Young Assistant Curate William was giving his 427th children’s sermon. “Now kids,” says Fr William, “What’s green, lives in the pond, sits on a lily pad, and hops?” The children looked at each other with vacant eyes as silence ruled that magical time. “Surely, someone has an idea?” Finally, little Susie stood up and said, “Well, it sounds like a frog, but it must be the Holy Spirit!”
Something like that seems to happen when we ask: “Who is the Holy Spirit?” Do we really know him? What sort of relationship do I have with him? Do I pray him? We suddenly go blank and don’t know what to say.
The celebration of Pentecost is not just a reminder of the existence of the Holy Spirit, but above all a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the role played by the Holy Spirit in our Church, community and spiritual life.
Everyday we hear about violence in our world and feel surrounded by war, hatred, greed and selfishness. Phenomenons as the global warming are terrifying example of the capacity of self-destructiveness of which the humankind is capable of. Although some leaders of big economies in the world are in denial about the climate change, it is clear enough that it’s happening and that we are also responsible for it in a very large scale.
On a personal level we also experience betrayal sometimes from our best friend, or just feel disgusted by the mediocrity that flows from relationships only based on selfish interests. All this is part of our human condition. How much injustice and poverty is still structurally embedded in our world, and even daily human experience?
Just the thought of it could make us feel overwhelmed by this increasing tsunami of self-destructiveness -as we may call it. At the same time we realise that there is a pattern of rebellion in our world, where we seem to resist against the love of God even when we know need it. So when the human forces of self-destructiveness prevail, we make our own lives miserable. We make ourselves unable to experience God except as our enemy. How are we to cope with this? And more radically, what can defend us against this awful pattern of self-destructiveness?
Yes, this is self-destructiveness, especially when we discover that we are part of the problem because this is not just about the evil outside of us, but more about our sinful nature that is inside of us. We do bad things and sometimes make even worse decisions that lead us to destroy ourselves and other people. Therefore, I ask myself -and we may have to ask ourselves-: “what can defend us against this awful pattern of self-destructiveness?”
The answer may look surprisingly simple: no one but God. It is he, our God, and God only, who can defend us against our own refusal to take God seriously. What God brought into the world is essentially selfless love. He did it through the life and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. It is an unstoppable force of the resurrection that can transform our lives into something completely different. This force of transformation is able to save us from our pattern of self-destructiveness and direct our lives towards his selfless love.
How can this happen? The Holy Spirit is the adequate answer to this question. If to die to our sins would mean to acknowledge and accept our sinful nature, naming our demons and wrestling with them as best as we can, to live would mean to allow the Spirit to push in us to be fully born. While we try to die to our destructive habits, we shall live in relation to God that is like that of Jesus. It is all part of the same spiritual journey. They are not separate things.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Ahd the spirit you have received is not a spirit of slavery, leading you back into fear, but the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry, “Abba, Father”, the Spirit affirming to our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8.14-15)
Who prays in us if not the Spirit who teaches us how to pray? The Spirit is stirring us as a community of faith as well as individuals. The Spirit takes to completion the work of the resurrection by healing the relationship between Creator and creature. In Pentecost then we celebrate God’s Spirit in action, the renewal of all that exists. The Holy Spirit shows us in action that something entirely fresh is coming to birth. This is profoundly true for us today. And this is the reason why we look straight and fearless into our demons’ eyes and fight the good battle. We are not Christians because we are good people. I don’t honestly think that I’m a good person. I know what you think right now. Oh come on Fabrizio, we know you are saying that rhetorically. You are always so happy and smiley! But I’m serious. I wrestle with my demons everyday, sometimes I lose and some others I win. Why then am I always happy even when I lose? Because It is not my battle, it’s God’s fight and I know that He already won. What is the point of being saved by God if we already think that we are good and absolutely selfless?
Invoking the Holy Spirit makes me aware of the inner strife between life and death in my heart, and sometimes discover how I have been strengthened by the Holy Spirit who really won the battle. In Pentecost we may feel urged by the Holy Spirit to proclaim this Gospel. Don’t be afraid, He would remind you everything and put his words in your mouths.
In “Invictus”, one of the film we watched during our Lent Film Reflection this year, there is a key scene when Nelson Mandela receives Francoise Pinar, Captain of the Spring bocks the South African Rugby team. He asks him: “How do you inspire your team to do their best?”. And he replies: “By example”. And Mandela says: “That’s right, but how do you get them to be better to what they think they can be? Inspiration. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing less will do?”…and ends saying to him: “We need inspiration because in order to build our nation we must all exceed our own expectations”.
The Holy Spirit is here to point us towards the right direction if we let him work, and able to inspire us to exceed our own expectations.
Sometimes we look back and realize that He was there when I made the right decision in a very difficult situation, and did the right thing. Some others we may feel protected against our self-destructiveness and thank God the Father and our Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit for their endless and selfless love in action.