Feast of Pentecost, 2003
Come Holy Spirit, Come. How often have we spoken or sung these words? I wonder if we really understand what we are asking for?
What do we know about this Holy Spirit? The Spirit is variously symbolized as fire, wind, and dove. The Holy Spirit is described as a counselor, the one who inspires us, the one who leads.
What can we expect to receive from this Holy Spirit? For those of us over 40, we can probably still recite the 7 gifts of the Spirit: Understanding, counsel, courage, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These were drilled into us during our confirmation preparation only a few years ago.
Come Holy Spirit, come. We continue to pray this but do we mean it? The Holy Spirit gives to some of us the gift of prophecy. And yet, how quick are we to dismiss the message because of the messenger. The Holy Spirit gave the disciples, and to some believers today, the ability to speak in other tongues. But, as wondrous as this is, its scary too. Letís be honest, if one of our friends came over to our house speaking in a strange tongue, our first reaction would probably not be to bow down and praise God, would it? No, our first reaction would be to call an ambulance or a psychiatrist, because this friend is definitely a couple of Twinkies shy of a happy meal.
My friends, letís be honest, mostly we are afraid of this part of God, the Holy Spirit, the part which we cannot control, explain or merit. That aspect which is seductive and cannot be legislated, measured or mandated. We are threatened by this part of God "which blows where it will" and which our theologies can neither predict nor inhibit.
Letís focus on one very important gift of the Holy Spirit for a moment, that the Holy Spirit inspires us. Jesus told his disciples donít worry about what to say when you are questioned and put to trial by others, the Holy Spirit will guide you. This is fascinating! He said donít be concerned or practice now what you will say, the Spirit will inspire you at that time, in the future. Does this sound like Jesus intended to institute a church that would be the same forever and always? No, if he wanted that, Jesus could have just as easily have said, remember all that I have told you and repeat that back to your interrogators. If he had said that then the only gift the Holy Spirit would need to give us would be a good memory. I believe this gives us an insight into the model of Church which Jesus desired, established and which we are members of this day.
I propose to you again, as I did the last time I was here, that Jesus intended to establish a Church which would change and evolve over time. Nevertheless there are many who say we must all believe exactly the same thing, and practice our faith in exactly the same way from now to the end of the world. Rules, thatís what we need, we need to get back to the rules. Generally, many of those people also insist that they know what it is we should believe, and how we should behave. A position, dare I say, somewhat lacking in humility, and echoes of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus day, who knew the rules well but were blind to the Spirit of love upon which those rules were created.
Has it been the history of our church to all believe exactly the same thing, and practice our faith in exactly the same way? No. We have disagreed amongst ourselves since the time of the apostles, praise be to God. If St. Paul hadnít challenged the claim by some of the apostles that followers of Jesus must first become Jews to be known as the "true" followers of Jesus, then most of us wouldnít be here. And isnít this ironic? It was Paul, once the great protector of Judaism, who insisted that Jesus came to save us all, Jew and Gentile alike, and not the apostles, who took many trips with the Lord into gentile cities and personally observed the Lord minister to the Gentiles. The apostles had become blinded and needed to be challenged by Paul, praise be to God.
Since 1996 I have been involved in the pastoral planning process for our diocese. I know nothing however, about your planning group specifically, but am speaking of my general knowledge of the process. Also, I speak here not as a representative of the diocese, but from my own personal experience. And I must tell you, there are times that I am saddened and discouraged by what I have seen.
Many, if not most, parishes approach this process from a me first perspective. The only thing that matters is that we keep our church and our priest. If that means that our neighbor down the road must go without, well we're sorry, but that's not our fault, it's somebody else's. But what matters most is that we keep our church and our priest, as if the very survival of their faith depended upon it. And for some it does. Their faith has short roots which only extend into a building they call church and not into the rich, deep, productive soil of faith in Jesus Christ the risen Lord.
And does this reflect the self sacrifice to which Jesus, the good shepherd, demonstrated in his own life and to which we as his followers are called? We don't give a second thought to driving the 10 miles to shop at Marketplace Mall for something we want, but howl with indignation if someone suggests we do the same thing for church. Why is that and what does it say about us? And if we won't sacrifice for our fellow Catholic down the road a piece, will we sacrifice for the stranger, for the unchurched that God pleads with us to bring home?
But wait a minute, I have a right to my church and a right to have a priest in it, right? You see, here is one of the sources of our confusion, our rights. All of our faults and failings notwithstanding, we live in, what I believe, is the greatest country on this planet. And we are renowned for our individual liberties, our rights. But having rights is not what makes us great, having rights in many cases is simply a recognition of the truth, as it says in our declaration of independence, "we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, chief among them the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." No, my friends, these rights are not what makes us great as a nation. It is our willingness to put our self interest aside for the sake of others. It is our charity, our willingness to give to others, our concern for others, our rich history of volunteerism which is almost unheard of in many parts of the world. This is the essence of our greatness. But our rights are so burned into our psyche that we almost cannot help but see things from this self centered, me first perspective.
There is a story about Pope John XXIII, the beloved pope of my youth, who was visiting a blind boy in a hospital. The boy said, "I know you are Pope but I can't see you." The pope was so moved by the boy's words that he sat with the boy for a time, in the still, silent language of love's presence.
How many people might say the same thing about us, "I know you are Christian, but I can't see it." I can't see your life taking on the shape and form of Christ's life of service and sacrifice. Have we really thought through the implications of Christ getting on his knees at the last supper and washing the disciples feet? Do we take his command seriously to do likewise?
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Inspire us today to see your loving hand molding and changing our church now and in the future. Give us the courage to boldly face the changes ahead of us. Grant us the peace which surpasses all understanding, so that we might not be anxious as the world around us continues to change. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.