There is a priest friend of mine—one of my classmates actually—who does a lot of work with the Legion of Mary calling from door to door, speaking to people about faith. He was a quantity surveyor before he became a priest and he is the most amazing organizer. He often said to me that the hardest places he found to work in were usually the wealthier areas. When people felt they had all they needed they were generally not as open to hearing about God. The poorer areas were usually much more open to what he had to say, which doesn’t surprise me.
From all the various crises that are happening at the moment, one of the good things that is coming from them is that they are helping us to ask a lot of questions and to search for God in a new way. Economic crisis helps us to realise that we are much more vulnerable than we might have thought. Religious crisis and terrorism—such as we are seeing at the moment—help us to remember that while religion can be a great help, it is absolutely deadly if it is misused. Any religion is simply a way to help us live out what we believe in, but unless it is completely focused on God and unless God is at the centre, it can become an end in itself and a very dangerous one at that.
There is one crucial thing that is needed for faith to be alive and healthy and that is the gift of God’s Spirit. For me the best way of explaining it is to compare the Spirit to electricity. In any building like this one, you can have all kinds of useful equipment, such as microphones, lights, projectors, but none of these things would be of any use to us if we didn’t have electricity. They would just sit there uselessly. The power that goes into them is what transforms them into something wonderful. In a sense the Holy Spirit is the electricity that makes us alive. Without God’s Spirit we are dead, the Scriptures are just words in a book; the mass is just an empty ritual; marriage is just a legal way of being together, but with the Holy Spirit our faith suddenly lights up. With the Holy Spirit the Scriptures become the living word of God which speaks to our hearts and challenges us to grow; the mass becomes the living presence of Jesus among us in the Eucharist, where we can have the most intimate encounter possible with Jesus. With the Holy Spirit marriage involves a third person, present to support, strengthen and encourage every couple as they try and live out their married life together. Any way of life worth living is difficult, but God offers us the help we need through the gift of his Spirit.
The truth is that we are nothing without the gift of God’s Spirit. We would not be able to believe, or pray or even know God. I could stand at the altar and pray all day long, but nothing would happen if the Holy Spirit didn’t transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The same is true with confession. It is the Spirit who forgives people. The priest is just an instrument, an important instrument, but only an instrument. And isn’t it an extraordinary thought that the Holy Spirit obeys a human being?! When a priest says the words of consecration at the mass, ‘This is my Body which will be given up for you,’ the Holy Spirit immediately transforms the bread into the body of Christ. And when the priest says the words, ‘I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ the Spirit of God blots out the sins of that person. Such is the amazing generosity and humility of God.
When we see scandals coming to light in the Church, that is also the work of the Holy Spirit, purifying and renewing his people. That is happening because the Lord loves us and won’t allow his people to be overcome with disease. All the poison is being taken away and this is painful, but absolutely essential. We are always better off because of the purifying work which God is bringing about. God is forcing us to rely much more on the power of his Word and of his Spirit, something which we should have been doing all along. And perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that God’s work is always beautiful and God will make things beautiful again, because God is the master craftsman.
The Lord doesn’t wait until we are ready either. God acts when the time is right. He doesn’t just wait for the hierarchy of his Church to decide what to do, He sends his Spirit who inspires people and moves people to act. That’s not to say that God doesn’t care about his bishops and priests; of course He does, but God knows how best to act and so He sends his Spirit to inspire and move people to step out in faith and live the Gospel, and they in turn move others, until soon the people are alive with faith again.
Despite our best efforts we continually need to be helped back on the right track, no matter what we are doing. This is why Jesus told us before he ascended into heaven, that the Father would send us this ‘Helper’, who would be with us forever, and who would teach us everything. The Lord knew well that we would need help and so He sent us the best help that we could have, his own Spirit, to guide us and teach us and God does teach us constantly through the example of people He inspires, through the Word of God, through prayer when we are open to him and in many other ways we will never even be aware of. The Spirit is very gentle and that is why we don’t notice him sometimes.
The gift of God’s own Spirit is really the greatest thing God can give us after life itself, because when we have the Holy Spirit we have everything. Keep praying to the Holy Spirit asking him to set us on fire with his gift of faith.
Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful people,
Send forth your Spirit and we will be created,
And you will renew the face of the earth.