Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Difference Does the Sprit Make? (Pentecost Sunday)

 "If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference."

I heard those shocking words at a meeting this week, and I wrestled with them. Could that statement be true? Or even close to the truth?

Sure, we'd still have schools, and hospitals, and bake sales. But would almost everything carry on as usual without the presence of the Holy Spirit?

Happily, the answer wasn't long in coming. If the Holy Spirit deserted the Church, things would go on as usual--for about a week! Maybe a month. But it wouldn't take long for the wheels to fall off the bus.

On Friday night, Archbishop Miller confirmed 37 young people from our school and parish religious education program--each of them serious and committed, and prepared by the hard work and sacrifice of their parents, teachers, and volunteer catechists.

Saturday morning was First Holy Communion for 38 boys and girls. When I asked where the journey they had begun at Baptism was going to end, a boy I myself had baptized replied without hesitation: "heaven." And one of the mothers sent me an email last night in which she compared her son's First Communion to the joy she felt at his birth.

This morning, ten parishioners--children and adults alike--celebrate the sacraments of initiation, for which they've been prepared in a special program designed for those who hadn't received them at the usual ages. One baptism, a reception into full communion with the Catholic Church, four more confirmations, and First Communions.

This Saturday morning program is a gift to the parish from two families who organize and teach it week after week. Like our P.R.E.P. volunteers, they get little recognition for their unpaid service; like all our teachers, they practice what they preach and give models of the Christian life.

So... do you think this would carry on without the fire of the Spirit burning in the hearts of both those who received the sacraments and those who prepared them? We can't possibly think that after hearing St. Paul tell us that the variety of gifts and services and activities are all activated by God.

And let's not stop with sacraments. Pope Francis has called us to celebrate a Year of Mercy. That has two parts: the mercy of God and the mercy we're called to show others.

How does the Church minister the mercy of God? Today's Gospel gives the answer: by the power of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ. It really couldn't be clearer. He says to the apostles "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them."

Archbishop Miller ordained two young men to the priesthood yesterday. I know them both, and the day before yesterday I could have confessed my sins to either of them, and wouldn't have made any difference. Today, I would know they could pardon anything I'd done, even if they had to read the words of absolution from a book. All because they received the power from the Holy Spirit.

The mercy we show others has traditionally been discussed under two headings: the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy. Corporal works are the physical and material help we offer those in need, while spiritual works are the comforts and strength we give to help others find peace and truth.

We are building the traditional spiritual and corporal works of mercy into our Project Advance campaign during this Year of Mercy--setting aside funds to support our ministry to the sick, to prisoners, to refugees, and to help with burial expenses. We're going to establish a fund to help parishioners who need to see a counsellor, but who cannot afford the cost. You'll hear more about all this in coming weeks.

But what's important is that these funds are being raised to support and develop things our parish already does. Members of our parish family astonish me by their dedication to the poor, the sick, and the grieving. They are, as I've already said, tireless in teaching the faith through religious education programs of many kinds.

They do none of this as philanthropists or do-gooders, and certainly not because they have too much time on their hands! They do all this as members of the Body of Christ who have experienced the Spirit of Christ in their own lives. They show mercy because they have experienced mercy. And they have been equipped for ministry by the Holy Spirit they themselves received in Baptism and Confirmation.

The quotation with which I began is not the only one I heard this week. Another, one with which I can agree completely, was "God does not call the equipped. He equips the called."

On this day of Pentecost, the apostles received the gift of the Spirit for a purpose--the mission of the Church to which they were called by Christ at his Ascension. Each of us is offered the same gift, and for the same purpose, namely that God's saving mercy be known to all.

The way that God wants you to serve is different that the way he wants me to serve. But each of us is called to be part of this one body, using the Spirit's particular gifts for the common good.

I'll finish by telling you that I went looking for the source of the shocking quotation about 95 per cent of our activities carrying on if the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the Church. It actually comes from an American Protestant, A. W. Tozer, who spent his final years preaching in Toronto. When I found the whole quotation, it was much easier to see the point he was making. It's not so much a pessimistic statement about how things are as it is a challenge about how things ought to be.

Tozer said "If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference." But then he added "If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference."

This Pentecost Sunday, we recommit ourselves at Christ the Redeemer Parish to the model of the New Testament Church, the model so clearly presented to us in the Word of God at Mass today: a parish where the power of the Holy Spirit activates all we do, and where faith in God's mercy is at the heart of our sacramental ministries.

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