As we inch towards the Ascension and Pentecost, we see heartening changes in the incipient Christian community. In the First Reading (Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17), we meet Philip, one of the seven deacons. He is presently in Samaria, where his preaching fell on good soil. The people were in awe of his words and miracles, and relieved on being delivered of evil spirits. On hearing that encouraging update in Jerusalem, apostles Peter and John were dispatched double quick to lay their hands over the Samaritans and pray that they too receive the Holy Spirit.

Samaria awaited a Messiah but was traditionally considered idolatrous ever since a temple to Baal was erected there by King Ahab. So, why was the region suddenly privileged to be in the forefront of evangelisation? Philip had ventured there because Jesus Himself had preached in the area (cf. the story of the Samaritan woman at the well) and wished that the Gospel be taken there after His ascension. Thus, Jesus implied that the Good News of Salvation was meant to reach one and all. It is doubly significant that Philip, not an apostle but a deacon, whose main job was to relieve the apostles of menial chores, became the first foreign missionary in Christian history.[1]

The act of reaching out to Samaria has since had far-reaching implications. The church in Samaria was to Jerusalem what a local church today (say, the archdiocese of Goa and Daman) is to the universal church. The arrangement throws light on the very meaningful hierarchical structure that has governed the Church for the last two millennia; it speaks volumes for the issuance and teaching of doctrine centrally, from the headquarters in Rome, so that all of Christendom is of one mind; and finally, it points to the communion of saints, or say, the fellowship of those united with Christ across space and time.[2]

For Christ to be present with His people across space and time is no mean feat; but to God nothing is impossible. It is a fulfilment of what Our Lord had promised in his farewell discourse, just before His Passion and Death. He had said that after His Ascension, the Holy Spirit would be with the Christians till the end of times; the Spirit of truth would pick up from where He had left off, to illumine and strengthen all the faithful. There is no denying that, inasmuch as we keep the commandments, we grow in wisdom and stature, and live in spiritual unity and love of God. God is then always in our midst.

But, really speaking, who has the strength to keep the Lord’s commandments? Only those who love Him will do so, says Jesus, quite plainly, in the Gospel today (Jn 14: 15-21). Yes, it demands total commitment – difficult, but not unreasonable or impossible. Don’t spouses, children, bosses, friends, clubs, expect the same? Don’t we, then, respect rules and keep promises; and when we don’t, we quit – or are obliged to quit? Why, then, should a relationship with the divine be any different? In fact, our commitment should have been infinitely stronger; but alas, it isn’t, simply because for far too long we have been accustomed to taking God for granted. ‘God will understand’ is a lame explanation, and a convenient ruse to flout rules and break promises.

Concretely, let us look at the First Commandment: “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” It summons us to believe in God, to hope in Him, and to love Him above all else. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5). Adoring Him, praying to Him, offering Him the worship that belongs to Him, fulfilling the promises and vows made to Him are acts of the virtue of religion.

On the other hand, superstition is a departure from the worship that we give to the true God. It is manifested in idolatry, as well as in various forms of divination and magic. Similarly, atheism is a sin against the first commandment, since it rejects or denies the existence of God.[3] Yet, what is the in-thing? To keep God out of one’s day-to-day dealings, if deemed socially and/or politically expedient. This is the antithesis of the First Commandment that we are expected to profess and practise; what the score will be on the remaining nine is anybody’s guess!

St Peter in the Second Reading (1 Pet 3: 15-18) therefore counsels us to revere Christ as Lord; defend those who are on God’s side; do the right thing, in the right way, so that none can point an accusing finger at us. “For it is better to suffer doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong,” he adds. We ought to muster courage by summoning up the memory of Our Lord’s undeserved death for our sins. As regards us, we run the risk of being hated or even put to death for siding with God, but we may rest assured that we will be made alive in the spirit by the same God who has conquered sin and death: Jesus Christ our Lord.

A tall order? If we listen to God’s commandments – with our minds and hearts – pondering what they mean to us here and now, we will invariably be assisted by the Holy Spirit. As Jesus has cautioned, the dark world of unbelief is incapable of understanding and accepting the Spirit of truth – which will be accessible only to those who love and revere Him!

[1] Philip famously converted an Ethiopian eunuch, thus inducting a black into the church at a very early stage. Then he proceeded to evangelise other areas up to Caesarea; Greece, Syria and Phrygia.

[2] Those living are said to constitute “the church militant”, while the dead who are in Heaven, “the church triumphant”, and those in Purgatory, “the church suffering”. Yet the three groups are in communion of the Spirit.

[3] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,