The Samaritans fascinate me. For the Jews, the Samaritans were a heretical group who were detested even more than pagans. We can only guess at the shock of the disciples, when one day they came back from shopping, they find Jesus at Jacob’s Well talking to a Samaritan woman from Sychar. It gets worse for his followers. Jesus stays two days in ‘enemy territory’ preaching and healing. What is the world coming to with this crossing of boundaries? But, remember it is Jesus who chooses to do this and who are the disciples, or we, to disagree?
The story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ recalls that the priest and the Levite took steps to avoid the robbed and beaten traveller. It was a Samaritan who took time and spent money to look after the unfortunate victim. When ten lepers were healed, nine went on their way. One came back to Jesus to say, ‘thanks’. He was a Samaritan.
Today in the reading from Acts we hear, ‘Philip went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed Christ to them.’ Missionaries who preach in hostile territory are true heroes of the Church. The response was every preacher’s dream – ‘the people united in welcoming the message Philip preached.’ Healings took place as happens when Jesus is preached. ‘As a result, there was great rejoicing in that town.’ This is true religion – it is not meant to be sad!
Next comes a Papal visit. Pope Peter, with John, heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God. That must have lifted the hearts of the church at Jerusalem. It must also have taken time to get used to this widening of followers of Jesus wider than Jewish people and into ‘enemy territory’. What did Pope Peter do on this visit? He had no Pope Mobile to use! He and John, ‘prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit; then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.’
Last weekend a group from St Joseph’s was at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima on pilgrimage. Pope Francis came among us and did what Peter did all those centuries ago. He prayed with us. He invoked the Holy Spirit to come upon us. He canonised two little children who would never have dreamt of being the focus of attention. But, we believe, that Jesus sent His Mother to speak to these little ones and to plead for prayer and penance for the peace of the world. That was one hundred years ago. The message has the same, if not more, urgency now as it had back then.
Next Sunday week, at St Joseph’s we will have the privilege of witnessing the gift of the Holy Spirit being sent upon our Confirmation candidates. Jesus will, ‘ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever.’ These words of the Gospel at Mass today will become real and effective in two weeks’ time. Pentecost Sunday is special in this parish as it is the day on which our young people are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
When I must leave St Joseph’s, it is days like these that I will miss. Along with Holy Communion the day before, we can almost touch the presence of God and sense the powerful action of Jesus among us. No longer are the Scriptures about the past alone. They tell our story and celebrate the wonder of God’s action in our community.
As our world is ‘crucified’ by loneliness, we hear the promise, ‘I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you.’ These words in today’s Gospel help me when I feel homesick and wonder if it may be time to return to the land of my birth? Younger and better priests could serve you in my place. And yet, until asked to go, I realise the privilege it is to serve in this Spirit-filled community of St Joseph’s. This weekend marks 30 years since coming back home to avenue Hoche. We are already planning for 2019 - 150 years since St Joseph’s opened its doors to receive all who seek Jesus.