The Holy Spirit is in you BUT!

 Most of us have had some kind of Pentecost experience in our lives, probably more than one, even if we haven’t given it that name. Times when we felt the presence of God working in us in a way that we could actually feel. It may have been during times of prayer, or during Mass, or it could have been in our ordinary life when a sudden illumination, about something or someone, gave us a clear idea what God wanted, or gave us the courage or inspiration to take some decision or action that made a big difference in our lives, or in someone else’s life. Even if we didn’t immediately acknowledge that it was from God, we would say, looking back on it, “At that moment, I suddenly knew that this was the right thing to do.” And if this feeling has worked out for you as “a good purpose”, as St Paul says in our 2nd Reading, (1 Cor 12:3-13) then be assured it was the Holy Spirit working in your life.

 

Most of you will know that there are some non-Catholic Churches generally called “Charismatic or Pentecostal” that place these experiences at the heart of their worship, and try to encourage a highly-charged emotional atmosphere where Pentecostal experiences are more likely to happen.

And some of you may also say, “Why isn’t the Catholic Church more like this? Why is Mass so quiet and restrained? And why is the Catholic Church so cautious about those who claim   personal experiences of God?”

 

The first thing I would like to say in response to this is that the Catholic Church is more “charismatic” than many people realise. All over the world, there are groups of Catholics who meet to pray and sing in a more charismatic way. They also run Days of Renewal as well as residential Conferences where Catholics can go and spend time deepening their faith and their relationship with God. Ask me if you want more details.

There is also the great tradition of pilgrimages to Holy Places where again worship of a more intense and emotional kind, often with prayers for healing takes place. Finally there is our great tradition of saints, holy men and women who have had a particularly close relationship with God, often accompanied by personal visions, and healing miracles.

But, and it is a big BUT, the Catholic Church has also, in our 2000 year history, seen many many examples where people or groups have been led into all kinds of evil by such activities. Remember what I said earlier, quoting St Paul. Such things must be for a “good purpose”, and as St Paul says in the Chapter that follows, unless these activities are based in love, then they are “nothing at all.” It is a tragedy to watch good Christians being dragged into such things only to boost the ego of some personality who likes the sound of his voice and is good at playing with people’s emotions, or is using this skill to make himself a lot of money.

 

New churches are often created by such people, especially if they are supported by rich Westerners, as in South America at the moment. Here the prayer of Jesus for unity, is ignored in the desire for liveliness, and more and more different groups spring up, all of whom claim to be the true Christian church. In the Gospel of St John (20:19-23) we need to note that Jesus gives the disciples the Holy Spirit at the same time as he shares his Peace with them. Just so, St Paul speaks of the need for the Church though “made up of many parts” to also be “a single unit”.

We Catholics have seen groups like this, claiming to be the true Church, springing up over the centuries, and we have to warn people who are attracted by them to recognise the downside too. Of course the Church rejoices when anyone says “Jesus is Lord”. Yet we long for all such people to find the full understanding of that expression within the one Church. This is why the Pope John Paul II always encouraged what we call “the new Movements” within the Church and often gathered them together in Rome for great celebrations. Perhaps you have heard of Cursillo or the Neo-Catechumenates, or the Charismatic Renewal that I mentioned earlier?

 

In ordinary parishes we have to be careful about this. People respond to God in many different ways, and some people find worship that is too emotionally charged actually leaves them feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable. They may rightly point out that it can mislead people into thinking that faith is just some surface emotion. They stress the quiet ways of responding to God in silence and dignity. Finding the balance for any Parish is a difficult act… think for example of the conflict between those who like jolly noisy music with lots of hand-clapping, and those for whom that is a complete turn-off . We are all different and God’s Holy Spirit comes to us in many different ways. That is St Paul’s message to us today. Be open to God’s Holy Spirit, yes, but always so that the Church may be one body worshipping one Lord.

 

 

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Sharing God with others

Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :- If we are not careful, we can easily be seduced into thinking that the Christians of Galatia (Gals 5:16-15) were for some unexplained reason entirely given over to extravagant sexual promiscuity and other faults. I am not at all convinced that they were any worse than any other Gentile convert Christian group. It is much more likely that Paul gives this exciting list of human faults simply as a series of examples of unenlightened behaviour. He is comparing life in the Spirit with life lived according to the flesh, here sarx, the untamed natural instincts of which we are all a prey. He then goes on to give his well know list of attitudes shaped under God’s spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Paul was at pains to enable these converts to appreciate the difference between their former life and that of their baptised state, and get them to live according to its demands. Jewish Christians of course had all the benefit of the Jewish law to aid them in their daily living, but former pagans, unless they were from the elite Stoic and Epicurean groups of philosophers, did not. By and large paganism made no moral demands on its adherents, one simply offered sacrifices and life went on as normal. The whole point about Christianity was that it changed lives here and now; for those ancient converts just like us, are already members of God’s kingdom, called to live the life of godliness won for us by Christ. Pentecost is about the coming of the Holy Spirit now into the lives of believers, it is not about some vague future promise. It affirms that we are already sons and daughters of God and gives us the tools to live as such. “You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires.” In other words, we are meant to live with and for others.

This is surely too what that strange reading from Acts (2:1-11) is all about. It really is irrelevant whether the apostles could suddenly actually speak this myriad of foreign languages, or whether the ‘gift’ of tongues enables these foreigners to understand them. What the text does suggest it that the tiny Church suddenly broke through the barriers to communication and were able to get the Christian message over to a wide diversity of visitors in Jerusalem for Pentecost the spring grain harvest and one of the major Jewish festivals, which drew visitors from all over the ancient world, both within the Roman empire and far east, to areas hundreds of miles distant and under Persian and Parthian rule. Romans and others did understand the necessity for a common language. Aramaic had for centuries been the diplomatic language of the east while many in the empire spoke Greek and soldiers all learned Latin so as to understand army orders. Being able to communicate the faith, any faith, was absolutely essential if it was to spread and grow, and linguistic ability has always been at the heart of any missionary agenda. The faith is never something to be treated as a personal possession, ‘my faith’ and ‘my salvation’; it is a fundamental sign that we have grasped its meaning when we burn to communicate it to others.

This is indeed what we meet in John’s gospel, (Jn 15:26-27.16:12-15) when Jesus prepares his followers for their future life beyond his bodily presence. What is remarkable is that he does not give them a long list of do’s and don’ts. He does not lecture them on morals or even Church practice, but he does prepare them, by the gift of the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses. Jesus is aware that too much detail would clog the minds of the disciples and simply says that over time, via the Spirit of truth, they/we will gradually come to an understanding of the complete truth. Indeed, we can see that the work of the Spirit has enabled us to come to a full understanding of the nature of Jesus, two persons (one human, one divine) in one substance, (one unique being). It has enabled us to comprehend the meaning of the Trinity, and the manner in which Jesus, eternal Son, could become a human being for our salvation, ‘begotten of the Father.

If our faith is real and a driving force in our lives, there will be that compulsion within us to grow in the faith and a striving to communicate it to others too. Each of us is a bearer of the Spirit of truth, an explorer of it and its champion, taking it out into the world for the salvation of others, which is precisely why Jesus speaks of the Spirit as ‘glorifying me’ since, as a person of the Trinity present in us, it and we share with Father and Son in their life.

Homily on Godly Wisdom and Knowledge

Life for us humans is more than just living isn’t it? It is thinking &planning & imagining. It is measuring & calculating how our world works as in maths & science. It is communicating with each other & understanding each other, using speech and words, & it’s expressing ourselves in music & dance & art. All this and more makes us human, and all of this happens because God the Holy Spirit, the Life giver, is within us whether we accept his presence or not.

 

But when we Christians talk about the Holy Spirit giving us knowledge and wisdom, which is what I am going to talk about today, we mean much more than knowledge and wisdom as the world describes it, however special to us that may be. We see this in our 2nd Reading today (1 John 2:1-5) where St John makes very clear that “knowing” God is more than just knowing about God. There are, after all, many people who say they know about God, or know about the Church or the Bible. Yes, they may know lots of facts, they may even appear on the TV telling us what they know, but actually although they may know about God, they may not really know God at all. Getting to know someone is a long process isn’t it? We may start with some facts about them; but knowing another human being, and even more knowing God, is a much deeper process than that.

 

It’s also a fact that much of our communication, our transmission of knowledge, is non-verbal. Look up non-verbal communication and you will see a whole list of ways in which we do it. True knowledge therefore means a sensitivity to others that comes from caring about them at a deep level – what we Christians would call “keeping God’s commandments”.  Jesus illustrates this kind of knowledge all the time. He sees into people’s hearts and knows what they are like inside, (See John 6:64. 8:19 & 16:19) and we too are called to be like that. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to us. The disciples meet the risen Lord on the beach, and “None of (them) dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. “ (John 21:12)

 

The world sometimes calls this ability “being psychic”. Some of you may recall moments in your life when you have sensed what is going to happen, or what you should do; sensed, maybe without realising it consciously, that God was talking to you in this way.  I’m a great believer in acting on what the world calls “our instincts”. So if I sense that I should do or say something, I will do it, and quite often (though not always!) my instinct can be right. This, we must remember, is a gift of the Holy Spirit, it enhances our natural abilities, and we should ask God to help us to be more like that, and thus possess true knowledge.

 

Equally “wisdom” for the Christian does not mean worldly wisdom. The disciples knew their Bible; not as well as Jesus, of course, but they were devout Jews, and they knew their ancient stories – about God, and the great prophecies from God given through their ancestors like Jeremiah and Isaiah. Yet, like many Jews of their day, they failed to understand at a deeper level what the Bible was pointing to. Their wisdom was superficial. They failed to understand that God’s Messiah, God’s Christ, would be someone who was prepared to suffer and die, and only then to show his glory. Thus we hear in our Gospel, the risen Jesus “opening their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 26:45) And later they are given the power by the Holy Spirit not just to understand them in this new way, but to explain this to other people.

 

But the gift of wisdom doesn’t just mean being able to understand how God speaks through the Bible. St Paul makes clear how easily we can revert to thinking about our knowledge and wisdom in a worldly way. He makes this very clear when he writes to the Christians in Corinth who think themselves very wise. He points out that true Christian wisdom may appear as foolishness to the world. In a long passage at the beginning of his 1st Letter to them, (1 Cor 1:18-31) he goes on about this at some length. Let me give you just a bit of what he says to remind you For .. the cross is folly to those who are perishing (He means those who think only in worldly ways) but…. it is written,       “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. …………For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

This should remind all of us that sometimes it is the simplest thing about our faith, shared with someone else,  that can help them more than any number of clever words. Those of you who do not think of yourselves as very clever, can sometimes be more effective in communicating the Gospel than those of us who are academic. The Holy Spirit can give this true wisdom often more effectively to those who “know” less in worldly terms. So never underestimate what God can do in you. Say what you feel, and your words can sometimes convey the wisdom of God in ways that might astonish you.

St Paul puts it like this:- “Consider your call….. not many of you were wise according to worldly standards …….. but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” 

So yes the Holy Spirit can give a true and deeper wisdom and knowledge to every Christian, not just the so-called clever……… provided we allow God to work in us in this way!

Filled with the Spirit

Pope Francis went to a Football Stadium in Rome last week, and met 50,000 Italians. You might think they were all there to watch a game of football; after all, the Pope along with most Italians does love the game – although he will be supporting a different team from them in the World Cup. But no, those 50,000 Italian Catholics were actually all there to pray, and specifically to be open to the power of God the Holy Spirit in their lives. They are part of a movement in the Church called Charismatic Renewal.

“Oh dear” I hear some of you say, “Those are the happy-clappies, aren’t they – waving their hands in the air and getting all emotional – embarrassing!” Yes in speaking to them, the Pope said that at first he too was deeply suspicious of ‘charismatics”, as they are called, but that he came to realize their value to the Church, because the movement they belong to, at is best and guided by the teaching of the Church, concentrates on reminding the Church of how powerfully the Holy Spirit can work in us if we open ourselves to that power.

The word “charismatic” comes from our 2nd Reading today. (1 Cor 12:3-13) Paul writes in Greek, of course, and in Greek our word “Gift” – “There are a variety of gifts.” –  is the word “charism”. Like the Pope, and maybe some of you, I too got involved in this Renewal many years ago, because I recognized that we all need to discover, or rediscover, the truth, that when the Holy Spirit works in us, we must realize that it may enable us to do or say things that take us beyond where we are in our ordinary lives. A bit of me remains deeply sceptical of something that encourages too much emotion in people; but like the apostles at Pentecost as in our 1st Reading (Acts 2:1-11), we may all find times in our lives when the right amount of power applied by God more to our emotional side than our rational side, can be, as St Paul says, “for a good purpose”

For me, the Charisms, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit that I have been most aware of, are the Gift of Healing, and the Gift of Knowledge. I have quite often shared with you the few moments in my life when my very ordinary and everyday work as a priest, of praying for someone who is ill, has produced amazing and unexpected results. You too may have heard of such things happening, not least at places of pilgrimage like Lourdes.

This is why I offer times of healing after Sunday Mass in Eynsham twice a year, and why, I assume, so many come forward. Mostly, this just brings a sense of comfort and support, but sometimes it can do something more spectacular. The way healing works in us humans is never just physical, as all the best doctors and nurses realize. So the healing power of God works not just through all the great medical advances of the last 100 years, but is also partly a less understood work in our hearts and minds.  It is important to realize that God is at work in all aspects of the healing process, and to be open to this.

The other Gift is what is called the Gift of Knowledge. This is knowledge of God, of his presence and power and guidance in our lives. Again, this is something that I used to be very sceptical about, thinking that I should work out what to do next with the rational part of my mind, but again I have gradually become aware that using my intuition in a God-inspired way must be part of that process.

Both these things can attract people who just want to impress others and/or make money out of us. This was true in biblical times and is also true today. That’s why St Paul says it must all be done “for a good purpose.” The ways God as Holy Spirit works in us can be very mysterious, but the fruits of the Spirit must be there too – as St Paul says (Gal 5:22-23) they are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Let us always – “Think on these things.” (Phil 4:8)

 

 

 

The great leveller

Frances writes on this Sunday’s readings:- From Acts today (2:1-11) I was struck by the individuality of the giving of the Holy Spirit to each of the apostles. It wasn’t a ‘job-lot’ affair, but respected the individuality of each of them, as indeed was the effect on everyone who came into contact with them. At festival times Jerusalem was a hive of activity, its boundaries being extended temporarily to include places like Bethlehem, six miles away, in order to accommodate pilgrims, with foreign Jews and proselytes or converts and sympathisers from far and wide. Luke is at pains to stress that these people came both from inside the Roman Empire, citing those actually from Rome, and others from what we know as modern Turkey: Cappadocians, Pontians, also Arabian Jews and ones from North Africa – a reminder of Simon of Cyrene. It also including those from Parthia, Media and Elim, those whose ancestors remained behind in Babylonia when Cyrus the Persian allowed captive Jews to return to their homeland in the 6th century BC. They were part of a thriving and well educated Jewish community, which included great scholars. These latter were part of the great Parthian empire, constantly at war with Rome, and a source of enormous hostility and fear. Luke is reminding his hearers that the gospel of Christ has gone global, stretching to the end of the known earth!

In our reading from 1 Corinthians (12:3-7, 12-13)  St Paul also reminds us of the all encompassing grace of Christ, poured out by the Holy Spirit as he speaks of the ‘body of Christ’, the Church with its different ‘parts’- abilities – all working together for the spread of the faith. We tend to take this all rather for granted, but it is worth noting the revolution his teaching about Jesus caused. Jews were tolerated and given privileges in the Roman Empire because of the antiquity of their faith, and in the early days Christianity was simply a sect within Judaism. They did not worship the Emperor as everyone else did, but sacrificed bulls and goats daily in the temple for his well-being, and in consequence were protected by the state. Greeks, or rather Greek speakers from all over the empire – from the Greek mainland, from their ancient colonies all over the Mediterranean, and in some very old cities in Turkey – were often converts to Judaism or were God-Fearers. These were sympathisers with Judaism, for whom a special part of the temple was reserved, and to whom Christianity was very attractive since it did not demand full practice of the Jewish law or circumcision.

So far, so good. But the next bit of Paul was truly revolutionary in that he placed slave and citizen on the same footing! Full Roman citizenship was a prized possession, as we know from Paul’s proud boast to his Roman captors. Many, even Italians were granted ‘Latin rights’, a lesser form of legal status with protection under the law but less than full Roman citizenship. Many others would have been citizens of their many Greek cities, especially in the East, and were quite wealthy and acted as patrons of their cities, building public amenities and providing for the poor.  But there were also the millions of enslaved, some 2 million after Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, and many others; and these were the property of their owners, to be bought and sold, traded along with their owners other commercial interests. They had no rights and no protection under the law. Some might have become valued and even loved family members, if they were very lucky as tutors to the family, or were literate scribes and business transactors for their owners; but many died in ignominy in mines, on huge farming estates, or in the galleys. Some who survived could hope to be freed by their owners after many years service, and such ‘freedmen and women’ frequently undertook business on behalf of their rich patrons but were of course still ‘tied’ to former owners. We know from the Bible as such people, like Lydia in Philippi in the purple dye trade, who must have been connected to the Imperial house as such an industry was highly restricted. We hear of men like Philemon and his slave Onesimus, ‘borrowed’ by Paul for work in the faith, a highly dangerous and risky move, which could have got both of them killed.

Yet the Church gave equality to all alike; all had the promise of the same inheritance under Christ, and indeed the Church even appointed ministers irrespective of social class and position. In the late first century, Clement an early pope was the freedman of the Flavian family and close to the throne. His martyrdom coincided with the execution of his patron and former master Flavius Clement, killed for treason by his nephew Domitian; and there is a possibility that Flavius and his family were converts to Christianity. Still later the slave Marcia was the mistress of an Emperor and used her charms to help free Christians under arrest!

So what precisely did it mean when in our Gospel (John 20:19-23) Jesus gives the disciples (apostles) power to forgive or retain sins? Clearly it is not about arbitrary judgment or power, for this would be wholly opposed to the entire tenor of John’s gospel; rather, under the guidance of the Spirit, it must be about the gift of discernment given to the disciples and the Church. It’s about those corporate and individual and specific gifts of the Spirit which enable the Church to function as it should, as icon or true image, of Jesus. For us heirs to such great gifts, this must be not just our loyalty and faithfulness to doctrine, but also seen in our individual exercise of our abilities, and discernment for the good of the community, and as I have tried to show above, that might take us into some very strange  situations indeed.

Like water

It always surprises me how many people look for God in the wrong places. But then I remember that even the greatest saints have made the same mistake. St Augustine wrote in his Confessions that he had spent a long time looking for God outside himself, and only then discovered that God was actually quietly at work inside. But if God is inside us how can we distinguish God from our own thoughts and feelings?  Just occasionally we may feel God working in power, as the apostles did on the Day of Pentecost, (Acts 2:1-11) but more often God works in us like the gentle breath that we just heard Jesus giving them in our Gospel.  (John 20:19-23) The problem with a gentle breath is that we can’t really feel it, and therefore all too easily can assume it isn’t there.

No, most of us prefer to think that God should always be like a great and powerful wind coming in strength to help us when a great emergency arises. And many of us can describe moments like that, when we have suddenly felt an immense surge of love or energy within us and thanked God for being there. But even in situations like this, the sceptics among us will ask how we know that this is God. “Surely you realise” they say “That all you were experiencing was a rush of adrenalin, and where is God in that?”  We may reply, “But I really felt something”, only to be told “It’s all in the mind you know, nothing more!”

What is wrong with such critics, and not just with them, because we can have these questionings too, is that they are thinking about God in the wrong way. Surely, if God is the Creator of all things, as we believe, then the obvious way God will work in us is through our natural bodies? Yes, it may well be adrenalin that gives us sudden power in emergencies, but how else would we expect God to work except through our adrenalin?  Yes, we may well cope with illness or a work or family problem by thinking it through in a new way – the power of our minds to change the way we do things is amazing – but surely that is the way we should expect God to work.

But if the Holy Spirit does work this way, and that is certainly what we Christians believe, then how can we say that anything we do is actually us doing it? If all the good things we do, whether in a crisis or in day to day life, are the work of God, what part are we playing? Have we just been turned by this theory into some kind of  puppet totally at the mercy of God the puppet-master pulling the strings?

The answer, I think, lies in another of the great images that we use to describe the Holy Spirit. Wind or breath was the one I mentioned at the beginning ; the other is water. St Cyril of Jerusalem was probably the first to write about this back in the 4thC. He said, :-  “Water comes down.. as rain : water always comes down in the same form, yet its effects are many… For the rain does not change, coming down now as one thing and now as another, but it adapts itself to the nature of the things which receive it, and it becomes what is appropriate to each.” We now know, what Cyril didn’t know, that we humans are largely made of water, but we don’t say therefore that what we do is simply due to the water working within us. The water becomes us. It makes us what we are. And that’s exactly what we believe God does for us too. In effect the freedom that we have to make choices and decisions in life, and the freedom to act with courage or love in crisis situations, is the gift of God. It is his creative power that makes each of us able to acts independently in one way or another.

There are times when all of us long for God to be like a magician or a puppet-master, making everything better by a wave of his wand or the pull of a string. Too often our prayers tend to be like that, and “Please God help me” is simply a demand for a quick fix to put everything right!  But God just isn’t like that. So although he works in all things and through all things, he does so by working in and through the natural world that he has created. As my mother often used to say “God helps those who help themselves.”

This does not mean that we will not experience God at times as a power actually changing things for us. The apostles at Pentecost were certainly changed by their experience – from frightened men hiding behind locked doors to the great heroes of the Church that in the power of Jesus changed the world. “It was all in their minds” says the sceptic. “Well yes, and yet no”, we reply. Sometimes we need to feel God’s power as external to us, and so that is the way he will work. As we heard in our 2nd Reading today (1 Cor 12) God works in all sorts of different ways in different people, but it is always the same Spirit. That is surely the wonder and the mystery of God.

The Geography of Pentecost

Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :- We have a tendency to read a passage such as Acts, (2:1-11) in rather a ‘flat’ way, a limited and limiting way and do not thereby allow it to speak to us beyond a very literal meaning which was never the intention of early writers. This is usually then taken to mean that the apostles received the Spirit and were able to speak in ‘tongues’ and many have their own interpretation as to what that means; Charismatic’s being the most narrow interpreters of all. Yet, when we allow the text to speak beyond its narrow confines suddenly we are truly opened to the import of the power of the Holy Spirit working in the Church and when we do this we can see the Pentecost event not as some far distant phenomenon, but close and personal to us too.

I think that the truly ‘mind-blowing’ thing about our Pentecost passage from Acts unfolds as we let our knowledge of the time and geographical significance feed our understanding. For Luke, writing probably in the 80’s AD reflects on the traversing of huge land masses – three continents, Europe, Africa and Asia. He records the taking of the Christian faith way out beyond the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire, to Mesopotamia; to the great enemies of first century Rome, the Parthians of Iran and Iraq; places Rome would never conquer. He speaks of places dragged kicking and screaming into the Empire in the last century BC, Pontus, whose king Mithradates made a plausible attempt to bring down the Empire and whose family had contacts over the Black Sea to what is now the Ukraine and east into Armenia, the very first Christian state. St Paul, as we know had worked as a missionary in the Roman conquered provinces of Asia, Pamphylia, Phrygia, Cappadocia, so there we get hints of the first missionaries, but who did the work of the second and third generation Christians? We know that Titus was an early bishop on Crete and a friend of Paul and have hints of workers in Colossae and the LycusValley of Asia. Yet Acts gives us a picture of the spread of the faith over some 40 odd years and an insight into unknown missionaries in North Africa; to Libya and Cyrene and others clearly went into Roman Arabia. Tradition has it that St Thomas sailed to India, doubtless using the trading vessels which used the Trade Winds which had enabled Rome to trade in Chinese silks and Indian spices for over 100 years. What Luke is saying is that despite the small numbers of Christians involved Christianity had by the late first century gone global; achieving what the might of Rome failed to do!

If we can for a moment allow ourselves to dwell on this truly remarkable feat we can see the significance of this outwardly mobile missionary endeavour and get a sense of the enthusiasm of those early workers for the faith. What is more, Acts gives us a further insight into their zeal, for it speaks of the missionaries learning the languages of the locals. Granted, many would have spoken Greek, and in the East, many had Aramaic as they had for thousands of years. Yet our texts speak of them fluent in the local dialects of this veritable Cook’s Tour. The implications are clearly pointing to the dedication of our early missionaries. Here then we see the practical way in which they both received the Spirit and responded to its call.

Our second reading, Romans (8:8-17), speaks of the significance of ‘spiritual’ men and our gospel, John, (14:15-16; 23-26), of what love means. This is the love between Father and Son and us. It speaks of our ‘keeping the Father’s word’. From our developing exploration of Pentecost in Acts we can begin to realise what that means in real and practical ways, it’s about taking the faith out to others and giving ourselves over to them for the sake of the gospel.