15 May 2016
1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13
An Irish doctor friend of mine told me of a time he received a call from the Social Services in England informing him that his brother, a lawyer, was living in very poor circumstances and that he should come immediately. Even though he hadn’t heard from his brother for years the doctor went and was appalled to find the terrible conditions in which he was living. He decided to take him home to Ireland. Before leaving he started to gather the few belongings of his brother. He was amazed to find stuffed in an old dirty bag, a great amount of money, the equivalent of about €500,000. This man who lived like in abject poverty could have had a very comfortable, enjoyable life if he had used the money he had accumulated over the years. But he did not and suffered greatly as a result.
Are we Christians sometimes like that? We have a great treasure, the Holy Spirit, and yet do we use and live out of the power of this Spirit? Remember the words of the hymn: ‘We hold a treasure not made of gold, in earthen vessels wealth untold’. How often do you and I call on the Spirit in our daily lives? He is the life-giving Spirit of God. Yet where do you and I go for life? The Spirit is the giver of peace and joy. Where do you and I seek for these? We could call today the Feast of the Holy Spirit.
The death of Jesus, his execution on the cross, produced terror and fear in those who had followed him. All the gospels speak of this fear. The same gospels, especially that of John, tell us that the opposite of fear is faith. Having faith means trusting. So instead of announcing the message of Jesus, the disciples had gone into a house and locked the doors because of fear. They were closed in on themselves. You can imagine their amazement and delight when Jesus comes and empowers them to leave their locked room, the room of their fears, behind them and go forth into freedom with the encouragement, the power, the peace and joy the Spirit gives. The presence of the Spirit in the Church, in each one of us, must lead us to defend the dignity of God’s children wherever their rights to life and truth are being violated. Becoming paralysed with fear of the powerful or of losing our comfort and privileges in society means that we refuse to receive the Spirit of love and instead allow the spirit of fear and terror to dominate us like the disciples were when locked behind the closed doors. Do we pray for an ever-greater trust in the Holy Spirit?
As Christians we must stand up for what is right, and good, and holy. We should never be fearful of what people will say or do if we stand for Christian values – the right to life, the right to proper housing, education etc.
We are all impressed by the late Willie Bermingham [who founded ALONE for the care of the elderly], Fr Peter McVerry, Brother Kevin, Mother Stan… There are probably people in our community who do great things for the benefit of others… When they saw the huge problems in front of them they could have been paralysed by fear and bemoan the terrible situation. But no! They decided to do something.
It is as if a certain power emanates or goes forth from them, just like the fearful disciples of Jesus in today’s gospel account where fear was replaced by trust. If we want to be true followers of Christ we must allow him to replace our fear and terror with peace and joy and go out to confront all that is wrong in our society, not only to speak out against injustice [killing the unborn, throwing people out of their homes for the sake of increasing the wealth of a small few, leaving the elderly terroorised in their homes due to lack of Garda resources…] but start doing something positive to change these unjust situations. This is our mission. It is the mission of the Christian Church. Is this what we have experienced from our Church. Have we experienced freedom, peace, joy and encouragement or more fear and guilt? If so, what spirit is guiding the church in the area where we live? We might want to call more often on the Holy Spirit to empower us to go forth on the mission Jesus sends us on with his life-giving, encouraging attitudes.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit inspires the disciples to find suitable language for the proclamation of the Good News. The text provides us with an important detail which contradicts a superficial, though frequent interpretation. It is not a matter of using only one language but rather of being able to understand one another. All those present from the different nationalities understood in their own language the message of the disciples, empowered by the Spirit. Cultural differences did not impede the message of Jesus being understood by all. The message of Jesus was a cause of unity, not disunity. We all know that people who speak the same language can be bitterly divided because of ethnic differences or prejudices. The Spirit comes to unite and bring peoples together.
“Lord Jesus, you went to the disciples showing them your wounds. Are you not telling each of us that despite our wounds, our failings, our weaknesses, that you wish to send us forth too as your disciples, to be givers of peace and joy to others. Just you yourself replaced fear and terror in the disciples with trust and encouragement, you ask us to do the same for others. In order to be better able to do this, you ask us to rely as fully as possible on the power and the life-giving energy of the Spirit. Empower us to do this more and more. Amen”
Adapted from a sermon of Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA