Yesterday evening I decided to support a classical music concert in the local Church of Ireland. This is a photo of the Donegal Chamber Orchestra performing Edward Grieg’s Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op 20 (1892).
Today is the great feast of Pentecost which marks the end of Jesus’ mission of salvation and the sending of the Holy Spirit. It also marks the birthday of the Church. Here is my homily.
I never knew what real tiredness was until my second bone marrow transplant last year. I had normal strength in my limbs to move around but I couldn’t motivate myself to get out of the chair when something needed to be done. I would come up with all kinds of excuses to stay sitting for another 5 minutes. Later I would find another set of reasons to stay sitting. It was impossible to say the Rosary without falling asleep half ways thru the decade, so sister Maureen would often come in and say it with me. Once I started my evening prayers at 8pm and woke up at 4.30am with them half said. I have found that people with heart trouble have experienced similar types of tiredness.
I tell you this because physical tiredness can be comparable to spiritual tiredness / exhaustion.
It can take a mighty effort to maintain hope in the future when we feel that our life is unravelling because of illness, relationship problems or other such difficulties. The effort to life our faith – getting to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, saying our Morning and Evening prayers can seem too much. We think that there would be more time for ourselves or catching up with chores if we didn’t have to do all that.
We can lose heart with all the things that appear to be wrong with the Church. We can doubt that God exists at all and empathise with the rant of atheist Stephen Fry last year on TV.
When we are feeling spiritually tired or even spiritually dead, we need an injection of new life – but from where?
This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. The Creed is the essential summary of our Christian faith. It doesn’t have much to say about the Holy Spirit but what it does say is of crucial importance. It states that the Holy Spirit is the LORD, THE GIVER OF LFE. There is nothing more necessary that to receive from the GIVER OF LIFE. We are physically alive because of the soul that animates our body. When the soul departs, we die. Likewise when the Holy Spirit is in our soul, we are spiritually alive. On the other hand, no Holy Spirit, no spiritual life.
The new life brought by the Holy Spirit is clearly seen in today’s readings. In the Upper Room, the disciples are devastated by Jesus’ death and confounded by his Resurrection. The arrival of the Holy Spirit was heralded by a strong wind. This strong wind is like the breath of life that a doctor hears when he puts a stetoscope to our chest. It signals that we are alive.
The second symbol of the Holy Spirit is fire. Fire burns away impurities to make us pure and fit for the holiness of God. It is also linked to passion and zeal. This motley crew of disciples were so inspired by this holy fire that they brought the gospel to the ends of the earth and many died as martyrs. A sign of their enthusiasm for the gospel was that they spoke about “the marvels of God.” In the 400s, St Patrick inspired by this same fire would bring the good news to Ireland.
In the second reading St Paul says that the Holy Spirit gives us the capacity to recognise Jesus as Lord. Seeing Jesus as the beginning, centre and end of our lives is central to our Christianity. If the Holy Spirit is not active within us, Jesus remains invisible and at best some sort of mythical and irrelevant figure.
The Holy Spirit will have a similar effect within us. He will give us a new breath of life. His fire will help burn away the impurities that limit our capacities for spiritual living. Furthermore we will be filled with an active love of God and neighbour. Worship of God will no longer be a burdensome duty but a joy. “Where there is love, there is no labour.”
The second reading spoke about a spirit of service that will inspire us to reach out to those in need around us. Like Good Samaritans we will get involved rather than ignore the plight and suffering of others and “pass by on the other side.”
When did we first receive the Holy Spirit? We received this great gift at Baptism and it was strengthened at Confirmation. It remains with us as long as we don’t fall into mortal sin which is a definitive rejection of God. It goes without saying that if this should happen, we should immediately repent and seek Confession at the first opportunity.
The Holy Spirit’s presence within us can be compared to the flame of a gas cooker. It can be greater or lesser depending on the amount of gas in the tank. The Holy Spirit’s influence is strengthened by frequent and worthy reception of Holy Communion. Likewise it is strengthened by regular Confession which helps us to overcome the weaknesses in our human nature. The Sacrament of the Sick fortifies us in times of illness. The sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders helps us to live out our vocational commitments.
Finally the Holy Spirit seeks our own cooperation and commitment with regard to the discipline of daily prayer and practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
In summary, all of what can be said about the Holy Spirit is expressed in him being the GIVER OF LIFE – the supernatural life of our souls. We should seek an ever deeper outpouring of his presence and activity in our lives.