Many of us, I suspect, have an item in a kitchen cupboard that we seldom if ever use. We may have received it as a gift; or it may have been an impulse buy that seemed like a good idea at the time. But it’s lain there ever since and may not even have been taken out of its packaging. Likewise, there may be an item of clothing we’ve never worn, a keep-fit machine or just a book we have not just got around to reading. We mean to – sometime! – but, again, it lies there unused.

On this Pentecost Sunday the Church is celebrating what some refer to as the most unused gift in our possession, the Holy Spirit (of the Risen Jesus). We are remembering the outpouring of this Spirit on the first members of Christ’s Church gathered in that room in Jerusalem. And it was this Sprit that impelled those fearful people to become the fearless preachers about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

It’s easy to think of God as Father or Creator of the universe, and, likewise, to think of the human Jesus as God’s physical presence on earth. But for those of us who may not be theologians or particularly religious, it can be difficult to understand this same God present in an invisible way in the world and, especially, in our lives, even if St Paul says that when we address God as ‘Father’ we are led by the Holy Spirit to do so.

In today’s Gospel (St John 14:15-16, 23-26) we hear Jesus telling his disciples, before his death and resurrection, that although he would be leaving them soon, he would not abandon them. He would be with them in a new way in the form of what he called an Advocate.

The term Advocate comes from the legal world and denotes someone who stands alongside another as an assistant in a court case. If you watched any of the libel trial involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, you will have seen that they both were assisted by people who helped them to make their particular cases. This is what Jesus had in mind when he referred to what his Advocate would do – He would be a comforting, helpful presence, inspiring and strengthening them, and drawing them into the life and love of God.

Advocate is the term St John uses for what St Luke in the First Reading (Acts 2:1-11) calls the Holy Spirit. This is the spirit (or ghost) of the risen Jesus who, although cannot be seen, is by our side, and active in the life and mission of the Church.

So, perhaps, a challenge for us at this Mass of Pentecost is to think how we might make better use of the free gift of the Holy Spirit that we each have been given but, perhaps, seldom use?

On a religious retreat I took part in three years ago, the leader told us that he keeps on his desk a sheet of card, folded in three, on which he has written a short quotation or words of encouragement that he keeps seeing throughout the day. He can only see one side at a time and he changes the sides from time to time.

If you were to pick three encouraging short phrases – from scripture, a poem, a novel, whatever – to comfort or inspire you in worrying or troubled times, what might you choose? ‘To thine own self be true’?; or ‘illegitimi non carborundum’; or ‘little apples grow big again’? or the Serenity Prayer ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change …’. The retreat leader’s choice was to remind him that what might seem impossible to him at time might be less so if he called on the Spirit. So his short phrase was: ‘I can’t … but we can’.

When Our Lady was visited by the Angel Gabriel and asked to become the Mother of Our Saviour, she replied ‘but how can this be?’ This seemed impossible to her. Gabriel told her that ‘nothing is impossible to God’. The Spirit of God would accomplish in her life what she could not do on her own.

On this Solemnity of Pentecost we celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit not just in Mary or those first disciples but also in us. When events in our lives are difficult, daunting or even terrifying, and we feel alone and wonder how we will get through, we remember today that we have been given a special gift from God through Jesus.

 On my own ‘I can’t … but we can’!

Michael Campion
Holy Name, Jesmond

5 June 2022

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