Behold, I do a new thing!

CCRW-roundel

Homily given at morning Mass at the Revival Weekend Conference run by the National Service Committee for Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Wales. (The Gospel of the day was the Parable of the Talents.)

Today, 31st August, the Catholic Church in England has the option of celebrating “Saint Aidan and all the Saints of Lindisfarne”. I’m going to borrow that feast for use in Wales as a celebration not only of Lindisfarne but of all our Celtic saints.

Lindisfarne is an island off the coast of Northumbria, where St Aidan founded a monastery at the invitation of the local king, Oswald, in the year 635. The Celtic monks often chose islands for their monasteries; they did so in Wales, at Caldey Island in the south and Ynys Enlli – Bardsey Island – the “island of  twenty-thousand saints” in the North. In those days, the first calling of monks was to live lives set apart for prayer, and these remote locations protected the privacy, and hence the rhythm of prayer, for the monks who lived there. When not located on islands, monasteries were often placed deliberately in remote locations. Even so, people came, seeking spiritual guidance, medical advice or education; and the monks offered hospitality to those who came. Some became centres of learning, and the monastery at Llantwit Major became as renowned in Europe as Oxford and Cambridge are today.

It was part of the rhythm of Welsh life that people WENT TO monasteries. They were places of safety, learning and spirituality. Under the guidance of saints like Cadoc and Illtud, Dyfrig and David, they flourished throughout the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries. After 1066, Wales was populated by Cistercian monks, more connected to Rome than the earlier Celtic monasteries, but again, sited in remote locations like Strata Florida.

But then Wales changed. More and more people were living in towns, distant from the monasteries. Something new was needed.

That something new came in the form of the friars, religious orders whose members were called to move from place to place.

Dominicans specialised in preaching; they were present all over Wales, including Cardiff, Brecon and Bangor.

Franciscans specialised in serving the poor, and did so in Cardiff and Anglesey, and even here in Carmarthen.

Carmelites, originally hermits uprooted from their settlement in the Holy Land by the evershifting politics of the Middle East, came to Britain spreading a deep calling to a life of prayer, and founded a friary in Denbigh.

Although the houses founded by these orders were fixed locations – urban locations – different friars came and went, bringing their particular gifts. Through their ministry God’s Word, a new openness to prayer, and charity-in-action were brought to towns, and the townsfolk were blessed. Those who would never have dreamed of travelling to a rural monastery were now able to encounter the Gospel in word and in action.

We are gathered for this weekend’s conference under the title Behold, I do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). Last night Derek spoke about how the “new thing” in Isaiah’s writing differs from the old.

The old blessing given was when the Israelites passed out of Egypt and took possession of the promised land, on the safe side of the River Jordan. They were a closed-in community. Marriages with strange tribes were discouraged. If foreigners did want to join the community and worship the God of Israel, this was possible, but not something the Israelites went out of their way to promote.

But Isaiah’s new thing was a prophecy of rivers in the wilderness.

What does this tell us about charismatic renewal in Wales?

Last month, in Lampeter, I attended a gathering of about 200 church leaders, as part of the New Wine Cymru network. They were mostly Anglicans or independent church leaders, and they came from all over Wales, not just the big cities, but many of the small villages too. What they all shared in common was a hunger to see Wales blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Some New Wine leaders shared prophecies they had received about Wales. There said that in the past, there had been a season of blessings which were mainly for the churches. But God was about to release a season of blessings when God’s glory and healing power would stream out of the churches and affect people on the streets. The new wave of blessing is for the whole nation.

In our Catholic experience, we know there was a time when prayer groups were strong and the Carmarthen conference attracted around 400 people. We were like Israel, rejoicing to find ourselves in the promised land; we used the gifts to bless each other within the prayer groups, rather than taking them out to the wider community. Once we had formed groups of people who enjoyed each other’s company, newcomers could find their way in if they really wanted to, but we stopped going out of our way to invite new people in. The Spirit’s gifts were rarely used outside Prayer Groups, Conferences, or Days of Renewal. That wave of blessing has faded and now our prayer groups, where they still exist, are mostly shadows of their former selves.

Isaiah’s “new thing” is meant to be streams of water in the desert. What is the desert, if not the secularised people of Wales today? What are the streams of living water, if not the blessings which God has in store for them? Dare we hope that God is going to pour out healings and prophetic upbuilding on the whole population of Wales, those who never darken the door of a church?

Yes, God can do this!

But how will God do this?

It is not usually God’s way to appear to non-believers in a dream or a vision, to convert them unaided. Yes, God can do that – but he normally appears to them in the form of his body. That’s us!

The Bible leaves us in no doubt that as followers of Jesus, we are called to be filled with the Spirit to do the same works that he did – indeed, even greater things!

Today’s Gospel tells us that God has high expectations. If God has entrusted a gift to us, he expects us to use it. I would go so far as to say that if you’ve had the gift of tongues but hardly used it in your personal prayer, you have let God down. If you’ve known someone who is unwell, but not offered to pray with them for healing, you have let God down. If you know someone who has need of being built up, but you’ve not asked God to inspire a word to share with them, you have let God down. You do not want to find yourself keeping company with the “wicked and lazy servant” who kept God’s gift safe and unused. Yes, trading the sum entrusted to you is a risky business, but it’s what God expects us to do. If God doesn’t deliver the profit we’d like, that’s God’s responsibility. If we haven’t tried, that’s ours.

Am I not being a little harsh? If the Lord’s warning in the Bible is too much for you, try the Church’s teaching, from paragraph 3 of Apostolicam Actuositatem:

The Holy Spirit … gives the faithful special gifts also “allotting them to everyone according as He wills” …  From the acceptance of these charisms, including those which are more elementary, there arise for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church…

You have the RIGHT to use the gifts God has given you.

You have a DUTY to use the gifts God has given you.

And here’s the good news: if you haven’t been doing this – indeed, if you feel your fruitfulness in the gifts has faded because you haven’t made good use of them – no less an authority than St Thomas Aquinas teaches us that as soon as we repent through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God restores us to a place with all the gifts and graces which we had before we sinned. If we, here and now, today, truly repent of keeping the Gifts of the Spirit for ourselves in our prayer groups, God can restore all the gifts to us with the power we once knew. But God expects us to step out and start trading with them, trading our willingness to look foolish, for the healing and salvation of Wales.

(At this point I told a story about how I came to give this talk last year in its final format – I was in two minds whether to include the section on healing, but the healing miracles of Jesus were such a core part of the Gospels I felt I had to include them in any talk on the Basic Gospel Message, even though the Bishops’ brief was to focus on John 3:16. At last year’s New Wine Conference, I was called out in a prophecy workshop and was given the message – by someone who knew nothing of my dilemma about how to focus my talk – that God was saying “stand up in front of bishops and say what you know to be right”.)

Would you like to see people in your town healed by Jesus?

If they just woke up healed one morning, would they know it was Jesus who had done it?

If a Christian prayed with them for healing and it happened, would they know it was Jesus who had done it?

Ah… so which Christians in your town would be the people doing that?

How do you know if you’ve got a gift of healing or not?

Well, you could try praying with a few willing people and seeing if they get healed.

It might not work. Don’t panic! A pastor called John Wimber reached the same conclusion, that faithfulness to God required us to pray for people to be healed. He spent 6 months praying for healing at the end of all his Sunday church services, with no success. Then he got one. Then the floodgates opened! His faithfulness led to the founding of the Vineyard churches in 1982.

We are not only called to bring healing, but to bring the prophetic word.

Would you like to see people in your town receive a word from God which builds them up and restores their faith? Yes?

Who is going to speak that word to them?

Andy can’t do it – he’s in Cornwall.

Derek can’t do it – he’s in Lincoln.

What about you?

Don’t you know that Scripture says that you should “eagerly desire the gift of prophecy”?

Don’t you wake up every morning, bounce out of bed, and pray: “Lord, I’m desperate that you should give me a word today so I can bless someone else?” Don’t you? So you aren’t eagerly desiring the gift of prophecy. Hmmm… room for deeper conversion.

Two years ago, I spoke to about 200 members of the Monaghan County Prayer Group gathered at Knock. On the last day I challenged them to be open to God’s prophetic word, and asked them to pair up and pray silently for two minutes, asking God to show them what to pray for, for their random partner. Then they were asked to share with their partner what they had prayed about. At least half the people present felt God had inspired a very relevant prayer!

In preparing for this conference, our leaders have received Words were given for Wales. There are too many to read out here and now, but they accord with words that Anglican and independent Church leaders in Wales have received recently. And did you know that a charismatic church in Llanelli has just completed 7 years of prayer that God would unblock the wellsprings in Wales so the nation can experience a new outpouring?

If you have the gift of tongues, you have a duty to use it to build up worship.

If you have any prophetic gift, you have a duty to use it to bless your parish and your neighbour.

If you have any gift of healings, likewise.

Friends, the age of prayer groups is over. The age of support cells for people ministering to the lost sheep of Wales is just beginning. Today we celebrate how God blessed Celtic nations in the past with island monasteries, centres of holiness and learning. Tomorrow we must return home willing to bear God’s gifts to the streets and villages where we live.

I can’t tell you how God is going to use you. Two things I do know – that “Jesus heals today” is the most powerful part of our Gospel message, and that we are eagerly to desire the gift of prophecy. We are not worthy of the Spirit’s gifts – that’s what makes them gifts. It is because we are ordinary people, weak in the eyes of the world, that we in Wales can be used by God to bless the three million people who dwell in Wales today. We must become, for Wales, the missionaries of the Holy Spirit. Today, the Lord is going to give to you, or restore in you, many gifts which he can use to bring Revival to Wales. Make no mistake – the stakes are high! Choose to make good use of these gifts, use them to bless others, and God will say to you, “Come and share in your master’s happiness!”. You will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the word of life.