by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
PROBABLY THE MOST famous of all the parables is the parable of the Prodigal Son.
The younger son of a wealthy man asks for his share of his father’s inheritance so that he could go off on his own. He comes to realize that living life on life’s terms alone is not as easy as he thought it would be, and he ends up planning a humble return to the father to ask for mercy rather than favors. He realizes, as Scripture tells us, that even the hired hands on his father’s property were better off than he was alone.
Although there are occasional stories about people who leave their small towns to come to the big city to find fame and fortune, the reality is that there are many more stories about people who try to make it big and realize that they cannot do it alone. Sports players who forget they are part of a team; musicians who forget they are part of a group; youngsters who forget they are part of a family often provide stories of a prodigal who eventually, if he is lucky, returns home for help.
No Islands Among Us
None of us, to paraphrase the poet John Donne, is an island entire in himself. We need others and they need us. The greatest teachers I had were the ones who always remained students themselves, who remained open to what they did not know. Those who knew – or pretended to know – everything were seldom effective teachers.
The first reading today, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, tells that Philip’s ministry was successful. His teaching was accompanied by the casting out of demons and unclean spirits and the healing of various afflictions. Hearing of this good work, Peter and John join him so that they too could pray for the people of Samaria. Scriptures tell us that they went because the people of Samaria had been baptized, but had not yet received the Holy Spirit. The Apostles acknowledge their power coming not from themselves but from the Spirit.
In the second reading, Peter affirms that suffering is part of their experience to remind them of their need to imitate what Christ did for them. All must be done in, through, with and for Him. At no time do the Apostles credit themselves for the work God is doing through them. Instead, they constantly acknowledge that on their own they would be unable to accomplish what they are doing without God’s help.
The second step in 12-step recovery programs (the spiritual principles that guide programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, etc.) is this: “We came to believe that a Power Greater than Ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Having acknowledged the reality of our circumstances in the first step (“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”), the realization comes that we are better off in the hands of a higher power.
Reliance on God
St. John tells us in the Gospel that this reliance on God is demonstrated by obedience to the commandments, by living as best we can in imitation of Christ. We are even promised an Advocate Who will be God’s constant presence in our lives to help us.
Not only can we not make it on our own, but more importantly, we do not have to make it on our own. As the Apostles constantly remembered to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, so too we are invited to constantly remember the power of God working in and through us.
Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
Psalm 66: 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
1 Peter 3: 15-18
John 14: 15-21
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.