A few weeks ago two of our young people were confirmed. The bishop prayed with them and asked God to bless them with the gift of his Spirit. Why? Because without the gift of the Spirit we cannot live the Christian life. It is the Holy Spirit, a real person, who makes it possible for us to believe and to live as Christians. The Spirit gives us the desire to pray, to know God, and the ability to love.
No doubt most of us here were confirmed at around the same age. We probably had a day of great celebration with our families and then forgot all about it. Did you notice a profound difference in your faith afterwards? Probably not. But why not? If we have received the all-powerful Spirit of God, who was there at the beginning of creation bringing order on chaos, the same Spirit that transformed the disciples and turned them into unstoppable warriors for God, why don’t we feel a difference too? Perhaps it is because we never asked! That probably sounds silly, but I think it is really true.
Although the Holy Spirit is so powerful, He totally respects our freedom and our individuality. The Spirit is not going to force himself on us unless we ask for him to act. It is as if He waits quietly in the background until we ask him to make our faith alive. The Apostles were waiting and praying for the Spirit in the upper room. They were open to him and they were asking for this power, because Jesus had told them to. Most of us were never taught to actually personally ask the Holy Spirit ourselves to make us more alive in our faith. I think this is something we don’t emphasize enough.
When I was 19 a group of young people taught me to do just that. They taught me to really ask the Spirit to come alive inside me. And then they prayed with me that this would happen, and boy did it happen! When they prayed with me, initially nothing seemed to happen, but in the days that followed I began to notice that things were happening. I was in college at the time studying marketing. I began to have a profound desire to pray. I became aware of the Scriptures and the mass as though I had never heard them before. They were suddenly alive. It was like someone had switched on my faith. The Spirit had suddenly come alive and it changed my life. That was thirty-one years ago, but the effect never wore off, so it wasn’t just a passing phase, or just youthful enthusiasm. I say this because you don’t have to be someone extraordinary, or holy, for this to happen. All you have to do is ask, but most of us were never taught this.
God deeply desires to make us alive in every sense. ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full’ (Jn 10:10). And God will make us alive if we ask. If you wish that your faith was more alive, or that God meant more to you, then ask God’s Spirit to come alive inside you, because the Spirit is already there and is waiting for your response. Maybe you were confirmed 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago, but the Spirit is still with you and is waiting for your invitation. Perhaps you never asked. Ask God to make your faith alive.
‘What am I supposed to say?’, you may wonder. Say, ‘God make my faith alive. Holy Spirit let me know that you are real. Set me on fire with love for you.’ If you make that prayer sincerely, you will see the result and I guarantee you will see that I am not making this up.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we must love each other as he loves us. How did he love us? He spoke the truth; he challenged people; he saw the good in everyone, regardless of their background; his life was one of service and total sacrifice and God asks us to do the same. That is not easy. He tells us that this is what will mark us out as his followers. People will know that we are Christian by the way we love each other. If you go anywhere in the world and meet any community of Christians, be it a parish or small group, you will know straight away whether they are alive or not, by the way they love each other and it is a really wonderful thing to meet when you do.
But where does this strength and energy to love others come from? People can be very demanding and unreasonable, even when you try to help them. The strength to love and the ability to love comes from God. That is one of the things that the Holy Spirit gives us. It is the most important thing of all. Having the fanciest and most organised church, with every kind of facility and program you could ask for, is completely empty, unless there is love there, unless the Spirit is there. When we have the gift of God’s Spirit, we have everything and the Spirit gives us the power to love as we should, because it is too difficult by our own strength.God doesn't ask us to do this by our own strength, but by his strength.
Now let us take a moment to make that prayer. Close your eyes for a moment and listen. Pray these words in your heart if you dare:
‘Holy Spirit I believe in you. Make my faith alive. Help me believe in everything Jesus taught. Help me to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Set me on fire with love for you, so that I may live the life that Jesus calls me to live. Come Holy Spirit of God and transform me, as you will. Amen.’
‘By this love you have for one another
Everyone will know that you are my disciples.’