As I said in my introduction to our Mass, we have been preparing for this great celebration of Pentecost and praying for a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit upon us, by praying the Novena Prayer to the Holy Spirit over the last nine days. But in many ways, we have been preparing for this event since Resurrection Day on Easter Sunday. And so has Jesus been preparing for it. This is the real fulfilment of all his work, the real reason why he came to earth in the first place.
It is the birthday of the Church, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHURCH!
Unfortunately, like all those who are celebrating their birthdays in these days of Covid, our celebrations are restricted to a few people, members of our parish family. But like them, we will have our own “drive by” celebration, after the 10.30 am Mass, when other members of our family will come by to join in the feast of the Eucharist and receive holy communion. And, as on all birthdays, there will be gifts, gifts of the Spirit, which we call charisms and which St Paul refers to in our second reading today.
Unfortunately, and this is not at all due to the Covid virus, the editors of the Lectionary, from which our readings at Mass come, have seen fit to leave out a whole section of St Paul’s letter, which describes the various charisms that the early church was experiencing. These charisms include the gift of tongues, of prophecy, of discernment of spirits, of healings and miracles. Now, we are used, in these days of the pandemic, for certain information regarding aspects of the virus to be kept from us, by our civic leaders, scientific advisors and media outlets, usually for political reasons. But one searches in vain for a reason why those who choose our readings at Mass should leave out certain passages altogether, and today’s example is, by no means, the only one, as those who attend my weekly bible studies know quite well.
Perhaps these editors believe that these gifts of the Spirit are no longer active in Church life?
As one who has been a member of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal for over thirty years, I can assure you that this is certainly not at all the case, as those who come to our Thursday prayer meetings know by experience. Perhaps they are afraid that, if these gifts are allowed out of their box, it will lead to a certain “messiness” in Church. And they are right. But do we want a Church which, while somewhat “messy”, is alive and working miracles and healings in the name of Jesus, or do we want a bland Church service, where everyone knows exactly what is going to be said and what is going to be done, and all that is expected of them is to show up and watch it all being said and done? Which kind of Church, do you think, brothers and sisters, has more likelihood of winning converts, of transforming the world for Jesus? Which kind of Church has more likelihood of surviving into future centuries? One where the power of the Holy Spirit is kept on a tight leash, or one where he is allowed to move in power and love, exactly as and when and where he wills?
Perhaps our dear editors, to be more charitable to them, are concerned that we might become obsessed with the gifts the Spirit brings, that we forget the Giver? It is a legitimate concern, certainly it was for the Corinthians that Paul was writing for in our second reading. Bishop Fulton Sheen once wrote: ”Unfortunately, many have become so enamored of the gift the Great Giver of Life has dropped on the roadway of life that they build their cities around the gift, and forget the Giver.” St Paul speaks about this in his letter to the Ephesians when he says:
”Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift . . . The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.”Ephesians 4:7
but Paul goes on to say that these gifts were given:
“for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”Ephesians 11-13
In other words these gifts are meant to lead to a full knowledge, in other words, a full, close, personal, and intimate relationship with Christ, and, through him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And while it is true that Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, does urge us to ask for good “gifts” from God (Matthew 7: 11), Luke, in his gospel, amends that slightly by urging us to ask for the “gift” of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11 : 13).
Jesus did not come on earth primarily to give us gifts, like somecelestial Santa Claus, he was most concerned with leaving us his greatest gift, the Holy Spirit. He devoted much of his final speeches to his apostles at the Last Supper to speaking about the Spirit, whom he prophesied would complete his ministry on earth, by empowering the apostles to go out into the world ,spreading the gospel, the good news, that, in Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God, ”a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace “ has come (Preface for feast of Christ the King). In fact, Jesus would go so far as to say that, unless he himself were to leave the earth, the Holy Spirit would not come (John 16: 7). When the Spirit came, Jesus said, then he and his heavenly Father, would be able to dwell, not just with us, but actually within us.
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”John 14:23
To have Jesus and the Father living within us, is to have peace, the peace that the world “cannot give“ (John 14:27), it is to be able to live in love, real love, true love, the love with which God loves (1 John 4:16). It is to be able to live fully in the truth (John 16: 13). It is to live holy lives, because the Holy One, Jesus, and his Father, dwell within us. All of this, and much more, comes to us, when the Holy Spirit comes to us. And we know that this happens when we are baptized. Baptism is our Pentecost, our true “birthday” when we are born anew as sons and daughters of the living God (John 3:5).
When we are baptized, God Himself comes to live within us. Imagine!!
But there is a world of difference between allowing someone to come through your door, and giving them free access to the whole of our house.
The first we may do for strangers, but the second we do only for friends and members of the family. Unfortunately, so many Catholics treat the Holy Spirit as a stranger. They are happy to let him cross the threshold of their lives, but that is far as they are willing to let him go. So many rooms in the house of our lives remain locked against God, through fear, suspicion and ignorance, when all God wants to do is to open wide all our doors to let in the fresh wind of his Spirit, to flood our lives with light, life, love, joy and peace. Why do so many of us live unfulfilled lives, with a sense of emptiness, loneliness, anxiety, fear, secret misery?
As the poet George Herbert once wrote: ”Most people live lives of quiet desperation.” Does that describe you, brothers and sisters? It certainly describes many people in the world. But they don’t have to live those kinds of lives. Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote: ”It is God you are looking for. Your unhappiness is not due to your lack of fortune, or high position, or fame, or sufficient vitamins; it is due not to lack of something outside you, but to a lack of something inside you.”
That lack is God, God fully allowed to have you, to move in and have free access to the house of your lives, to go into any room he desires, to clean out the cobwebs of sin and shame, to open up the windows and allow the fresh wind of his Spirit to come in and make all things new within you. We have this gift through our baptism , this Spirit to offer to others, who do not know there is even such a Person as the Holy Spirit. But there is a world of difference between having the Holy Spirit, and letting the Holy Spirit to have us, to possess us.
We cannot offer the Spirit of God to others unless and until we are prepared to allow him fully into our lives. So once more, brothers and sisters, let us pray our Novena prayer, and invite the Holy Spirit to come abide in us ,and live fully through us.