One of the things that I think all of us find difficult to face is anxiety and fear. Today (Acts 2:1-11) we hear how the God the Holy Spirit worked to conquer the fear that had kept the disciples meeting secretly in a locked room. From being trapped by fear, they became men and women full of courage who would now begin to spread the message of Jesus to the world. Great so far. Wonderful, to celebrate Pentecost when all this happened, what we now describe as the birthday of the Church. But when we are faced with fear, it doesn’t seem that easy to get rid of. If only it was!
Two things to say here. First of all, we must remember that the disciples, and the women with Our Lady, met “daily” for prayer, either in that Upper Room or back in Galilee, over seven long weeks till the Day of Pentecost came. So the coming of the Holy Spirit was not a sudden thing. Secondly, we know that they had the example from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on how to pray when full of fear. We now call that “the Agony in the Garden”. Jesus did not expect some magic quick-fix, and neither should we. What he did with his fear was to face it and to share it with his heavenly Father with great trouble and sorrow.
So we do not conquer fear by pretending that we are not frightened. No, it is by sharing such things with God and with others in prayer that we gradually receive the power to face it and live through it.
That word “fear” appears in our 2nd Reading too. (Romans 8:8-17) Paul speaks of the Spirit turning us from slaves full of fear into sons. And we are sons because, like Jesus in the Garden, and through him, we have been given the ability and the confidence to address God – the power underlying the Universe – beyond all our imagining – to speak to God personally, as “Abba, Father”.
But Paul thinks that we need to be freed by the Holy Spirit not just from fear, but from a lot more that enslaves us. He says that without the Holy Spirit working within us, we are slaves to all kinds of sins whether we know it or not. Now that’s language that we post-modern 21st Century people find hard to swallow. We see ourselves as basically in control of our lives, so that unless something big like sickness or death hits us, we easily do not see ourselves as needing to be freed from anything. We may talk about Jesus bringing us salvation, but most of the time we prefer to rely on ourselves rather than on God. Most of us are fairly happy with our lives, and find it hard to think that we need anyone to save us!
The advertisers view us very differently! They know just how easily desires beyond our control can make us spend our money! And they use such things without mercy to persuade us that if we are really to be happy then we need this or that object – from clothing to cars to the latest technological gadget – to make it happen. In fact they actually tap into another kind of fear, don’t they? Fear that we won’t be happy unless… we have this or that or the other. Fear that other people won’t like us or accept us unless we have the same kind of things they have. Fear of being made fun of if we do not have the most up to date mobile, or clothing or lifestyle or whatever!
God the Holy Spirit is sometimes described as the Comforter – which means the one who brings us strength and support – to face all these fears – and to live our life free from this enslavement to sin that St Paul talks about. This doesn’t mean that we cannot have new clothes or mobile phones, but it does mean that we must be open to God’s power to free us from enslavement to such things. In doing so, he is surely also opening our minds and hearts to things that are far more important – summed up by that little word “love”
If our life and our religion is just a way of propping up our own cosy little world – of making us feel a bit better – then we have surely missed the point. If we love Jesus, then as he comes to us in the Holy Spirit, he does not just release us from slavery, but, like those disciples, he sends us out in one way or another to spread his Gospel of love. That’s what Jesus says to us in our Gospel today (John 14:15-16.23-26) “If you love me you will keep my commandments” I said to a young sportsman the other day that it was good that others had found out that he was a Catholic, and to remember to make the sign of the cross every time he scores. Whatever we do, let us make sure that it is one more way of spreading God’s love, so that all we do may be to his glory.