Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter Year A
Theme: POST BAPTISMAL EMPOWERMENT.
By: Fr. Ben Agbo
Homily for Sunday May 16 2020
* Act 8 : 5 – 17, 1Pet 3 : 15 – 18, Jn 14 : 15 – 21.
What does it look like to be baptized in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ without any experience of Holy Ghost empowerment? This scenario was recorded in the Acts of the Apostles on two significant occasions ; First is the Church at Samaria which we find in today’s 1st reading, Act 8 and secondly the Church at Ephesus, Act 19. Looking at the present day Church, it does appear to me that there are still so many people who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet they do not manifest any signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Permit me therefore to talk about post baptismal empowerment in today’s homily.
Take note in the 1st reading of today that the multitude at Samaria heard the gospel and saw the signs ; there were deliverance and healing before the apostles Peter and John were now invited for the special prayer of impartation of the Holy Spirit. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
I see 2 kinds of message of the gospel ; the message of salvation (the kingdom) and the message of dominion (empowerment). The message of salvation, called ‘Kerygma’ in homiletics is the basic message of repentance and belief in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour, Mk 1 : 15. But the message of dominion goes beyond the kingdom to speak of the signs of empowerment that accompanies those who believe in Jesus, Mk 16 :18. It encourages one to go for those ‘other things’ that will be added after we have got the kingdom, Matt 6 : 33.
I also think that there are 3 major levels of Christian empowerment ; the level of initiation, the level of revelation and the level of obedience. At the level of initiation, one is being led into the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. At the level of revelation, he/she is being made to understand the full import of these sacraments and the secrets of the new in Christ. At the level of obedience, one acquires more and grace for doing the will of Christ. He says in today’s gospel : ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the father and he will give you another Counsellor’.
A non Catholic theologian Benny Hiln discussed 3 levels of Anointing /Empowerment ; the Leper’s anointing, the Priestly anointing and the Kingly anointing. The Leper’s anointing is the empowerment for repentance and salvation. The Priestly anointing is the empowerment for service and ministry through the outpouring of charisms. The Kingly anointing is the empowerment for spiritual dominion that makes one operate mightily in the realm of God’s kingdom power . Remember what the scriptures said : ‘Ask of me and I will give you the nations as your heritage and the whole wide world as your possession’, Ps 2 : 8, ‘Let them be masters over all the creatures… God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it’, Gen 1 : 26 – 28. And so, when Elisha was following his powerful master Elijah in order to collect ‘a double portion’ of his anointing, it was not a preposterous ambition. When he got it, the heavens were let loose ; There were miracles of the Holy Water, Widow’s oil, resurrection of the Shunamite woman’s son, purification of the poisoned soup, multiplication of loaves, healing of Naaman the leper… and generally we can say greater works than his master, 2 Kg 2 – 8. Jesus gave us similar assurances, Jn 14 : 12.
There are different kinds of empowerment that we find mentioned in the scriptures ; his divine power has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness, such as ; 1. Faith (spiritual empowerment), Goodness (psychological empowerment), understanding (intellectual empowerment), self control (moral empowerment), influence (political empowerment), etc, and St Peter enjoins us to make special efforts to get each of these aspects of empowerment, 2 Pet 1 :3-9.
There are two major types of aberrations that emerge as soon as we talk of spiritual empowerment in Christendom ; one extreme is that of magical aberrations while the other extreme is sceptical aberrations. The former emphasizes spiritual power with the wrong motive as we find in the case of Simon the magician found in the same Church of Samaria discussed today, Act 8 : 9 – 25. So many pastors and priests today are besieged by the same spirit of merchandise with spiritual gifts as they sell all forms of sacramentals including holy water and scratch card for blessings. The latter decide to doubt and deride all forms of spiritual empowerment, miracles and healing in the Church , thus, ‘upholding a form of religion and denying the inner power therein’, 2 Tim 3 : 5. So many in the Church hierarchy may be guilty of this error.
The time has come again when the Church should speak more about post baptismal empowerment. Most of our baptized Christians are simply not empowered by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we need another specie of the CCR (Catholic Charismatic Renewal) that will emphasize not necessarily the flamboyant signs of the Holy Spirit (like tongues, prophesy, healing, etc, 1 Cor 12 : 28) but the indwelling fruits of the Holy Spirit ( love, peace, patience, self control, etc, Gal 5 : 22).There should be empowerment in both the theory of the Word of God (mystagogia) and praxis (fruits of the Holy Spirit).
Any faith that does not turn into obedience is still immature. According to Vima Dasan, ‘Faith and obedience are bound up in the same bundle. One who obeys God believes him ; one who believes God obeys him’. Christ says in today’s gospel : ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the father and he will send you another Counsellor ‘. The secret of obedience is fellowship and the Holy Spirit is the agent of on going fellowship with God, Jn 14 : 17. The Holy Spirit is like the switch that puts on the electric current of God’s power in our lives.
* Story of the eaglet that was hatched in the midst of chickens and so could not fly until it came in fellowship with other eaglets.
We must think of how to increase the level of Christian fellowship (praying in the Spirit and studying the Word of God). Our pious societies seem to be rolling out of fashion as the younger generation no longer find them fanciful. We need new strategies for Holy Ghost empowerment in the Church ( Pope Francis has recommended Life in the Spirit Seminar for all) otherwise the Church will gradually turn into one of those social clubs people join merely in order to find good solidarity on their day of burial and other related exigencies.
Happy Sunday dear friends!