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On fire or burnt out?

Sunday, May 15, 2016
Do you feel on fire with faith, or a little burnt out? If the latter, perhaps we can find hope in the events that we celebrate today. 

Recently I have begun to think of Pentecost through the imagery of a harmony of wills, God’s and ours. Often in life we can sense a tension between what we think God wants of and for us, and how we are actually living out our lives. We can feel frustrated, tense, restless, disconnected with those around us, and with God. Rather than being icons in the world of God’s loving-unified presence, we come across more as divided-selves, lost sheep without a shepherd meandering blindly through life.

To some extent the disciples must have felt elements of this before they had seen the risen Lord. We know in John’s Gospel that Simon Peter and some of the other disciples went fishing, but caught nothing. How frustrated and tired they must have felt to have this experience on top of losing their Lord. Or on the road to Emmaus, having not believed the testimony of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James: a sense of loneliness and hopelessness must have overshadowed them. 

Pentecost presents us with a different image. We celebrate on Pentecost the giving by Christ of the Holy Spirit, traditionally marking the birth of the Church. Far from being disconnected and isolated, the Apostles, we are told, had been gathered in the upper room to replenish the apostolic college after the demise of Judas. The Apostles were united in wanting to continue what Christ had begun, namely, the gathering in of the nations to Himself, and so united together in heart and mind, selected Matthias to help in this task.  

We are told that the Apostles were gathered ‘in one place’. We know that they were together in the upper room. However, I want to suggest that we could perhaps interpret their being in one place in terms of will and belief. Their being gathered in that place having selected a successor to Judas indicates a common assent to the mission of Christ. They were ready and willing to carry out his mission.

It is in this context that the Holy Spirit is given to them. Hearts which were opened, and wills which had been inclined to God’s by the quiet workings of the Holy Spirit over time, as if a unified garment of will had been sewn together with the separate threads of distinct wills, meant the Apostles were now fertile ground for experiencing the full blossoming of the fiery power of the Holy Spirit. This wave of sanctifying grace strengthened what the Apostles had already received from God, and equipped them with the necessary tools for carrying out the work of God. 

Called, empowered, and sent. This was the case with the Apostles, and it is the case for us too as believers in Christ Jesus, and as members of his one, unified, Mystical Body. It is all the working of the Holy Spirit. Like the Apostles, in order to be on fire with faith, I want to suggest that we have to will it. We cannot have faith of our own accord, for it is not ours to give. But knowing it is the Holy Spirit which quietly works within us in cooperation with our wills to open us more and more to the will of God, by praying and eagerly desiring to live a life imbued with grace, we can be sure to experience that dunamis, that power of the Holy Spirit, which the Apostles experienced on Pentecost, that great event which we celebrate with joy on this day.

Br Joseph Bailham O.P.

Br Joseph Bailham O.P.

Br Joseph Bailham is a deacon working in the parish of Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Dominic, London | joseph.bailham@english.op.org


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