The Gift of the Spirit
Sunday, 21st May 2017
Sometimes, when we think we’re so bright and so right, we get it all wrong. Then at other times, we know things in our hearts with a deep conviction and we can’t explain how we know.
I vividly remember one time when I thought I was right and bright but got it so wrong. It was at our church at the Graan in Enniskillen many years ago. People used come there every day from far and near for confessions and blessings. One day I was very impressed by an old woman who had come the whole way from Omagh, using two buses, one from Omagh to Enniskillen and the other from Enniskillen out to the Graan. So I told her, if it would help, I could arrange a lift for her back into town. And she was very happy with that. So, when the next person came for confession, I thought I had a really bright idea. It was the old style confession box so I couldn’t see the man but he sounded very normal and when he’d made his confession, I said to him, “You know we normally ask you to say some prayers as a penance but, this evening, I wonder could you to do something practical instead?” I first checked on whether he was going into town and explained about the old lady from Omagh and asked him would he mind giving her a lift into town. Well, as I said, he seemed normal enough up to that point but then he began to stutter and stammer and eventually blurted out, “And that’s me penance?” And I said, “Well, look, you don’t have to do it, if it’s a problem. I just thought you wouldn’t mind.”
“Well, indeed, Father,” says he, “I don’t mind. Sure, I’ll do it if you want me to, but I think it’s only fair at the same time to tell you that I’m on a bike!” It had never entered my head. But I was so glad he spoke up. For everyone’s sake! Many things like that happened over the years but also many times I’ve known things in my heart with a deep conviction and didn’t know how I knew! When I read what the great Karl Rahner wrote, or Newman, I found myself thinking, “But, somehow, I’ve always known that; I’ve always felt that.” And I felt sure it was learned not from human teachers or from books but directly from God’s Spirit working within. And that’s not boasting because God’s Spirit is working in every human heart. And that’s what Jesus is promising us in the gospel to day. He will not leave us orphans; we will have the gift of his Spirit to sustain us. God’s spirit is at work in every life and every human heart, alerting us to what gives life and what doesn’t, to what is true and what is false. And when I say every human heart I mean every human heart – not just Catholic hearts or Christian hearts. As Christians, we are blessed in that we have more chance of recognising what is going on, more chance of recognising how God is leading us and educating us in the ordinary events and experiences of life. And this is not something I’ve dreamt up or invented! St Thomas Aquinas says God teaches us though grace in the depths of the human heart and mind. And Pope John Paul 2 explained it this way: “Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all, including those who have no opportunity to know the Gospel.” “In a manner known only to God”, he says, “The Spirit offers this possibility to everyone through ‘grace secretly at work’ in their hearts.” (Redemptoris Missio)