Filled with Spirit

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Pentecost Sunday, 2012

Would you like to get drunk?

I’m not a pub person. It continually amazes me that so many people enjoy going into an atmosphere which is filled with music so loud you can’t hear each other speak, where people drink until they lose so many inhibitions they say and do things they regret, and which, until the anti-smoking laws were passed, was filled with acrid smoke.

Yet… pubs and clubs thrive, and they thrive because people want to go there. There are lots of good reasons: you can meet your friends, express yourself through dancing or karaoke, enjoy a drink or two, and the effect of alcohol might help you drop the mask you usually wear and let the real “you” emerge. As long as you only get “singing drunk”, not “fighting drunk”, and the designated driver takes you home, no harm is done.

When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost, they did not keep quiet. They proclaimed the message of Jesus in the presence of a huge crowd, who heard them speaking in many different languages. Because of the babble of tongues and the enthusiasm of the apostles, some of the listeners accused them of being drunk. “No we’re not,” said St Peter, “it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning!”

But they looked drunk. And I wonder whether what the apostles had that day held the same attraction as the pubs and clubs of our own age. I think the Apostles looked happy – no, more than happy, radiant with joy. Despite their exuberant behaviour, there was something so attractive about them that many in the crowd of onlookers wanted to be part of what was going on. Through the power of God, they had shed those inhibitions which held them back from being the people of faith which God was calling them to be.

“When the Spirit comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father,” said Jesus, “you too will be witnesses.” Both through the word that they preached and the joy which they radiated, the Apostles showed forth the Good News of Jesus Christ. And this was also the experience of Christians in the fourth century, when Saint Ambrose of Milan and Saint Cyril of Jerusalem could write about the “sober intoxication of the Spirit”.

What about us? When we leave this church building this morning, will we look like we’ve spent an hour having a good time – doing something that we want others to come and join? It’s easy to become cynical about our Church, jaded at doing the “same old same old” time and time again. So let’s resist that, and remember that we are a church of good news. For instance…

  • Last month, in Ilfracombe, 1500 Catholics gathered to enjoy their faith at the week-long Celebrate Conference. Nearly half the participants were under the age of 18, they spent a week being Catholic and loving it!
  • When I visited Washington DC last year, a poster in the presbytery showed that there were over 60 men in seminary for the Archdiocese of Washington (and it had their pictures to prove it) – that was more than the total number of diocesan priests active in the same diocese. (Here in Cardiff, we have 5 seminarians, compared to 37 active diocesan priests.) Washington DC might not be a place you’d expect to be a hotbed of vocations to the priesthood, but it’s happening!
  • Across the world, our church is growing – in Africa and south-east Asia. We may be painfully aware of decline in Europe, but in many parts of the world, people are becoming Catholics with great enthusiasm.
  • In Johannesburg, South Africa, there’s a church they call the “lemon squeezer”. Apparently its Sunday evening Youth Mass is such a vibrant experience that it’s listed in the local press as one of the top 1o attractions to see while you’re in town!
  • Last year, the only Catholic cabinet minister in Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed for standing up the rights of religious minorities in a Muslim country. Although tragic, this is also a good news story – of a man martyred for having the convictions of his faith.

What about our own parish? This month, four young people from our parish chose to be confirmed. That’s good news. We have a thriving SVP who have launched the Sunday Café project, and we are actively participating in our local Foodbank. We have a two small faith-sharing groups meeting on Mondays and a prayer group on Thursdays. So while we do see some other parish activities shrinking or ceasing, there’s much to celebrate in the life of our own community, too. All of these good works are signs of a community infected by love. Our good works are excellent – but they are only half of what we are about as a Christian parish. The other half is what we are doing here, now, on Sunday morning.

We are called to be witnesses. When we walk out of this church just after 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning, we should look happier than anyone who’s just finished a session at the best pub or club in Pontypridd. Not by putting on a face, but because we have truly enjoyed our worship this morning. For the psalm, we have all sung: “Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!” God wants to begin with each one of us. We are invited to taste a spirit stronger than any liquor which can be brewed. When we are filled with this spirit, we will lose our inhibitions about how to behave in church. If we have sinned, we will know that we are the forgiven children of a prodigious father. If the preacher tells a joke, we will have no worries about laughing, for we know God approves of happiness in his house. When it is time to sing, we will sing our hearts out for the God who loves us, because we know He is worth it.

The best advert for the Church is a happy Christian. It’s been said that although millions of Christians pour out of church doors every Sunday, they “don’t look very saved”. So let us rejoice that God has forgiven our sins. Let us give thanks that God sent His Son at Easter, making the sacrifice which we celebrate every Sunday. And let us rejoice at the gift of the Holy Spirit, given at Pentecost, so that we, gathered around God’s altar, can be the happiest people on Earth.

Do you want to get drunk? Open your heart, lose your inhibitions, and ask God to plant his Holy Spirit firmly within. It is the Spirit of the God who loves you, and no harm can come of this, for what the Spirit brings is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!