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Fourth Sunday of the Apostles

The Fourth Sunday of the Apostles

Basilica Hymn
The Lord will send his grace and his truth
He will send from heaven and save us
And our holy Spirit take not from me
The Spirit of Truth, he whom the world cannot accept; the Spirit of wisdom and understanding
The Holy Spirit who was sent from above enlightened, instructed, and perfected the apostles; those who became, all of them, sewers of peace in creation, who drew open the shroud of gloom from the whole creation, and who preached heavenly renewal to peoples and nations. And while they endured constant scourgings from persecutors, that same Spirit strengthened them, and they prevailed and conquered every evil, and healed different diseases by his word. And while our Savior was with them as he promised from the beginning, they were exulting every day, wearing the sword of the Holy Spirit, and warring against the hordes of the tyrant, preaching true life.

A Review 

The progress made in the liturgical calendar is a reflection of the history of the Church herself, and of all of salvation history. During Lent, our thoughts should move from selfishness to focus on Christ; during Easter, from the resurrected Lord to the heaven to which he ascended. How are our thoughts, and more importantly, the thoughts of the Church, progressing during this season of the Apostles?

Pentecost recalled the descent of the Holy Spirit, continuing the rhythmic movement of God’s grace, shown in Jacob’s ladder as angels moving “up and down.” As Christ “went up,” the Holy Spirit “came down” upon the Apostles in the upper room. The focus of the Basilica Hymn was the mission of the Apostles – having been given the Holy Spirit, now something is expected of them, and something great: the conversion of the whole world.

The Second Sunday of the Apostles named the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a very concrete, tangible way, revealing the personality of the Church of the East. The Spirit is not only an invisible breath or a lifeless shadow; it fills us with power and makes us work in manifest ways.

The Third Sunday reflected specifically upon one of the gifts of the Spirit: the “Apostleship of the house of Simon.” In contrast to the priesthood of Aaron, this new form of leadership among the people of God, and especially this new form of ritual worship, is the real thing, rather than a mere symbol or foreshadowing of something to come.

The Fourth Sunday began to make clear the “movement” of this season from the upper room where the apostles received the Spirit to the world where they preached. It spoke of the error of the idolatry preceding the true faith, and of the grace of conversion given to the world through the preaching of the apostles.

The Spirit is Willing

Though each Sunday has led us more and more from the extraordinary experience of accepting the Spirit at Pentecost to the “nitty gritty” of the actual work of preaching in the world, thus far we have mainly seen the easy side of things. But being an instrument of Christ in preaching the Gospel is not always a walk in the park. The whole reason for the Gospel is that the world is in trouble; the whole reason for the medicine is that the world is sick, and this sickness is ugly indeed.

Even worse, oftentimes the medicine offered to cure the disease is bitter, and the sick person rejects it because of its bitterness, ultimately against his own interests. This puts the doctors in an awkward position – do they apply the remedy anyway and accept the anger of their patients, or out of selfishness do they give up on their patients in order to avoid their wrath? For the true disciple of Christ, the answer is clear – “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

The Battle Worth Fighting

This tension expresses itself ultimately as a kind of spiritual war, one primarily between Christ and Satan as the kings of their various domains, but one which reaches even the pawns on the battlefield, which we are. Nor does the battle reach its final minuteness in the battle between the Church and the sinful of this world, but even within the Church is there a struggle, as there is also within the soul of every person. The Lord’s true battlefield is the individual soul; the victory to be won is the heart of each one of us.

It is Christ who fights, through his grace, for victory within us, so that he may dwell in us and we may belong to him. But he has chosen not to fight alone. He has sent his Spirit to his apostles that they may fight in his Name, and that same Spirit is with us today, fighting in two ways. First, the Spirit fights to win victory over our hearts, and secondly, he makes us his instruments so that he may win other souls as well. Luckily for us, both of these battles happen at the same time – as he fights for us, he uses us to fight for others; likewise, as he fights in others, he uses them to fight in us.

The Basilica Hymn this week is about this battle between light and darkness, and the role played by the apostles, and by us as well:

The Holy Spirit who was sent from above enlightened, instructed, and perfected the apostles; those who became, all of them, sewers of peace in creation, who drew open the shroud of gloom from the whole creation, and who preached heavenly renewal to peoples and nations. And while they endured constant scourgings from persecutors, that same Spirit strengthened them, and they prevailed and conquered every evil, and healed different diseases by his word. And while our Savior was with them as he promised from the beginning, they were exulting every day, wearing the sword of the Holy Spirit, and warring against the hordes of the tyrant, preaching true life.