It is often said that very few are atheists when confronted with a storm at sea. The sheer force and might of the waves leave people open to the idea of a power greater than themselves. In a technological society which is becoming increasingly urbanised there is a temptation to lose contact with nature and with the earth. We have much to learn from the world of nature. In the grey days of February and March, apart from the early snowdrops and the daffodils there is little hint of life in the fields and in the hedgerows. The grey trees with dripping branches show no promise of the green foliage to come. The promise of spring has not yet arrived.
This very day the Spirit of God comes with many promises to you and to all of us but we may have little appreciation of his gifts of power, peace, love and joy which are ours to keep. Too many people today have become grey winter people with all the signs of defeat written clearly across their lives.
You have come here on this your confirmation day to accept from God his gifts of joy and generosity, the gifts of peace and inner prosperity, his gifts of wisdom and the understanding heart. You have been reading and listening to lessons on God since you first went to school and possibly before that from your own parents. You have done projects and plans on the Holy Spirit in the weeks and months leading up to this day. Now, with the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit you must bring all those words to life. I remember reading somewhere that people will wrangle for religion, they will write for it, fight for it, die for it; anything but live for it. From today the prayer of your parents, teachers, priests and Archbishop is that you bring the many gifts to a life of joy.
Even today, the Church guided by the spirit of God seems at times dispirited. Fewer people come through its doors on Sunday mornings; fewer come forward to offer their lives to the service of God in priesthood while many convents and religious houses have been sold for new apartments or supermarkets. The great prophetic voice of the Church is too often been stilled to a whisper with the deaf world waiting for words of promise and hope.
The apostles in the days following the Ascension of Christ into heaven felt lonely and vulnerable. They were a frightened bunch, for, while they had talked to Christ, were his personal friends, had eaten with him, saw his miracles and heard his promise to be with them all days, they locked themselves away and kept quiet. Jesus had told them he would send the Spirit who would open their eyes to the task that lay before them in taking his teaching to the whole world but, on the morning of Pentecost they weren’t so sure that they wanted to be driven by the Spirit to an uncertain future. It would be easier to go back to their work which Jesus had disturbed those few years ago when he called them to follow them. There would be fewer risks, it would be much safer.
Perhaps too many of us in the Church today feel the same paralysis of the frightened apostles. We feel powerless in the face of world hunger, talk of war and rumours of persecution abroad or the politeness at home which it makes it unfashionable to talk about or show interest in the faith of previous generations. Today, the words of the old testament prophet Joel come to us “I will pour out my spirit on all mankind. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young men see new visions …. Yes I will pour out my spirit in those days” (Joel 3:1-2).
On your own you will not turn around the world’s ills but with the presence of the Spirit of God you can be the mind, the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in the new world we are hoping to fashion. For too long we have relied on our own seeming strength, on security from our healthy economy. It would be sad if the Ireland of today was driven by the race to riches. The only ambition of too many young people is to get a career which seeks a shortcut to wealth. In the headlong race towards personal possessions, the lonely, the unimportant, the handicapped and the stranger among us can be overlooked and forgotten. If we live only for ourselves we can become truly dead to others. We might ask the Holy Spirit in a special way today to give us the gift of generosity. You hold no possessions in euro and cents but you have time, joy and enthusiasm and with these you can make life richer for the poor, the lonely, the stranger and those younger children who look up to you. A priest writer, Henry Nouwen, puts it simply; “Much violence is based on the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not a gift to be shared”.
At the beginning I spoke about the greyness and chill of early spring. In the great Pentecost hymn; ‘Veni Sancta Spiritus’ we ask the Holy Spirit to pour his dew on our dryness, to melt the frozen and warm the chill. To God’s people the psalms call out; “Cry out with joy to the Lord, serve the Lord with gladness, come into his presence singing for joy”. But too many of us shuffle along joyless and feel that the service of God is a burden. An English writer, H. A. Williams reminds us; “the joy which a person finds in their work and which transforms the tears and sweat of it into happiness and delight … that joy is God”.
We can buy fleeting pleasure but real joy will always be found in the service of God and our fellow men and women. This day we repeat the prayer “Come Holy Spirit renew 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 will renew the face of the earth”. In that prayer we must remember to ask that the same Spirit will renew the face and the lives of each one of us. As we pray that the Spirit would renew the face of the earth we pray to be generous in the work of conservation and to have a deep respect of the planet God gave us. We got it to improve it before handing it on to the next generation. Here we might reflect on the words of the prophet Isaiah again “Woe to you that join house to house and lay field to field ‘til there be no place” (Isaiah 5:8).
Go out from here then and make room for generosity and joy. Make room for nature to unfold, make room for all who look up to you and above all make room for God.