Sunday, May 5, 2013

being open to the Holy Spirit

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our reading today from the Acts of the Apostles we have the famous story of St Paul's vision of the man of Macedonia, crying out to him for help. It is a story that should resonate with us here in Ireland, reminiscent as it is of the story of St Patrick's vision which resulted in his coming to Ireland to bring the faith to this land, which he records in his own writings. St Paul's response to the vision is instant: 'we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia to proclaim the good news there' writes St Paul's chronicler and sometime companion, St Luke.

Now if you know your Bible you'll know that when they got off the boat in Macedonia, there wasn't a cheering crowd waiting with a brass band playing. And as an aside, I should remind you that all Christians should be reading their Bibles on a regular basis – and by regular I mean daily if possible, but if not then certainly several times a week. 

The Bible is one of the touchstones of our faith; not to know it is not to know something essential of the faith. And to read it prayerfully and regularly conveys immense spiritual benefits. And it should go without saying that all Christian homes should have a copy of the Bible in them. If you do not have one in yours, then I urge to get one. The Cathedral bookshop in the city has a variety of good, modern language translations available for only a few Euro; and if you're worried about parking, then you'll be glad to know that the car-park across the road is free for the first hour; which is more than enough time to to walk over, browse unhurriedly, make your selection, and get back. And if you genuinely either can not afford one or are otherwise unable to acquire one, then speak to me and we'll sort it out.

Sorry. Rant over. As I was saying, Paul and Luke did not receive a rapturous welcome when they arrived in the Macedonian city of Phillippi. Indeed, it seems as if it took a number of days before they even managed to get started talking to anybody about the faith! They did have an initial good response when they met Lydia, who along with her whole household converted and was baptised. But not long after that they were both set upon by a crowed, dragged before the authorities, arrested, given a severe flogging, and cast into prison for the exorcism of a slave girl. The point is, there was no obvious reason for Paul and Luke to be in Macedonia; there was no 'public demand' to use a modern phrase. If St Paul had commissioned a market researcher to do a poll, the advise would undoubtedly have been to 'stay where you are guys.'

So why did they go? They went because St Paul was open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit … the same Holy Spirit that we hear about in our Gospel reading, that Christ himself promises that we will receive, and who 'will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.' Paul let his actions be guided by the Holy Spirit. If it got him into trouble and caused him real physical suffering, that was a price he was willing to pay. It is, of course, something we must also be willing to do.

Now you might say, it is all very well for someone like St Paul to allow himself to be guided by the Holy Spirit. He was a great saint. Not an ordinary 'Joe' or 'Joan' like us. How do we know when we are being guided by the Holy Spirit or just following our own sinful desires and dressing it up as divine inspiration? 

Well I think we may look to the example of St Paul for an answer. When he had a vision looking for help in Macedonia, he responded by going there and preaching the good news. He responded by freeing a girl from her oppression, despite the personal cost. He responded by baptising as Christ commanded, bringing the sacraments to those who needed them. He preached the word, fought evil, & administered the sacraments. 

In other words, his response was guided by scripture and the teaching of the Church. Which means that if we are to be guided also, if we are to be open to the promptings of the Spirit, a good place to start is with prayer, the prayerful reading of scripture, and the reverent study of the teachings of the Church. Being here today is a good start: I pray that it will bear fruit for you all, for the good of the world & the greater glory of God & his Church. Amen.

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