In that upper room, some power transcends the physical space of that room but also the space of their humanity; it penetrates their souls and they become brave, filled with light and power, ready to go out, to fling open the locked doors and to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the one whom the Jewish people had been awaiting.
On Saturday I attended the Diocesan Council for Ministry with Young People (DCMYP), in the upper room of the McAuley Building at the Hamilton offices. Fr Dom Carrigan attends these meetings in his capacity as a University Chaplain. The meeting began with Fr Dom praying the Sequence Prayer from the Feast of Pentecost. His voice and rhyme, being in the upper room and sitting with those on this Council filled me with some of the power of what the first disciples encountered on that first day of Pentecost. It was pretty awesome, after what had been a relatively hard week.
I include the words of the Sequence as part of my message for you to ponder and pray during this week:
Sequence — Veni, Sancte Spiritus
Ascribed to Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 1228)
Holy Spirit, Lord of Light,
From the clear celestial height.
Thy pure beaming radiance give.
Come, thou Father of the poor,
Come, with treasures which endure;
Come, thou Light of all that live!
Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul's delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow.
Thou in toil art comfort sweet;
Pleasant coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
Light immortal, Light divine,
Visit thou these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill.
If thou take thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay;
All his good is turned to ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour thy dew,
Wash the stains of guilt away.
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
Thou, on us who evermore
Thee confess and thee adore,
With thy sevenfold gifts descend.
Give us comfort when we die;
Give us life with thee on high;
Give us joys that never end.
I feel that this pertains not only to us as individuals, but also to us as a body of people, called the church.
Bishop Bill has been ‘doing the rounds’ of parishes confirming many children. I commented to him the other day that his hands must be feeling smooth and smelling beautiful. Apart from that practical aspect of the sacrament of confirmation, I wonder if the hearts of our children are being touched by the Holy Spirit, but more significantly whether their parents’ hearts are being moved to hear the call to be disciples.
Last week, on the Feast of the Ascension, we heard the great commission from the Gospel of Matthew (28:16-20) – go, make disciples, baptise and teach. In this week’s Gospel of John (Jn 20:19-23), the disciples of Jesus are transformed when they receive the Holy Spirit. They burst open the doors of the upper room and begin to proclaim Jesus. When Jesus enters into the room, he begins by saying “Peace be with you” which is translated from the Hebrew, Shalom aleikhem. After granting them peace, he commissions them to go out, and he breathes on them, the ruah of God, God’s breath or spirit. They catch this breath of God, and are transformed to make the love of God, in Jesus, known to the world. In contemplative prayer, we are invited to experience this breath of God, breathing in and out.
I had not recognised that Pentecost, meaning the fiftieth day, comes after seven weeks of seven days. There we have that sacred number of seven appearing twice in the time that leads up to Pentecost, the blessing of the harvest. Could we even begin to imagine the great gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-3) continually being poured on us, our church, our community, our nation and indeed our whole world? The gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel (right judgement), fortitude (courage), knowledge, piety (reverence), and fear of the Lord (awe and wonder). And, is it possible for us to imagine that the fruits of the Spirit (from Galatians) would also be apparent in all those we encounter, and who encounter us - love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
‘Peace be with you’ − we are born for this, and yet we find ourselves struggling with what seems to be a barrage of violence and the great grief that follows. Let’s not become immune to the impact that the randomness of terrorism is having on us. Humans are created for tenderness and compassion, not for hatred and fear.
Bishop Mark Edwards, an Auxiliary Bishop from Melbourne, recently spoke at the Catholic Schools Principals Conference. He spoke about our living at a time of change of an era, not an era of change. We are living in the space between two eras - in rites of passage, this is referred to as the liminal space, a space of not being one or the other, a space of unknowing but a space of exploring and becoming. Those who are engaged to be married are in such a liminal space, the space in-between being single and being a couple. He indicated that Christianity has experienced two other eras:
- 311CE (AD) marked the end of an era when Christians were being a persecuted people, to an era when Christianity was enforced as a state religion
- The Protestant Reformation from 1517 marked the change of an era of a single Christendom to an era of multiple Christendoms
And now, this current phase marks the change from the era of Christendoms to the secular age (the fourth era).
We have no experience of what it means to live in this liminal space and we do not know how long it will last. We do know that God is with us as we explore this new world. We are the midwives of this new world, the ones who are assisting in giving birth to this new life. Therefore we are not to despair, we are not to stay behind locked doors because we are called to be pilgrims, to journey with each other and to create the new world order.
To assist us with this midwifery, there is a great many opportunities provided for everyone. I attended some of the Family Faith Forum on Saturday. While there were only about 30 people in attendance, those who were there were re-energised to go back out into the mission field of their parishes. On Monday night, the young people are attending Pints with Purpose at a hotel in Hamilton where a speaker will join with them in conversation. On Wednesday night, I hope lots of us with gather at the Ukrainian Church at Adamstown for an Ecumenical and Interfaith conversation about Eastern and Western Christianity. This is part of a series of conversations open to anyone who wishes to explore and understand other faith traditions and variants of Christianity. On Thursday and Friday nights, many people will gather at the Civic Theatre to enjoy DioSounds, performed by students from many of our Catholic Schools. Everyone is always welcomed, and by choosing not to come to some or all of what is on offer is to miss the opportunity to dialogue with another and possibly contribute to the bigger conversation which is required when living in the space between two eras.
The Holy Spirit is working hard to create opportunities for us to engage, imagine and be creative. Please be brave enough and bold enough to come out from behind those closed doors and burst out into the world with confidence and with faith.
Last Tuesday about 120 of Bishop’s staff from across the Chancery, the Catholic Schools Office and CatholicCare Social Services ventured out on the Bishop Murray Pilgrimage from Morpeth to Maitland, walking the 15km route that Bishop James Murray took when he arrived in the diocese in 1866. The theme of the yearly Bishop’s Staff Days is Introduction, Information and Inspiration. Bishop’s staff walked, talked, ate, and listened to our early history, mostly Catholic, at specific stops along the route. It was a splendid day of connecting to each other’s story and our own heritage.
I finish this week’s message with a prayer to the Holy Spirit with which many of you are familiar:
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 You shall renew the face of the earth.