Many of you, I suspect, will have an item or two in a kitchen cupboard at home that you have never used or very seldom do. You may have received it as a gift; or you may have bought it yourself, thinking at the time you’d have a good use for it. But it’s lain there ever since and may not even have been taken out of its packaging. Likewise, there may bean item of clothing in your wardrobe given to you as a gift but you’ve never worn. You mean to – sometime! – but, again, it may never have been taken out of the wrapper or removed from the hanger.
The Holy Spirit for many people can be like an unused item in the kitchen cupboard or wardrobe. We can get our heads around God as Father and Creator of the universe, and Jesus as God’s physical presence on earth. However, for many of us, I think, we don’t have much CONSCIOUS use of or for the Holy Spirit even though we know St Paul says that when we pray we are led by the Holy Spirit to do so.
In today’s Gospel text (St John 14:15-16, 23-26) we hear Jesus telling his disciples before his Passion that he will not leave them alone. He promises to send the Paraclete to be always with them. St John uses this term for what we call the Holy Spirit. The term Paraclete comes from the legal world and denotes someone who stands alongside another as an advocate, or as a comforter, in a time of trial. This Paraclete, Jesus says, will stand by them in his absence, inspire and strengthen them, and draw them into the inner life and love of God.
In our Baptism we each have been given this gift of this Paraclete, ‘best gift of God above’, as the hymn ‘Come, Holy Ghost’ expresses it. But is this another unused gift in our lives?
On a recent retreat for the diocesan priest, our retreat leader taught us something relating to the Holy Spirit that I find very helpful. He said he keeps on his desk a sheet of card, folded in three, on which he has written a short quotation or words of encouraging advice that he keeps seeing throughout the days. He can only see one side at a time and he changes the sides from time to time.
If you were to pick three short statements – from scripture, or a poem, or a proverb/ wise saying – that you personally find encouraging and helpful to be reminded of in times of difficulty, what would they be? The one from the retreat leader that struck a note with me referred to the unused gift in my life of what we call the Holy Spirit. It simply states: ‘I can’t … but we can’.
You may remember that when Our Lady asked the Angel Gabriel ‘but how can this be’ when she was invited to be the Mother of Our Saviour, she was told that the Holy Spirit would bring everything about, ‘for nothing is impossible to God’.
This same Spirit – Paraclete – has been given to us in our baptism, to stand by us and give us strength when we need it. In the Rite of Baptism and Reception about to take place, Sonya, Helen, Kean and Stephanie shortly will be ‘sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit’. All of us have been given this same gift. But is it an used gift? Have we tried opening the packaging, reading the instructions and trying it out?
On this Solemnity of Pentecost we celebrate the outpouring of this gift on the first Christians. So it’s worth reminding ourselves on this occasion that as some of the things we face in life can be daunting, fearful and even terrifying and, we might feel, impossible to carry out on our own, we have a special gift that has come to us directly from God through Jesus.
On my own ‘I can’t … but we (the Spirit and I) can’!
Holy Name, Jesmond
9 June 2019