Catechesis session at World Youth Day - Wednesday 16 July
My dear young people, welcome!
Faith is a journey and mine is no exception. Because of the secular nature of Australia, an increasing number of people live without God. My major challenge therefore is leading people to God. In one sense it is a major concern, not that the victory of Christ through His life, death, and resurrection can ever be reversed. But in another sense it does not worry me because Jesus has made available to us His incredible good news that we need to only understand deeply and communicate clearly. Yet sadly millions of people, instead of choosing the expansive vision of Jesus, have chosen instead a narrow vision of life that completely overlooks the fullness promised us by Jesus in John 10:10 when He stated He had come to bring us life, and life in its fullness. How is it that so many people for whatever reason, even if they blame the busyness of life, just don’t understand or experience the sheer excitement of faith, or tend to see religion as boring and lifeless? In no way does the excitement of Jesus’ vision exclude the Cross which lay at the centre of His own life and is a part of every life, including our own. Nevertheless Jesus promised us life not death, and the physical death we experience is merely a stepping stone to the fullness of life promised by Jesus when we meet God face to face. What you young people do so brilliantly for the Church is to show people that faith can be fun.
Christ constantly challenged His apostles and us to open our eyes to see the Kingdom of God and the new creation that He would establish by His life, death and resurrection. Both exist in our midst if only we have eyes to see. The amazing thing about Jesus is His communion with the Father and the Spirit in the loving relationship of the Trinity - Father, Son and Spirit. Imagination is needed if we wish to look beneath the surface of life and see the world that God sees. All of us live in God’s world but we need to recognise it as God recognises it. It was certainly God’s world for Jesus who looked at the world and rejoiced in the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, in each and every person especially the poor and outcast, in the children, in the criminals crucified with Him, in the oh so ordinary apostles, in the widow at the temple, in the good Samaritan, in the prodigal son. He then made it possible for his good news to be communicated in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, whose incredible mystery needs to be unravelled through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. When we celebrate Eucharist we need to imagine how gathered in the Church we are, linked to millions of others around the world, praising and worshipping God, surrounded also by the Communion of Saints including our deceased friends and relations who join us in our great act of worship praise and worship God, as they are praising and worshipping God in heaven. St Paul went even further when he saw the risen Christ present in the body of Christ, the Christian community, in ourselves. Once again we need to open our eyes to see that. Once more we need an imagination to see this incredible presence of Jesus, in the Eucharist certainly, but in ourselves as well.
Recently Pope Benedict XVI full of imagination looked at the woollen Pallium worn by Archbishops and saw a deeper meaning. He saw not just the wool of the sheep in the Pallium worn on an Archbishop’s shoulders, but he saw the Archbishop in his Pallium literally carrying his flock on his shoulders as Christ the shepherd carried his sheep. Poetry should be a part of our faith, not overlooking evil or the cross in our lives, nor neglecting evil, but at the same time seeing a superabundance of good in acts of kindness, love, forgiveness, compassion. Goodness surrounds us all the time if only we have eyes to see. At the beginning we may see only small acts of kindness. Later on more important acts of kindness. Last Sunday I walked across the road three times, and three times the drivers stopped out of courtesy. Again a simple sign of God’s Kingdom. There are a million other signs of God we should be able to see. But for the moment let us go back to our focus, that of the Holy Spirit.
It is impossible to adequately penetrate the mystery of God, the mystery of the Trinity. Just as difficult is trying to penetrate the mystery of Jesus, and the mystery of the Holy Spirit. Imagination is needed more than ever. In one sense all of us have some grasp of God the Father – the creator, God the Son – the redeemer. It is somewhat more difficult however to get a grasp of God, the Holy Spirit. When I try to do so I have recourse to the simple act of faith we say each Sunday. “I believe in the Holy Spirit – the Lord and Giver of life”. The Holy Spirit gives life to ourselves and the world, and if we can grasp that truth we have a foundation for further exploration of the Holy Spirit.
1. Go back to the chaos of the world in Genesis. The life-giving Spirit brings order out of chaos and life out of creation. From that chaos comes plant life, animal life, and finally human life.
Turn to yourself now and think, “if the Holy Spirit can bring life out of the chaos of the world, the Holy Spirit should also be able to bring life out of my chaos, no matter how hopeless I may seem to myself, or other people.
When I went to the Seminary in 1955 the Rector asked, “Why did you come here?” I answered “To save my soul”. The Rector suggested, “To save other people as well?” I agreed but only to please him. How miserable was my understanding of Christianity. What a narrow attitude I had. But who expanded my vision? Certainly not me. It was the Holy Spirit who kept asking me little questions that still continue today. My understanding of Jesus and His vision in those days was helpful but narrow. However the Holy Spirit is not restricted to little questions but to bigger ones as well such as the question “Why don’t you become a Priest”. I said “Ok, I’ll give it a go.” The reasons which brought me to the Seminary were never strong enough to keep me there. What kept me there was building a relationship with Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit and falling in love with Him. I hope I don’t sound arrogant but I do believe my expansive vision of Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit, will last until the day I die.
2. There is another image of the Spirit in Ezekiel 37:1-14. There the Spirit of God hovers over the dead bones of Israel and brings them to life. In a similar manner the Holy Spirit brings us alive also. Moreover if we remain open, it will eventually lead us to a fullness of life both now, and after death.
3. In Joel 3:1-2 God promises to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. He does that to us in many ways but especially through the Sacraments of the Church.
4. In Luke 1:35 the angel of the Lord announced the “power of the Most High”, would come upon Mary and her child would be called the “Son of God”. If only we will open our hearts to the Holy Spirit we too will literally feel the power of the Holy Spirit and great things will happen.
5. When Jesus began His public life in the Synagogue of Nazareth, Luke 4:18, he explained, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. His public life began and He brought fullness of life to the world through His life, death and resurrection. We can do great things to transform the world even with the Cross, if we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit.
6. Finally Jesus promised that on His departure He would send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles which we see happen in John 20:22 when the risen Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. This came to fullness on the day of Pentecost when the Church came to life, we might say “was born”, as Jesus had been born. It’s interesting that Mary, the mother of Jesus who gave birth to Jesus, was present also on Pentecost Sunday to assist the birth of the Church.
Despite their fear, their lack of confidence the early apostles came alive after Pentecost, ready to go out to the World with the good news. What we need to pray for from the Holy Spirit is knowledge of Jesus and His Vision. When I entered the Seminary in 1955 I knew very little about Jesus. Now through the presence of the Holy Spirit I have a much better understanding. Once we experience the fullness of life that comes from Jesus all we want to do is to tell other people about Jesus, not necessarily an in-your-face communication that might be more harmful than good, but communicating by word and example. You can do that as a priest, deacon or religious, but you can also do it through the power of the Holy Spirit as a married person, or a single person, whether working in parishes as a pastoral worker, as a lay person at the very heart of our society, or being Jesus to others in our homes and throughout our society.
Thank you once again for your presence here today. All of you are much younger than I am. That doesn’t stop each one of you from loving God and sharing your love and belief with others. Three years ago I read the words of Archbishop William Temple, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942-44. He wrote “When I pray coincidences happen. When I stop praying they cease”. Just check your own life to see the remarkable way in which God the Holy Spirit has shaped your life for the better. You will be amazed at what you find. Let me finish with the words of St Paul to the Romans 8:9.11-13, “Your interests are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made His home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to Him, and if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through His Spirit living in you.”
May God Bless You Always.
Archbishop John Bathersby