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3rd Sunday in Advent, Year B

I’ve had a very good week this week. I managed to get around the twenty or so sick parishioners who regularly receive Holy Communion from those of you who are extraordinary ministers of the sacrament. I was quite moved and inspired by them. While I brought them the sacraments, the signs of God’s love for us humans, I felt that they gave me great love, too, and love of God for that matter. When someone lives their suffering with acceptance and with trust in God, they seem to have a great serenity and dignity about them. To be with them, even for a short time, does the soul great good. They give you their own spirit of peace and goodness.

When you experience someone’s spirit like that, be it the inner strength of the sick person or that of a great leader, etc., it creates a bond between you. It gives you a deep knowledge of the person concerned. It’s the kind of knowledge which would lead you to say, “that’s what so-and-so would do” when seeing someone else act in the same way.

The Christian tradition ascribes to Jesus those opening words of today’s first reading: “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me.” In light of what I said a moment ago, you can say that Jesus received the Spirit of the Father. The image of anointing is very powerful. To anoint in Old Testament times was to pour a perfumed oil on the head of someone, letting it then fall down over the entire body. Jesus is anointed interiorly, in his whole being, by the Spirit of the Father. This is true of him in eternity, before the creation of the world; it is also true of him in his incarnation. He is conceived by the power of the Spirit from Mary; he receives a public confirmation of that when he is baptized in the Jordan; he receives the fullness of the Spirit in his flesh at the Resurrection. Then, in his turn, at Pentecost, he pours the same Spirit out, like oil, upon those who believe in him.

But there’s more. Jesus does not just receive the Spirit and give him to us. The only reason he could do that was because he first poured the Spirit back out to the Father in the act of his death on the Cross. And that pouring of himself out to the Father in the Spirit continues eternally, just as the pouring out upon us continues. The acts of Jesus have eternal value and so they are ongoing and active in every time.

Each of us has had the Holy Spirit poured out like perfumed oil into our spirits. That’s what happened to us in baptism and was confirmed in the sacrament of that name. It is the Spirit of the Father and of the Risen Son. He is poured out upon us in many other different ways and times: when we contract the sacrament of marriage or are ordained priest; when we love and forgive; when we suffer for Jesus. Wherever there is life, the Spirit is present, for He is the Lord and Giver of Life, as we say in the creed. When we are conceived in the womb, the Spirit creates each of us uniquely. The Spirit is at work in all creation. There would be no life, even in its minimal forms, without the breath of the Spirit of God.

In the previous two weeks, I’ve talked about our relationships with the Father and with Christ. We can only have those, of course, because of the Spirit. He is the One in us who makes a relationship with Christ and the Father possible. Indeed, that’s the whole purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection: so that we could be given back the Holy Spirit, lost because of original sin, and so return to full communion with God. The Spirit binds us back to God. He unbinds us from sin and self. When I receive absolution in the sacrament of confession, it is the Holy Spirit who purifies my heart and soul and infuses into me once more the life of God, what has been called sanctifying grace.

So, as St. Paul says in the second reading, we must never try to suppress the Spirit, or ignore him. Rather we should invoke him and ask him to come to us, to renew his presence and strength within us. There are many hymns and prayers to the Holy Spirit which tell us what he does for us. Think of the “Come, Holy Ghost, creator, come.” “Thou who are sevenfold in thy grace”, referring to the seven gifts of the Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord). There are many others. We speak of the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit (charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity).

The Spirit inspires us to give ourselves and to give of ourselves. Just as He has given us life because of Christ’s death, so he wants us to give life. That can be to pro-create with Him, the Creator, in the bringing of new human beings into the world. It can be to give life to anyone in need, by saying a word of encouragement or reassurance, by sharing another’s burden in compassion, etc.. We can give life to others spiritually by witnessing to Christ. Think of those words of Isaiah again: he has sent me to preach the good news to the poor, to free captives, etc.. The Spirit who anointed Jesus anoints us to do the same as Jesus, to become a person for others. Showing concern for someone else’s salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit in us.

Looking to your own interior life, it’s important to ask the Holy Spirit to help you see more clearly what’s going on in your own heart. Sometimes at work in us is not just the influence of the good Spirit, but also the influence of the bad one. St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks of the discernment of spirits, in the plural. Discernment means to examine closely, to sift and separate the different strands of influence or movement of the soul going on inside us. The example he himself gave from his own life was this. Before his conversion, when he was once in hospital, he spent time reading romantic and chivalrous novels. He enjoyed them, but later found that his mood was heavy and low. When there were no more such books, he read the lives of the saints. After reading these, his mood was more upbeat and positive. Ignatius concludes from this that focusing on worldly things allows the negative spirit to take hold, whilst attending to the things of God lifted his spirit to be joined to the Holy Spirit.

And so, in our own lives, if we stop and look at how our mood has been during the day, and ask the Spirit to help us see, we will be more able to discern the spirits at work, to see why we felt one way or the other, and to take decisions and action to remedy things for the future. To do this is to work with the Holy Spirit. It is to work for life, real and lasting life. It is to grow in intimacy with God, and ourselves to become more God-like, more spiritual. In turn, this will render us more inspired and inspiring, not for our own sake, but in service to the salvation of those around us.

Going back to the sick, I have discerned that many of them have been purified by suffering of concerns and attitudes which, alas, when we are healthy and young can often mark our spirits. That purification, like Purgatory itself, is the work of the Divine Fire of the Spirit, to the point that, when you are with the sick, the Spirit often shines through them and gives love and inspiration. The sick show forth their inner anointing by the Spirit and bring healing to those who visit them.

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