayer
Or removed steadfast love from me!
R: Make a joyful sound to God, all the earth.

Reading 2

1 Peter 3:15-18

In your hearts, set Jesus apart as holy and sovereign.
Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours,
be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully.
Keep your conscience clear so that, whenever you are defamed,
those who slander your way of life in Christ may be shamed.
If it should be God’s will that you suffer,
it is better to do so for good deeds than for evil ones.
The reason Christ died for everyone’s sins
— for the sake of the just and the unjust —
was to lead you to God.
Jesus was put to death but was given life in the Spirit.

Gospel

John 14:15-21

Jesus said to the disciples,
“If you love me and obey the command I give you,
I will ask the One who sent me to give you another Paraclete,
another Helper to be with you always —
The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept
since the world neither sees nor recognizes the Spirit
but you can recognize the Spirit
because the Spirit remains with you and will be within you.
I will not leave you orphaned; I will come back to you.
A little while now and the world will see me no more;
but you will see me;
because I live, and you will live as well.
On that day you will know that I am in God,
and you are in me, and I am in you.
Those who obey the commandments are the ones who love me,
and those who love me will be loved by Abba God.
I, too, will love them and will reveal myself to them.”


The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.

Read

Explore

Following the Spirit


by Ben Stegbauer

The season of Easter, in terms of the lectionary, is simultaneously the story of Acts of the Apostles, and a calm and steady lead up to Pentecost. It leads to the great culmination of the Holy Spirit coming down and anointing Jesus’s followers, and spurring a great hullabaloo of speaking in tongues. 

The Gospel from John for this week seems to center the Holy Spirit as a character in the story of salvation. A person and power unseen and unknown. But one that “remains within us.” My favorite encapsulation of the power of the Holy Spirit comes from womanist theologian Monica Coleman who utilizes both process theology and African religious traditions to understand the power and movement of the “spirit” – something at least related to what we call the Holy Spirit, and related to what Catholic theology calls “tradition.” 

Coleman notices that “faith traditions suggest that spirit does not come just to remind me that the past once existed. They suggest that spirit comes to remind me of the past in order to help me move into the future.” Coleman in other writings demonstrates how throughout many spiritual and religious traditions this concept reigns true. For many African (specifically Yoruba) and American Indigenous Traditions, the concept of ancestors plays a central role in the way in which a community functions and the way it orients itself towards the future. The Holy Spirit of Christianity then works in a similar way, the combination of past experiences and traditions collides with the needs of the present to demand a turning toward the future. Coleman articulates her own aphorism about Spirit in saying: “Through spirit, the past can teach and motivate the present.” 

This is helpful for me in thinking about the “Advocate” that John describes: We not only receive this Spirit through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, but also through the stories our communities tell us. The passing down of knowledge and wisdom through the stories of those that come before us, our ancestors, whether blood-related or not. This makes sense then that John proclaims that we will not be left alone, because we are accompanied by the Spirit and the motivation of those that came before us (John 14:18). 

This Spirit for Coleman can also be a stirring from the things that break through the present. The Spirit is not simply a historical thing we bring into the present, but also something moving in the process of the here and now. It is something to stay attuned to, and to form within yourself. When we are spoken to by our histories, we also have to be able to be challenged by them, and we have to grow with and through them. Our histories are never pure, and they should not be taken as such. Thus, we have to pay attention to the way the world around us is challenging us and propelling us into the future. The Spirit is at work in the people around us, and the movements that are bringing newness into the world.

At this point in my life I choose to see something in the Spirit that perhaps I refused myself for so long. This Holy Spirit and this movement comes to us in moments of joy and genuine community. I find myself yearning for those times in life where simply put I was able to have fun. The act of hanging out. Shall we not look at society and see these moments of joy and connection that make life worth it, and yearn for those in the deepest way possible? Should we not be asking ourselves foundational questions like: “Why do I have to work so much?” “Why do we all have crippling debt?” “Where are the public spaces to have fun?” “Why am I barred from so many wonderful people because of racist, patriarchal, and classist dynamics?” “Why do we keep letting the police traumatize and lock people up?” These are not simple individualist questions for one person, but rather much deeper questions about how society is organized, specifically economically. 

So, perhaps we should be following the Spirit and organizing for the four day work week, then the four hour work week. We should follow the Spirit and demand open and green public spaces where cops are not allowed. We should demand the prisons emptied and spa rooms built in their place. Follow the Spirit, and be each other’s advocate, and most importantly, have fun. After all, even when I think of my ancestors and the Spirit in those that came before me, I do not remember lectures from my father, but instead I think of my mother’s laugh. 

Commentary by Ben Stegbauer and Tess GC


Ben Stegbauer and Tess GC met in divinity school. Ben is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, the greatest city in the world. He now lives in New York City at the Catholic Worker. Tess was born and raised in western Montana on Salish land, in an Irish American family. She thinks a lot about land, place, belonging, and labor.
Explore

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Solidarity

by Ben Stegbauer

Within Catholic Social Teaching there is this concept called the “Call to Family, Community, and Participation.” While perhaps we should rethink our commitments to the primacy of the nuclear family, the general idea of this “Call” is the reality that we need each other to survive. In his encyclical Frattelli tutti Pope Francis says, “Human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop and find fulfillment except ‘in the sincere gift of self to others.’ Nor can they fully know themselves apart from an encounter with other persons…” (62-63). Francis is highlighting the reality that we are made within communities and we make the communities we are a part of. We cannot fully separate ourselves from the communities we are a part of. We need relationships, and healthy ones where love is secure. This is why it is so tragic when communities become unhealthy and harmful – and when families and church communities choose the violence of coercion, transphobia, and homophobia over the beautiful gift of truly knowing and celebrating one another. 

Here it is important to note that the Holy Spirit as described in the readings was not described as something that would come down upon individual people, but instead entire communities. It is the Holy Spirit that is ordaining and guiding entire communities, not only individual people. While, yes, in the reading of Acts individual people are reconciled, it is through the power given to them through the entire community. What this is starting to point to for me in my thoughts, is that community in itself is a vital and foundational part of the Christian Social Mission. Creating spaces where people can be known freely and celebrated is vital to the mission of the church. 

Most importantly, it is also a foundational aspect of our ability to follow the Spirit in motion in the world, and thus our ability to follow “the voice of God.” It is the desire and the striving for genuine and loving community where the ailments of our society can begin to be lifted – and always hold fast to the reality that this community and those trusted relationships are a dangerous thing. When we stay alienated and atomized, we have no power, we have no foothold to stand in, we are, quite simply, controlled. But when we refuse to stay in the fear and tenuous comfort of our sequestered lives, instead reaching out to build relationships with those around us, we are able to not only grow, but also fight back against the forces that want to keep us alienated. We see this in labor unions, in tenants’ unions, when communities show up to defend drag story hours, or when a neighbor is getting swept by sanitation; we see this when migrants demand better living conditions, and we see this when churches refuse to sit within the homophobia of their parish priests.

Engage

A Contemplative Exercise


The Pentecost Sequence, Veni, Sancte Spiritus, is one of only four medieval sequences to have been preserved after the Council of Trent. While it is prescribed to be sung during the Pentecost liturgy and the week that follows, we invite you to pray with the text in these days leading up to Pentecost. How is the Spirit leading you?

Here is the text (slightly adapted for inclusive language):

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
    Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Parent of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
    Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
    Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
    Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
    And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
    Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
    Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
    Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
    In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, O God;
    Give them joys that never end. Amen.
    Alleluia.

Or listen to this recording of one of the most beloved modern settings by Jacques Berthier (1923-1994) © Ateliers et Presses de Taizé:

 


A Community

Unions

by Tess Gallagher Clancy

Some of the most transformative communities we can join in this time are unions – tenants’ unions, work unions, debtors’ unions, homeless unions, and others. Unions encourage us to see our commonality with each other – initially in that we’re struggling to survive, make ends meet, and navigate a world that is not designed for working people to thrive – and hopefully, as we meet on those terms, we begin to become real allies and comrades to each other. We can experience the good in each other, having each others’ backs when we’re being marginalized in other ways, along the lines of identity and other experiences of oppression. 

If you’re a renter, or even interested in affordable housing and being in solidarity with renters, a tenants’ union is a great place to start. Most larger cities, and many smaller ones across the country have tenants’ unions. Try googling “tenants union” and your city or borough/neighborhood, or check social media like Instagram and Facebook. Tenants’ unions around the country are working on changing laws stacked against renters and working people; providing direct support to each other in cases of eviction, applying for housing, and moving; and allying with other community action that supports working people and marginalized groups.

If you have debt, especially student loan debt, check out The Debt Collective, or here on Instagram. They’re a national way to connect with resistance to the debt so deeply impacting  many of our lives.

These unions are great places to start to learn about and become directly involved in your community, and all kinds of possibilities for other unions and community solidarity can spring from there.

Art

Film: How to Survive a Plague

by Tess Gallagher Clancy

As we consider the Holy Spirit, pulsing through the past, present, and future, I want us to look at the example of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) activists fighting for themselves and their friends and families’ lives.

The documentary How to Survive a Plague details organizers’ struggle to unite together amid the most dire circumstances of life and death during the AIDS pandemic among queer people and some injectable drug users in the 1980s and 1990s. There were no drugs to fight HIV/AIDS, and the United States government was in no rush to find one. Fighting a battle of public opinion and demonization while their community died around them – while of course not perfect – these organizers are people who can teach us a lot about coming together amid difference to win.

Often, it is desperation that makes the most successful and table-turning social movements, people coming together with little else to lose but their chains. The following videos are a preview for the documentary, and a scene from it in which organizer Larry Kramer points out that, until they come together, two-thirds of them will be dead in the coming years. While not everyone loved Kramer, and he wasn’t without his controversies, the message in this video is important to consider as a key part of coming together and organizing in this country. 

Gay rights and activism have changed significantly since the time of these videos, the 1980s and early 1990s. However, ACT UP is a model of organizing and fighting together that channels the deepest human experiences of love, loss, and freedom that the Holy Spirit carries through time. We need to think about what we have in common that can bring us together to win, because more and more of us have nothing to lose but our chains.

How to Survive a Plague preview:

 

Larry Kramer on the dire circumstances:

 

Embody