“When we cannot find words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words.”
Let us be silent together and ask the Holy Spirit of God to speak into our hearts and my words.
The events of last night in London have, I fear, only confirmed a growing uncertainty that I have felt since the bombing in Manchester
In the days since Manchester, we have, I think, rightly applauded those who have spoken positively and bravely of the fact that we will not be defeated and that we must be united together.
Perhaps you saw the crowds erupting as the Manchester ended his poem “because Greater Manchester gives us such strength that this is the place, we should give something back”.
In Gateshead where, as you may know, two of the victims lived we had a remarkable event at the Angel where hundreds who out of nowhere converged on the Angel of the North on Friday evening to remember the two people from Gateshead who had been killed and to release balloons and then on the way back from that gathering, listening to a young woman who had been there and had escaped. There was a real sense of coming together and of hope.
Yet I wonder – and I have been wondering even more this morning - if I have been alone in somehow feeling uncertain; uncertain about whether it is quite as easy as people seemed to say – and the events of last night in London seem only to have made me even more uncertain
It is not just that minutes before I joined the crowd at the Angel, I heard the story of a young Muslim woman who in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing had been shamefully treated in one of our local cities.
But my uncertainty is deeper than that. It is something to do with the fact that if I am honest I doubt my own ability to live my life at all times in a way that makes the world a better place for all.
St Paul in the fifth Chapter of the Epistle to Galatians you may remember has this to say: “The spirit of the truth is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
What worries me is my own inability to show forth the fruits of the spirit. In other words, what worries me is my own ability to always be loving and joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, self-controlled. In other words, what worries me is my inability to be like Jesus.
But God is good and today the Church seems to say to us, panic not help is at hand. Help is at hand because the job of the Holy Spirit is to make us more like Jesus; that is why the Holy Spirit exists. The job of the Holy Spirit is to make us loving and joyful and peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. That is why God gives to us the Holy Spirit.
So let us try and be a bit practical for a moment. When I look at that list of things being loving and joyful and patient and kind and the rest of that list, what are the areas which I find most difficult? The answer to that question of course will be different for every one of us here but in our best and most reflecting moments we will know which it is of the fruits of the spirit with which we struggle most and what the whole point about the Holy Spirit for which we thank God today is that God gives us the Holy Spirit to deal precisely with those areas of life which we find most difficult and where we are least like Jesus.
I was talking to someone the other day who was telling me how when they were quite young they had been introduced to a group of Roman Catholic Sisters through their father’s work and this woman recounted to me how one of the Sisters had said to her: “You have to be very firm with the Saints and you have to tell them exactly what it is you want.”
And I rather liked that. We need to tell God the Holy Spirit precisely and very specifically, where we want his help. We need to ask him very precisely to help us in those areas where we know that we struggle to be like Jesus.
I love that bit in the Examen of St Ignatius where Ignatius encourages us to look to the next day and to look for those areas where we are particularly going to need God’s help to show forth the fruits of the spirit and to be like Jesus and as we look to the day to pray very specifically for the graces and gifts that we need to deal with that difficult meeting or the irritating person or the situation where we find it almost impossible to keep our temper.
There is a job of work to do; to become more like Christ and the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to help us in our weakness
We have to be very firm with the Holy Spirit and tell the Spirit exactly what it is we want.
When I was working in Coventry, often on a Friday morning I would find myself standing in the ruins of the old bombed cathedral celebrating the Eucharist or leading the Coventry Litany. It was on that spot where I often stood that at Christmas 1940 just after German bombing had devastated so much of the city that the Provost broadcast to the nations the words "we want to tell the world... that with Christ born again in our hearts today, we are trying, hard as it may be, to banish all thoughts of revenge... We are going to try to make a kinder, simpler - a more Christ-child-like sort of world in the days beyond this strife."
That is the task. To play our part in building a simpler more Christ-child-like sort of world. And if I am honest, I know that that needs to begin with me and some of those really firm conversations with the Holy Spirit about how, to begin with, I can become more like Christ.