Pentecost, a Royal Sermon and the Ordinary Power of Love.

My grandmother lived until she was 94 years old and was, until the day she died a force to be reckoned with. In the last few years of her life dementia took her independence and she moved to a retirement home. I came to visit her not long after she moved in and knowing of her strong Catholic faith I immediately asked if they had offered Mass in the nursing home and if she was able to attend. "Yes, she said with a critical tone, but I don't know if I'm going to enjoy going to Mass here, it's much more charismatic than I'm used to. Everyone was jumping around and waving their hands and shouting all over the place."  After a few more questions I realized that she had not in fact attended the Mass but that she had gone to the weekly workout class that they offered to all residents. 

We Catholics have a hard time with the Holy Spirit sometimes because there is a false assumption that to have a relationship with the Spirit you must be, for lack of a better word, an 'extroverted' worshiper. We think that to invite the Paraclete to be a part of our spiritual life means that we must be jumping up and down, waving our hands, speaking strange languages or a number of other things that we just aren't that comfortable with. We are used to the Holy Spirit showing up in scripture in big, tangible ways like wind and fire. It's easy to reduce the Holy Spirit to extraordinary circumstances and for us to overlook the Spirits presence in our own lives because of the lack of super human powers and emotions. The truth is, inviting the Holy Spirit into our lives might involve those things but it certainly doesn't require it and in reality those moments are very few and far between. The lack of the remarkable does not mean the lack of the Spirit. In fact, the presence of this advocate that Jesus has given us is much bigger and much more ordinary than that. 
Jesus returned to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit so that we could continue His mission on earth. At Baptism we are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit, completed in Confirmation, so that we can do just that; continue His mission. Jesus said we will do the works that He does and even GREATER ones than these. The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church, the acting force of the continuing of Christ's mission on earth, through us.  The Holy Spirit is love because God is love and "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Rom 5:5  

Love can indeed be remarkable. It has been the driving force for the rise and fall of kingdoms the impetus for wars, the inspiration for great literary and theatrical works and the muse of virtually every song composed throughout history. Love, like the Holy Spirit can be big and mighty and extraordinary. But also, like our concept of the Spirit, we can come to reduce the idea of love to only those mighty moments when in fact it is more likely that the majority of the time love is quite 'ordinary'. Unfortunately, because we have been so heavily influenced by the witness of the grandeur of love when it shows up in the ordinary we may be tempted to dismiss it. Love in the ordinary is hard because it is not always accompanied by big feelings or maybe any feelings at all. Love in the ordinary requires sacrifice. Love in the ordinary requires a gift of self. 

If you, like me, chose sleep over watching the Royal wedding live this morning, you may have missed perhaps the most beautiful and perplexing moment of the whole event; the sermon. Luckily for those of us who value sleeping in on Saturday morning the internet allows us to re watch this event at our leisure.  The sermon was given by the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, the presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church. For 13 surreal minutes of emotional and passionate preaching in the midst of sober Brittish decorum, Bishop Curry invited the prestigious congregation including royalty, heads of state, celebrities and a live viewing audience of millions around the world, to consider the power of love. 

"We were made by a power of love and our lives are meant to be lived in that love. There's power in love to lift us and liberate us, when nothing else will. There's power in love to show us the way to live. Love can be unselfish and sacrificial and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of love changes lives and can change this world." 

The most beautiful element of this message was that in fact, the real POWER of love is found in the 'gift of self', when love is its most ordinary. It's found in the moment of sacrifice. It's found most especially when we don't feel it, or want it but we choose it anyway. These are the quiet, ordinary moments of love that are not worthy of top billing at the box office, these moments do not win grammy awards or make their way to our 24 hour news cycle. They are the husband caring for his dying wife, the mother getting up for the 8th time in a night to feed or clean or comfort her child, the disillusioned lover staying when he really wants to walk away, the wealthy man giving when it's easier to keep, the comfortable man serving when its easier to sit and every one of us when we choose, to smile and help and be patient and listen and understand when we'd rather yell and fight and rush and overpower and take. True love is found in the gift of self.

That gift of self, without which Pope John Paul II reminds us that we "cannot find ourselves"  comes only from the gift of God's own self, the ultimate gift, the Holy Spirit. That gift too is not always, or even usually found in big, fantastic shows of power but is more commonly present in our every day faith, the ability to pray and utter the name of Jesus, the simple desire for God, the ability to show compassion, the momentum toward our ultimate call to holiness. The Holy Spirit is most present in the "ordinary" and, I think, does His best work there. The Holy Spirit is the lover, the comforter, the healer, the advocate, the provider, the giver of life. The Holy Spirit is the Saint maker.

So, if you have always found it difficult to feel close to the Holy Spirit, take comfort that to be truly 'charismatic' means that the Spirit is present with you in every ordinary way that love for God and love for neighbor presents it self to you. In fact, none of these things are possible without the Spirit. He is closer to you than you are to your very self, in every ordinary breath and word and act of love.

Spend some time today reflecting on this translation of the sequence from the liturgy of Pentecost and let the Spirit into your heart in a new way on this great feast!

Come, Holy Spirit,

send forth from heaven
the rays of thy light

Come, Father of the poor;

Come, giver of gifts,
Come, light of [our] hearts.

Oh best Comforter,

Sweet guest of the soul,
Sweet refreshment.

In Labor rest

in the heat, moderation;
in tears, solace.

O most blessed Light

fill the inmost heart
of thy faithful.

Without your spirit,

nothing is in man,
nothing that is harmless

Wash that which is sordid

water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.

Make flexible that which is rigid,

warm that which is cold,
rule that which is deviant.

Give to thy faithful,

who trust in thee
the sevenfold gifts.

Grant to us the merit of virtue,

Grant salvation at our going forth,
Grant eternal joy.
Amen. Alleluia.

(Here is a video of Bishop Curry's sermon)


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