How many of you know what you were doing during the evening of April 17th of this year?
If I told you that April 17th was a Thursday night this might help a bit, but if I added the word, Holy in front of Thursday that would assist some of you because on Thursday April 17th about 1,000 of you were here at St. Patrick’s for the first night of the Easter Triduum.
The gospel for that mass of the Lord’s Supper was from John, and we found ourselves with the disciples in what has come to be known as the “Upper Room.”
In a little over seven weeks, we have experienced gospel stories that saw Jesus wash the feet of his disciples, and leave us the nourishment of his Body and Blood. Our Lord was arrested, suffered and was crucified and died on a cross, and He rose again on the third day.
Last week, we heard the story of how Jesus had gathered the disciples on the mountain, and ascended into heaven. He made a final promise to them, and us, when he said; “I am with you always, until the end of the age. “
What did the disciples do following the Ascension?
Filled with uncertainty and fear they once again return to the Upper Room.In other words, it would seem that we are back to where we started on that chilly Holy Thursday evening.
Jesus knew his followers would need an Advocate. He promised one and on Pentecost, the advocate arrives in the third person of the Trinity- the Holy Spirit.
It is believed that on this Pentecost day, filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the disciples left the Upper Room, and the world has never been the same.
What are these gifts of the Holy Spirit?
It turns out that this is not a simple question. Over the years’ scholars and others have debated this point and as near as I can tell most who have studied the question say there are 7, while others argue for 9 and one suggested there are as many as 20 gifts of the Holy Spirit. They go by different names and have many interpretations.
As Catholics, we believe these gifts are given to us through the sacraments and in a special way in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders.
One curious thing about our God is that he gives these gifts freely, and he leaves it up to us as to how and when, or even if we use them.
It can all be a bit confusing. For today’s homily, I have decided to go with the gifts mentioned in the Sacrament of Confirmation, and I have placed these 7 gifts into 3 gift baskets.
The first basket has four gifts in it, which are given to us by the Holy Spirit to help us to know that we are all the children of a God who loves us unconditionally.
Let us call this first basket the gift of the Word.
The sacred writings are the gift of knowledge.
The gift of understanding allows us to read this good news in the way God meant it to be read. It is our guide and invitation to transform our lives and the lives of those we meet.
The gift of right judgement helps us to live according to this Good News.
And the gift of wisdom implies that in time, we will learn from our mistakes, and we can get even closer to living following the teachings of Jesus.
The Second Basket I call the “WOW” basket.
There are two gifts in this bundle, and they can be fully utilized when we believe in our hearts that the creator of the universe also created us, and our God knows and loves us each, just as we are.
Acceptance of this fact allows us to fully and faithfully utilize the gift of piety. This is possible because we allow ourselves to immerse our souls in the gift of Wonder and Awe.
The final basket has only one item in it. This single gift, however, enables all the others to come fully to life. This is the gift of Courage.
The disciples hid themselves away behind locked doors out of fear. They felt safe perhaps even comfortable in that Upper Room.
For many of us, this church here at St. Patrick’s is our Upper Room as it should be, but we cannot stay here exclusively and be true to our calling as followers of Christ.
I experienced a real story of courage a few weeks back. I was presiding at a funeral service at a local funeral home as a young man was being remembered by his family and friends.
John was born with a number of challenges. His health meant that he would never be able to run fast or jump as high as the other kids. He looked different, and he was teased about it by many in his own age group.
Over the course of the hour or so that we were together at the service, I got a good picture of this young man whom I never met in life.
Thirty years after graduating High School ten of his best friends showed up for his service. His brother, cousin and two of his high school buddies shared many things about John’s life, but one theme kept coming through.
It was John’s courage that amazed those who knew him best. He was not bitter about the bad hand life had dealt him instead he made it his life’s mission to bring laughter and joy to others. Even though he faced many challenges, he pushed forward.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit come alive when we move forward even when we are terrified. Courage it turns out is only required when we are afraid.
Perhaps you are a young person like John, who is being bullied by others. Use the gift of courage with the knowledge that no matter how difficult things get you are loved by God. One challenge presented in the gospel is that we are called to love our enemies. Hard to love the bully and perhaps frightening, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, it is possible.
Perhaps you are here today, and you are the bully or part of a group that has picked out someone who is different to torment. You will need to find the courage to change or to leave this group of so-called friends. You must risk becoming the one who is bullied (persecuted) because you have decided to follow the teachings of Jesus.
At the other end of the demographic scale are those of us entering the final phase of our lives- perhaps you are old enough to be a grandparent. The gift of courage is required to accept that things are changing in our lives. The Holy Spirit is with us to help us to focus on what we can do for others rather than spending our remaining time on this earth in bitterness, lamenting what we can no longer accomplish.
Then there are those here today in the middle, who are the so-called sandwich generation. There are kids on one side, aging parents on the other and a whole lot of activity in the middle.
The gift of courage is required to be open to transforming our lives and making Christ the centre of our family, work and personal lives.
To accomplish such a transformation requires a person to be fully open to exploring and then using all the gifts freely given to us by the Holy Spirit. We need to read and understand the Joy of the Gospels. We can then decide to use our right judgement to live our lives based on that understanding. Since we will make mistakes, we must ask for and accept forgiveness realizing that wisdom comes through experience.
We will know this transformation is taking place when we allow ourselves to stand in humble piety, which leads to wonder and awe at the fact that we are loved unconditionally by our God.
Finally, with these gifts in hand, we pray to the Holy Spirit that we will find the courage to “Go in Peace and to glorify the Lord by our lives.”