The Power of the Holy Spirit Enlivens the Church
7th Sunday of Easter (B)

Jeremiah R. Grosse
Reproduced with Permission

Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that after descending from Mount Olivet and returning to Jerusalem, the first thing that these eleven men did was add a new disciple to their number to replace Judas Iscariot who had killed himself.

Speaking to the other ten apostles, to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and an additional one hundred twenty persons, Peter told the crowd that the Scripture had to be fulfilled concerning Judas and that it was time for them to choose his replacement. The disciples prayed and asked Jesus to show them which of the two men they were considering should be chosen to replace Judas and the lot fell on Matthias. This was their first sign that Jesus was still with them. They prayed for guidance in this very important decision and received an answer. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles is filled with numerous examples of the early Church begin supported and affirmed by the Holy Spirit. The Church was growing by leaps and bounds. On the day of Pentecost alone, some three thousand persons were baptized and became new members of the Church.

While it is true that the Church grew by leaps and bounds, being one of the Twelve was not easy. These men were dragged before the Sanhedrin on a regular basis, imprisoned, beaten, and, aside from St. John, all were eventually killed. Tradition teaches us that St. Peter felt that he was unworthy of being crucified as Jesus was, so he was crucified upside down. St. James the Great was killed in Jerusalem, and the others were killed elsewhere.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, a 30 year old pregnant woman and mother of three (two sons and daughter) was brought before the court in York on charges of harboring Catholic priests. This young woman, who had become a Catholic only three years earlier, was ordered to not only confess her crime but to state that she would no longer harbor priests. She told the court, “I will not stop harboring priests.” Her sentence was that she was to be pressed to death. She was tied to a wooden cross, placed on the ground; a sharp stone was placed under the neck. A wooden door was placed on top of her, which was weighed down with huge stones. The weight of the stones pressed down upon her until the stone behind her finally broke her neck and she died.

While the apostles did, indeed, face martyrdom, the fact is that the deeds they performed were not done in their own name or by their own power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit which was alive in them and which gave them the strength to carry on. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that at one point some of the apostles were flogged for having preached the name of Jesus and they left the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer on behalf of the Name.

The same Holy Spirit which sustained and enlivened the early Church is still at work in the Church in 2009. Each year men and women by the thousands enter the Church. They do not do so by virtue of their own power, but by virtue of having responded to the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The young woman I spoke of is St. Margaret Clitherow. She is known in the Catholic Church in England as “the Pearl of York”. Her two sons, William and Henry, became priests and her daughter, Anne, became a nun at St. Ursula’s convent in Louvain, Belgium.

It was the power of the Holy Spirit which gave St. Margaret the strength to face martyrdom and remain faithful to the Church until the end of her life. It was her witness which inspired her children to give their lives in service to the Church.

As we approach the altar to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, let us pray that we might follow the example of St. Margaret Clitherow and remain faithful when we are faced with a situation where standing up for the truth might not be the easiest thing to do. ß