Saturday, May 22, 2010
Pentecost: Asking for the Gifts We Need
Some time back there was a book called “The Gospel According to Peanuts,” dispensing spiritual wisdom from Charlie Brown.
Today I’d like to talk about the Gospel according to the Wizard of Oz. Of course as I say that I realize that many of the younger members of the congregation never saw that movie; I suppose many of you never heard of Charlie Brown either.
The Wizard of Oz was central to my childhood. The special effects are laughable nowadays, especially compared to the wizardry of Avatar and so on. But it sure captured our imagination as kids—and it has taught me a spiritual lesson or two that I have carried with me.
One lesson is about gifts, gifts that the scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion don’t even know they need. They know things aren’t going well—the scarecrow feels stupid, the Tin Man thinks he has no heart, and the Lion’s afraid of his own shadow. But they don’t know what’s needed to overcome their weaknesses.
The Wizard does know. He knows they have within them everything they need. They only need to activate the gifts they already possess.
I don’t want to sound irreverent by comparing the Holy Spirit to the Wizard! Still, there’s a very fine comparison to be made.
Almost every one of us will acknowledge a weakness, a failure, a shortcoming or a fear. Almost everyone has a deep longing to be more than we are, better than we are—a better Christian, a better parent, a wiser student, a more loving child. We go to confession (or at least we should) to admit our sins and failures to God.
But where do we go for what we need to overcome these sins? Where do we find the strength to grow and to change, to carry on and to draw nearer to God and to one another?
The answer is: we go to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit knows what we need, and knows how to give it to us. The Holy Spirit is the source of strength for daily Christian living.
So, then, how do we go the Spirit? The cover of this week’s bulletin offers a practical answer from the no-nonsense foundress of the Madonna House Apostolate.
Catherine Doherty’s formula for approaching the Spirit sounds a lot like spring cleaning:
Stand still, and lifting your hearts and hands to God, pray that the mighty word of his Holy Spirit may clear all the cobwebs of fears, selfishness, greed, narrow-heartedness away from the soul: that his tongues of flame may descend to give courage to begin again.
That’s very direct advice from a holy woman who never beat around the bush. Let the Spirit clear away whatever is holding you back, and then receive from the Spirit whatever you need to move forward.
Praying the prayer Catherine Doherty suggests wouldn’t take more than ten minutes of quiet with your bedroom door closed or even right here in church after Mass. Stand still, lift your heart and hands to God, and pray…
And pray practically. Not just “Come, Holy Spirit,” but come to me—come with exactly what I need to start fresh.
Clear away the cobwebs of fear, selfishness and greed. Open my heart wide to receive your gifts.
Having a sense of our spiritual needs—something like the humble admissions of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion—is the first step. The second is simply asking the Spirit to help us live each day well and to give us what it takes to deal with life’s occasional crises and setbacks. We pray with confidence in God’s living and active presence in us, which allows us to pray properly and fruitfully.
All of this is a central message of Pentecost Sunday and a source of deep hope for every Christian.
When I was young my mother taught me that the easy way was almost always the wrong way. A new product called Mop and Glow which you simply squirted on the kitchen floor couldn’t possibly clean and wax it. Anything that didn’t involve getting down on your knees with a bucket was just a scam.
Mom might have been right about floors—although I think nowadays she probably uses Mop and Glow or something like it!—but her wisdom does not transfer to the spiritual life. The easy way is the right way: let's allow the Spirit do the hard work. That's what Jesus himself wanted—he sent us the Spirit so we wouldn’t struggle unnecessarily. He sent us the Spirit to free us from fear, save us from mistakes, and give us peace. Why should we try to obtain all that by our own efforts?
On this day when we recall the first Pentecost, let us pray and expect a new Pentecost—a Pentecost that is personal, a day to ask the Spirit to dwell in us, and to give us—each and every one of us—exactly what we need on our journey through life, day by day.