homily – May 11

John 20:19-23

Many of the thoughts in this sermon come from an article by Fr. Ron Rolheiser published recently in the Register.

Can you remember what life in the church was like about 50 years ago? We were a pretty cohesive community. If you are new comers to Canada, remember how your faith community back home was like. If you come from a country where Catholics were a minority, you pretty well stuck together and supported one another in your faith.

But here in Canada – in the good old days – we lived in a culture within which faith and religion were part of the very fabric of our lives and by and large the culture helped carry the faith. No matter what your denomination, everyone went to church on Sunday. Sunday shopping wasn’t part of the scene. You had to be pretty brave and bold not to go to Mass or Sunday service on a Sunday. I went through school with a kid named Gordon Henderson – he was different. First of all he called his parents by their first names – not done. In Lent were we all expected to give up candy and movies. Not Gordon. He never missed a Saturday at the Mayfair theatre on Waterloo Street. We all waited for him to be struck dead. He never was.

But in those days confession on Saturday, Mass on Sunday, fish on Friday, family rosary, daily Mass and fasting in Lent, these were things we just did. Everyone else was doing them too.

We all know things are quite different today. Have you ever seen a Catholic friend give you a strange look when they find out you go to Mass quite regularly? In the past it took a lot of guts to miss Mass on Sunday – it would be noticed. Today it takes a strong inner-anchored act of faith to come to Mass on a Sunday. God bless you for being here.

The truth of the matter is, all that moral support that sustained us in years past is gone. Our culture no longer carries the faith and the church and the teachings of the church, especially as regards the dignity and sanctity of life in all it stages. The days and the times are gone when we lived in a community where most believed, went to church and shared the same moral values. This is now true of Catholics and other Christian denominations. Without that community support there are times when we can feel like the ‘lonely little petunia in the onion patch.’ Maybe in those good old days we never gave much thought to what we did or why we did it. We just went with the flow. But there was a sense of security in that flow.

Rita MacNeil has a great song, “You’re flying on your own.” That’s pretty much where we are these days, as individuals and as a community. We have to rely on our own resources, our own sense of commitment.

Our resources are bolstered by our main resource – the Holy Spirit, whose feast we celebrate today. Without the Spirit the early church could never have survived. The first followers of Jesus were ostracized by their families and faith communities, they were seen as betrayers of their traditions, suspected of strange beliefs and weird rituals. Because of their faith in Jesus they had nothing in common with the values and morals of the times. They certainly were flying on their own, but the wind beneath their wings was the ‘gusting’ of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gave them the courage and fortitude to profess and live their new found faith even to the point of death. The Spirit gave them the wisdom not to second guess their commitment to the Risen Christ. The Spirit gave them the understanding and counsel to discern how to live their Christian lives among people who could not comprehend their beliefs and way of life.

It is that same Spirit who offers us an inner strength and meaning that is rooted in something beyond what the world thinks and what the majority is doing. The Spirit will help us hold on to the conviction that right is right if no one is doing it, and wrong is wrong if everyone is doing it.

As Fr. Rolheiser says, “To be committed believers today – to have faith truly inform our lives requires finding an inner anchor beyond the support and security we find in being part of the believing majority wherein we have the comfort of knowing that, since everyone else is doing this, it probably makes sense. Many of us now live in situations where to believe in God and church is to find ourselves without support of the majority and at times without the support of those closest to us – family friends and collogues”. Can you relate to his observation? I can.

In our personal struggles to live our lives as Christians we need the support of one another. It is the Holy Spirit who binds us together, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us that attitude of gratitude which makes us grateful for all the gifts with which our lives are blessed, it is the Holy Spirit who brings us together today to praise and thank God for the blessings of our lives, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the conviction and courage to live as fully as we can the life to which we are called even when we may feel we are flying on or own.

As we continue to celebrate this feast of the Holy Spirit we pray for ourselves and for each other that every day our lives we keep our minds and hearts open to the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit forms us into the likeness of Christ.