Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. There was a book published recently whose title speaks volumes about the importance of this feast day of Pentecost. It’s called ‘Forgotten God: Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit’. It’s true. We do not think enough about God as the Holy Spirit or appreciate the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives and life of the community of the Church. What difference does the Holy Spirit make? Here’s how someone summed it up:
‘Without the Holy Spirit, God is distant, Christ is merely a historical figure, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is just an organization, authority is domination, mission is propaganda, liturgy is only nostalgia, and the work of Christians is slave labor. But with the Holy Spirit, Christ is risen and present, the Gospel is a living force, the Church is a communion in the life of the Trinity, authority is a service that sets the people free, mission is Pentecost, the liturgy is memory and anticipation, and the work of Christians is made divine’.
Here is a glimpse of how the Holy Spirit makes a difference in our lives and the life of the Church. Today I would like to choose just one of these ways that the Holy Spirit changes us – from being timid and unsure to being bold and convinced.
In the first reading and the Gospel today, the Apostles were gathered in the upper room, locked inside by fear. After Jesus’ death they were demoralized, confused and afraid. Then came Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was breathed upon them. And what a difference that gift made. They left the upper room and began to proclaim boldly that ‘Jesus is Lord’. The Spirit made them bold, courageous and gave them an unshakable conviction that they had a message to share that was important. They were undeterred by the consequences of their actions. They preached the Gospel on their terms with the Spirit’s gift of courage and with a burning desire to make Christ known and loved. The Spirit gave them her gifts and took away their fear.
This is the Spirit of boldness that we badly need in the Church today, at every level. In recent years, Pope Francis has warned of what he calls a certain laziness to get out there and reach out, share and to make the love of God real and visible. Instead of being embarrassed by our faith, we are to take the risk to share it. He puts it this way:
‘How often we are tempted to keep close to the shore! Yet the Lord calls us to put out into deep water and let down our nets…Boldness and apostolic courage are an essential part of mission…We need the Spirit’s prompting, lest we be paralysed by fear and excessive caution…Remember that closed spaces grow musty and unhealthy’ (Rejoice and Be Glad, 130-133). And what is the reason for our courage? Because we have something beautiful and necessary to share.
‘We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love’ (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 265).
Despite the many challenges the Church faces, I sense a new opening for hope and for God in people’s lives. Many are beginning to realize that life must include some element of faith, prayer, the spiritual life, values, community and kindness. I believe that the time is right for a new boldness on the part of all Catholic Christians to reach out, connect, care, pray with and pray for, invite and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to do so in the power and life of the Holy Spirit that leads us.
May we be filled with the Spirit’s gift of courage and boldness, leaving behind our fears, trusting in God and convinced that we have something beautiful that people are longing to hear and see. So, do not be afraid! May a new Pentecost re-new the Church, the world and all who hear/read these words.