‘Spirit’ Confirmation Programme 2.
We’re asking you today to witness to the Spirit. Actually, that’s not right. You’ve chosen this, didn’t you? So you’re telling us that you’re going to witness to the Spirit.
The visit of Annette McCarthy to the school on Friday together with the workshop this morning will have given you real examples of witnessing to the Spirit.
Here’s another way that you might witness. Sometimes as people get older they can become invisible. People don’t see them any more. So, here’s what I want you to do. You can make older people visible – all through your life – by just smiling and saying ‘hello’.
Still, I do not want you to get the idea that witnessing to the Spirit is just about being a ‘good’ person or a ‘nice’ person. Sometimes even our goodness is a witness to ourselves rather than God, my spirit rather than God’s Spirit, and merely carries the mask of witnessing to God. This – reducing Christianity to being a ‘nice’ person – is something we’ve been doing within Catholicism for most of my lifetime, and it’s directly related to the slow decline of Catholicism.
Catholicism is first and foremost a well-trodden path to a real and ongoing encounter with God. This ongoing encounter with God is what gives our lives joyful and lasting security. This is basic Jesus-speak! He never tires of telling us things like “…a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns even when he has more than he needs” and “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?” (Luke 12:15, 12:20)
There’s a desperate human need portrayed in today’s First Reading (Job 7:1-4,6-7), the kind that must surely precede suicide. There’s similar human need portrayed in today’s Gospel (Mark 1:29-39) but in the Gospel the need encounters Jesus Christ and is transformed. I heard an elderly man say recently – a man who’d lost both his wife and his son – “Life? It’s nothing in the end!” He’s right. Without Jesus Christ, it comes down to nothing in the end. It’s the encounter with God that causes us to witness. Witness is not a dry demand!
This encounter with God is not imaginary. Its development is marked by clearly defined stages, every bend on the road to God, every junction, every cul-de-sac, every obstacle, and every contour is documented. Catholicism is first and foremost a ‘how to’ manual, how to encounter God, and for the purists it’s an experiential ‘how to’ manual produced by God. So, before you walk away from Catholicism, read the life of at least one saint. It’s an interesting question to ask those who’ve already abandoned Catholicism: Did you read the life of at least one saint before walking away?
So, I do not want to be asking you to witness to a Spirit that you do not know. That’s to do violence to you. We can only witness to God’s Spirit to the degree that he’s present within us.
When we try to witness to Gods Spirit when he’s not inside us – when he’s not a real living force in our lives or when he’s diminished to the bare minimum for human life – we get fed up, bored, we fall away, and worse, we may even resent this imposition. Religion without the Holy Spirit quickly becomes a burden and even tyranny!
Sooner rather than later, our actions will always harmonize with what’s inside us.
I’ll give you an example using one of the gifts of the Spirit: Piety, or as you’d call it; Reverence.
Piety (Reverence) is a gift of the Holy Spirit which means that it doesn’t belong naturally to human nature. It’s as it says on the tin – a gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s an instinctive-like affection for God that makes us desire to worship him. Pope Francis described it as indicating “our belonging to God and our profound bond with him, a bond that brings meaning to our lives.” He said this bond is not “a duty or an imposition” but “a living relationship with the heart… our friendship with God, given by Jesus.” (Catholic World News, June 04, 2014). Where it is present religion is never boring, where it’s absent everything about religion is boring!
So, the gift of Piety (Reverence) alone, or its absence, can explain so much about our behaviour around religion, about how we witness, or don’t witness!
Fifth Sunday, B.