In today’s readings we see the Church expand to and through people other than the Jews and we see the importance of the Holy Spirit in that expansion.

To place ourselves in the first reading we remember last week’s text from the Acts of the Apostles when the Hellenists’ (of Greek origin) complaints led to the Apostles appointing seven men for the distribution of food and resources among the Community. The men appointed were mostly from the Hellenist part of the fledgling Church, among them were Stephen and Philip.

The passage in today’s reading comes shortly after the killing of Stephen, which sparked a bitter persecution of the Church in Jerusalem. People scattered and Philip found himself in a Samaritan town and he proclaimed the Christ to them, he worked miracles and cured many people and the people believed. So here we have Greeks spreading the truth about Jesus to the Samaritans, this is the beginning of the Church expanding out from only being for the Jews.

The Samaritans were baptised, and as if proof was needed that Philip had the authority to spread the word of God, two of the most prominent Apostles came to the town to pray for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, and just like in last week’s reading, they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. The readings chosen at this time are starting to emphasise to us how important the Holy Spirit is in the growth and sustainment of the Church. The Holy Spirit, a gift given freely by God to accompany us on our journey.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells us that if we love him we will keep his commandments, Jesus will send his advocate; the Holy Spirit; who will be with us forever. It is this same Spirit which has instigated the growth of the Church and sustained it to this day.

But what can we do for the times when we fail to keep his commandments?

In normal times we would go to confess our sins and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but these are not normal times. Normally we would be required to fulfil our Easter duties, and many people may be concerned about us not being able to do so this year. Following a request from a Parishioner I found the text below on the website of the Cathedral in East Anglia, which I offer to you as a way of staying closer to God at this time, when we are unable to have Sacramental Reconciliation. The Bishop referenced in the text is Bishop Alan Hope.

The bishops of all the dioceses in England and Wales have formally dispensed the “Easter Duties,” that is, the obligation placed upon Roman Catholics to receive Holy Communion during the period between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday, and, therefore, the implicit obligation to make a sacramental confession in preparation for this obligatory reception of Holy Communion. Therefore, a Roman Catholic who does not receive Holy Communion, and who does not make a sacramental confession at this time remains a Catholic in good standing, anything else notwithstanding. This dispensation lasts for the whole of the calendar year 2020.

The Bishop asks us that, while we cannot easily go to confession, we should all still make a Perfect Act of Contrition at this time. A Perfect Act of Contrition is an expression of true and real sorrow for sins, having realised the immense love of God for us. We express this contrition when we realise how we have offended God by our sinful words, deeds and omissions in contrast to his immeasurable love and mercy that he continually shows us.

A suggested Act of Contrition:

My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance,
to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In his name, my God, have mercy. Amen.

The Church asks Roman Catholics to take upon themselves, where it is actually possible, five obligations of love (or precepts), by which we can establish publicly we are in good standing with the Church, and so declare ourselves to be active participant members of the Body of Christ. These five precepts are: 1) to participate in Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy days of Obligation, 2) to receive Holy Communion once a year (between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday), 3) to make sacramental confession once a year, 4) to observe the prescribed annual days of fasting and abstinence, and 5) to help provide for the needs of the Church. 1) is not possible to fulfil at this time, and 2) and 3) are commuted this calendar year.1

There is a very useful article entitled “Making your contrition perfect in a time without confession” available at https://angelusnews.com/faith/making-your-contrition-perfect-in-a-time-without-confession/ it takes less than 5 minutes to read.

St Peter tells us to keep Christ in our hearts and to always have an answer ready so that if people ask us why we have the hope we have we can tell them. The Gospels give us our answer. Last week there were many rooms in God’s house and Jesus was preparing one for us. This week Jesus promises to reveal himself to those who love him.

I know that Jesus loves me despite my faults and my failings, I know that Jesus gives me so many chances to love him, I know that Jesus gave us all a safety net in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to catch us when we fall and I know that it is Jesus, through His Advocate, the Holy Spirit who prompts me to strive to be better every day and to make amends through penance for the times when I fail.

Have a good week and please stay safe.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 15th May 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.

1 St John the Baptist Cathedral, Norwich, available from https://www.sjbcathedral.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Easter-Duty.pdf accessed 15th May 2020.