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The Spirit of Peace

June 8, 2014

signofpeace
A reflection for the Solemnity of Pentecost. The readings are Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 103; Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 and John 20: 19-23.

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and in the readings we have two completely different versions of the same event. In the book of Acts, Luke describes the event that we all know with the hurricane-like winds, the tongues of fire and the disciples speaking in tongues. John’s version is a bit different, but for me, much more compelling.

Let me describe the scene for you: The apostles are terrified. They feel confused, disheartened, abandoned, let down… everything that they were working towards has been a failure; all their hopes are shattered. That man whom they followed, who they thought was the Son of God, the Messiah, the one who was going to liberate Israel from Roman occupation was arrested, tortured and killed. And who’s next? Who are they coming for next? Who will they kill next? This man’s disciples, probably. So the apostles are behind locked doors, hiding, full of fear… and, who appears in the midst of them? Jesus. And what does He tell them? “Peace.” Jesus gives them peace: “Have peace.” “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid – that’s the phrase that appears most often in Scripture. It’s there about 360 times: Don’t be afraid, do not fear, do not be frightened… and many of us remember the words of St. John Paul II during his first homily as pope in October 1978: “Non abbiate paura!” Do not be afraid. That’s the good news of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit is the spirit that takes away our fear and fills us with peace. If today you feel alone, or if you are worried; if you feel let down, betrayed or like you’ve lost hope; don’t be afraid, peace. If you have problems at home, with your husband or your wife, don’t be afraid, peace. If you have problems at work, with your boss or a co-worker; don’t be afraid, peace. If you have problems with your kids, you don’t understand them or they don’t speak to you; don’t be afraid, peace. If you have problems with your parents, they don’t listen to you or don’t understand you; don’t be afraid, peace. If you have problems at school with a classmate or with a teacher; don’t be afraid, peace. If you have problems with your aging parents, or are struggling with a chronic illness or you just received a cancer diagnosis; don’t be afraid, peace. If you are far from home, if you have money problems, you’ve lost your job… don’t be afraid, peace. Peace.

It’s easy to think that Christ gives us peace. It’s easy to accept that the Holy Spirit gives us peace, but sometimes that doesn’t help because in the end, when we go home after Mass, we still have our struggles and our  problems and we don’t feel peace.

My first experience with the Holy Spirit was when I was about 12 years old. That year a new associate pastor arrived at our parish in Panama. He was a young priest, newly ordained and he saw that there was no youth group, so he decided to start one. So he invited all the youth of the parish to go with him on a weekend retreat. So my mother packed her three children and sent us along. I don’t remember much of the retreat, but I remember the first night fairly clearly. We were all in the small chapel, standing around the Blessed Sacrament praying. And there were people speaking in tongues, people crying, people singing in tongues – people falling over… I must say, a very strange scene for a 12 year-old boy. But we were all youth – I was probably one of the youngest, but most were between 15 and 20 years old. But I don’t remember thinking that it was strange. In fact, I remember that it was the most beautiful scene in the world. It was as if we had experienced a little bit of heaven here on earth. But, most of us have never had experiences with the Holy Spirit like that one that I had. But we’ve all received the Holy Spirit. If you’ve been baptised, you’ve received the Holy Spirit. If you’ve ever gone to Confession, you’ve received the Holy Spirit. If you’ve been Confirmed, you’ve received the Holy Spirit – because we receive the Holy Spirit with each Sacrament. When I got married, my wife and I both received the Holy Spirit. When we baptised our two boys, they received the Holy Spirit and so did we.

But we don’t usually feel anything when we receive the Holy Spirit. When I was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate, the bishop prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend upon the candidates… and I felt… absolutely nothing. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t receive the Holy Spirit.

While I was in Theatre School at York University, we learned two basic acting techniques: The first is what is called “method acting”. Here’s when you try to feel something before you say or do what you have to say or do. If my character has to scream in anger, first I have to feel angry. Once I feel the anger, I can yell, “I’m angry!” The other technique is completely the opposite. You don’t have to feel anything, simply yell, at the top of your lungs, “I’m angry!” and I bet that pretty soon you’ll begin to feel angry.

I think it’s the same with the Spirit.

If you don’t feel the Spirit, it doesn’t matter. Act as if you have the Spirit. If you don’t feel like you have joy or love; if you don’t feel patience, humility, courage or strength or any of the gifts or fruits of the Spirit, no worries, just behave as if you have them. Behave as if you have all the gifts and fruits of the Spirit: Act with honesty, goodness, and modesty and I bet that sooner than you can say “Pentecost” you’ll be feeling the Spirit.

One of the first prayers I learned as a kid is one that I’m sure many of you know:
“Come Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.”

Christ gives us the Holy Spirit so that we have peace – so that we have the strength to renew the face of the earth. We don’t receive the Holy Spirit so that we can keep it to ourselves, so we can feel peaceful and comfortable. No. We receive the Holy Spirit so that we can help Christ transform the earth. We receive the Spirit so we can act!

At Mass today (and at every Mass), just before the Words of Institution, the priest asks the Holy Spirit to descend upon the gifts of bread and wine, so that they become the body and blood of Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit that makes the Sacrament possible. And at the moment of Communion, when we receive Christ in the Eucharist, we receive the Holy Spirit (remember, “Lamb of God, grant us peace”). Don’t forget this. And what do we do just before Communion? We offer one another the sign of peace.

The sign of peace is not just a nice gesture; it is giving peace to one another. This is what Jesus does with the Apostles. So don’t be shy when giving peace to each other. Look at each other in the eyes and say it nice and loud (even though you may not feel it), “peace be with you.” And while you say it, think “don’t be afraid.” When we give each other peace we receive the peace of Christ and then we can be ready to receive the Eucharist.

And when Mass is over, the deacon will say, “go in peace, alleluia, alleluia” and you will respond, “Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia.” Don’t just say it. Say it like you mean it. Now that you have the peace of Christ, now that you have the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Peace that takes away our fears; let’s act like it and go and renew the face of the earth!

“Come Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.”

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From → English, Reflections

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