Fifth Sunday of Easter at Fisher House, Cambridge


Given on Sunday 1 May at Fisher House, Catholic Chaplaincy to the University of Cambridge. 

The wonderful vision described in the second reading has been painted in the triptych to be found in St Bavo’s Cathedral in Gent; Jan Van Eyck’s, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. There we see a vision of the saints in heaven gathered around the Lamb of God who reigns from the altar. From the side of the Lamb, there flows the blood of the Eucharist into a chalice. In front of the altar flow the waters of baptism. Countless saints, the martyrs, the confessors and the throng of God’s faithful people, surround the Lamb of God and sing the praises of God. We rejoice with them and allow the joy which is in our hearts to rise up to the Father.

In a tangible way we are united to earth to this reality as when we celebrate the Mass and also through the relics which are traditionally placed in the altars of Christian Churches, the holy remains of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Their lives speak of faithfulness to Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the fulfilment of the commandment of love and the way in which they laid down their lives for Christ, being humbler yet, even unto death, so that they may be raised up high. We gather around the altar with those in heaven so that together God’s holy people follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Like them, through the waters of baptism and the blood of the sacrifice of Christ, we are invited into the Father’s love and to dwell with him.

At the Last Supper, Jesus invited his disciples to find their home in the embrace of the Father, ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him’, so he continues to invite each one of us into that relationship of love. These words reveal an intimate relationship of love by which the Holy Spirit speaks into our hearts and the voice of the Holy Spirit echoes in the depths of our being, prompting the response to the invitation of baptism and fidelity to the call of Christ. The Holy Spirit teaches us, shapes us, and moulds us into images of Christ. Through the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and understanding, counsel and fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord, we receive the means to respond to God and our neighbour. Our restless hearts can only ultimately find peace in God.

The events of the Council of Jerusalem are presented in the first reading, in a very edited form. The important speeches of Peter and James are omitted in the abbreviated version in the lectionary so to understand it one must read the whole passage. The conclusion of the Council is the confirmation, ‘it has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves’, not to burden the Gentiles with the yoke of circumcision and prescribes various regulations for the Gentile Christians. Through the different voices and the contested opinions, the Holy Spirit led the elders as leaders of the Church to this conclusion which Paul and Barnabas then handed onto others as they travelled to Antioch. The Holy Spirit continues to lead the Church to the fullness of the truth revealed in Christ.

At the beginning of the recent synods on the family, Pope Francis invited the bishops to speak freely and boldly, knowing that they were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in unity with Peter and under Peter. The Pope’s exhortation shows this process at work today. The much appreciated, scripturally rich, complex, exhortation will need study and discernment as we tease out its implications under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Pope presents and allows the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in its grandeur, to shine forth but is also deeply aware of the fragility, weakness and struggle in all human relationships. He repeats his well-known phrase, the Church is to be like a ‘field hospital’ where the sacraments reveal God’s mercy and are medicine and nourishment for the weak (305). The Holy Spirit is not to be confined but rather, he writes, ‘I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street’ (356).  In the messiness of our lives, each person is to find and see the work of the Holy Spirit and discern the next step in his or her journey to live before God more honestly, more truthfully and embraced by confidence in the power of God’s endless mercy.

A rich presentation reveals the power of the Holy Spirit in the heart of each believer and in the midst of the complexity of family life for it is there that the call to holiness is pursued, I quote, ‘those who have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel that the family detracts from their growth in the life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of mystical union’ (316). Becoming holy is forged in the struggles of daily routine, as the Holy Spirit helping couples to bear witness to Christ (71) so that  ‘Neither of the spouses will be alone in facing whatever challenges may come their way. Both are called to respond to God’s gift with commitment, creativity, perseverance and daily effort. They can always invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit who consecrated their union, so that his grace may be felt in every new situation that they encounter.’ (74) None of this, however, is possible without praying to the Holy Spirit for an outpouring of his grace, his supernatural strength and his spiritual fire, to confirm, direct and transform our love in every new situation. (164).

These few quotations lead to reflection on how the Holy Spirit guides and inspires a faithful response to Christ and the ultimate promise of a place with the saints in heaven. As we gaze upon the Lamb of God in the celebration of the Mass, so we hope for the day when we will share in the life of the saints in heaven and sing the praises of God as we worship the Lamb.