This is a wonderful Easter-season set of readings. Two very basic truths of the Resurrection/Easter event in the Church are put before us for our edification and encouragement. Connecting these two events is the "breath of the Holy Spirit" which is given and confirmed in these narratives of the challenges faced by the apostles after Pentecost (first reading), and of the instruction Jesus gave to Nicodemus regarding being "born of the Spirit-from above".
On Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, we remembered in the Gospel passage that Jesus appeared to the Apostles/disciples on the evening of the Resurrection, and breathed his Holy Spirit on them; it was a foreshadowing of the definitive giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit shall take hold of them and empower them to proclaim the name and work of Jesus beginning in Jerusalem and continuing to the ends of the earth.
In today’s first reading (Acts 4, 23-31), Peter and John have been held prisoners by the "chief priests and elders" because of their healing of the crippled man, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. They received severe rebukes, and were told to cease from preaching in the name of Jesus. "…And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness, as you stretch forth your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are done through the name of your holy servant Jesus." As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
The Community believed in the power of the Spirit of God to confront and overcome the resistance and the enmity which the name of Jesus would provoke in the public arena.
In the Gospel reading of today (John 3, 1-8), we see in Nicodemus one very public religious official, who must come by night, lest his interest in the person of Jesus undermine his place among the Pharisees. He is courteous in his praise of Jesus. However, once Jesus responds to his interest, "unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God", Nicodemus understands "birth" in the natural order, as physical childbirth. Indeed, the word used by Jesus for this rebirth can mean either "from above" or "again". Nicodemus takes it as "again"; Jesus clarifies, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God."
In making this affirmation, Jesus, invites all of us to be born, not "born again", but to be born from and for a spiritual awakening as members of the Kingdom of God. This birth from above is precisely the gift of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all members of the Body of Christ.
Beginning with the beautiful symbols of the sacrament of baptism (water, immersion, anointing, light), we accept our rebirth from above through the conferral of the Spirit of God.
The same Spirit will continue to inspire (breathe into us) us throughout our sharing in the sacraments of the Church, strengthening us to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, at home, at work and in the parish life of our faith community.
This is the fruit of the Resurrection, it is the reason that the Spirit of Christ continues to call each of us to holiness, and the reason that the Church of Jesus Christ continues to witness to the Resurrection of Jesus to the present day.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.