“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
-Lord Acton, 1887
This quote stands as an example of how the word power is usually understood, that is, domination.
The Good News is that the power of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Comforter, is not one that dominates.
It is most certainly a strong power and one that we attempt to harness at our peril.
It is the Spirit of Prophecy which requires us to let go of worldly security and worldly wisdom and worldly status in favor of trusting in our relationship with Christ Jesus.
At the beginning of the farewell discourse we hear proclaimed today, Jesus states, “Do not let your hearts be troubled;”
Then again near the end of the discourse he states again, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
We should ask ourselves why this emphasis?
Was the community of the beloved disciple in difficulty that gave cause for worry?
Had forces both external and internal to the community threatened its very existence?
Was the beloved disciple who had led the community through thick and thin nearing the end of his or her life, and like the first disciples of Jesus, were the community members wondering what was to become of them?
Who would lead them on the path of salvation?
Who would interpret the will of God for them?
And this brings us to the power of words.
[Edward Osborne Wilson (born 10 June 1929) is an American entomologist and biologist known for his work on ecology, evolution, and sociobiology. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Wilson is also known for his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanism ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters.]
The esteemed biologist and ardent atheist, Edward O. Wilson, provides much wisdom about our relationship to the world around us which he refers to as the biosphere.
In his recently published book, Genesis he describes what he calls the 6th major evolutionary transition, speech and its significance in the future of the world as we know it. I quote:
“True language, uniquely practiced by humans, consists of words and symbols invented and assigned arbitrary meaning then combined to create an infinite variety of messages.
The messages generate stories, imagined and real, variously from all times past, present, and future.
To speech was added literacy, which rendered every human thought potentially global.
Humans could ask any question about all the life around them, species by species, organism by organism.
The capacity for language, science, and philosophical thought made us the steward and mind of the biosphere.
Can we muster the moral intelligence to fulfill this role?”
-pp39-40, Genesis, Edward O. Wilson
As the only species we know of with the power of self-consciousness and symbol-making, it is incumbent on us to call on the power of the Spirit to make our words powerful.
In practical terms for our place in history we must reclaim the Good News of Jesus.
Jesus’ parables and prayers and signs all pointed to a reign of God that that was fermenting yeast in the dough of society and an indestructible seed that surprises the dominant culture by its size and viability.
Our words must constantly call into question the wisdom of this world.
Must our technology always be placed at the disposal of the so-called defense department that makes war by drone strikes in other peoples’ countries?
Must our corporations be given free reign to plant only their genetically modified seeds at the expense of subsistence farmers?
Must our nationalism create a zero-sum game that effectively kills the aspirations of people in developing countries?
Closer to home, we need to recognize that in addition to the refugees and asylum seekers attempting to cross borders, we also have families born in our country who seek refuge because of the violence they flee in blighted areas and who seek asylum because of the opioid crisis that has take root in the exurbs and rural areas of our country.
The prophetic language we need will require all the inspiration the Holy Spirit can give us, because we are battling the forces of evil wrapped in racism, tribalism and the false security of living only with those who think like us and dress like us and sound like us.
The prophetic language we need will require us to depend on the Holy Spirit to place in our minds and hearts the humility and love that we need to approach others who do not think like us.
The prophetic language we need will require us to ask the Holy Spirit to teach us to love the biosphere as St. Francis of Assisi did, as our mother and father, as our sister and brother rather than us as master and the biosphere as our servant.
The Spirit inspired people like Scholastica and Benedict to offer a daily practice, ora et labora, that shows a way to balanced living on our terrestrial home.
Returning to our Gospel passage today we need remember when Jesus says these words of comfort, that is immediately after the washing of feet at the Last Supper. There he scandalizes Peter because Peter is viewing the action through the lens of servant subjugation at the hands of the master. Jesus reframes the action with a new expression, “I call you friends.” And friends lay down their lives for their friends.
In our day we need the Holy Spirit to inspire our communities of faith throughout the world so that we might have the chance to preserve and conserve the biodiversity that is the gift of the Creator God.
I suggest the reframing language we need today of a prophetic sort is to extend the “friendship” that Jesus spoke of to all people and to all living things.
Above all else our prophetic language, while at times stark and insistent, must also communicate the joy of our calling as heirs with Christ Jesus in the glory of the triune God.
I close with a quote from Gerard Manley Hopkins.
He was an English poet of the 19th century who was also a Jesuit priest. This quote comes from one of his sermons and I think you can hear a little of the poet peeking out of the prose:
A Paraclete is one who comforts, who cheers, who encourages, who persuades, who exhorts, who stirs up, who urges forward, who calls on … What the spur and word of command is to a horse, what clapping of hands is to a speaker, what a trumpet is to the soldier, that a Paraclete is to the soul: one who calls us on to good … The Paraclete cheers the spirit of a person, with signals and with cries, all zealous that they should do something and full of assurance that if they will, they can, calling them on, springing to meet them halfway, crying to his ears or to his heart: This way to do God’s will, this way to save your soul. Come on, come on!” (Sermon at Liverpool, April 25, 1882).
– Gerard Manley Hopkins
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Seeking to be more attentive and responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, let us join in offering our prayers to our Loving God:
You desire the unity of all Christians through one baptism in the spirit; make all who believe one in heart and soul, we pray …
You desire the whole world to be filled with the Spirit; help all human kind to build a world of justice and peace, we pray …
Through the Spirit you make all things new; heal the sick, comfort the distressed, give salvation to all, we pray …
By the light of your Spirit, enlighten the world and dispel the darkness of our times; turn hatred into love, sorrow into joy and war into the peace we so desire, we pray …
† For religious leaders, that they may be enriched by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and lead us to a more faithful living of the Gospel…. we pray.
† For Peace: that the Spirit will renew human hearts, turning them from violence, and establishing new cooperation for the good of the whole human family….we pray.
† For couples preparing for marriage: that the Holy Spirit may help them open their hearts and minds to God’s design for life and love….we pray.
Holy One, we rejoice in your Spirit. Send her again into our hearts, into our lives, and into our world. Hear our prayers and save us in your love. We ask this in Jesus’ name.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shalt renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray.
O God, Who instructed the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in Her consolation.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Sequence for Pentecost
Come, Holy Spirit,
send forth the heavenly
radiance of your light.
Come, father of the poor,
come, giver of gifts,
come, light of the heart.
sweet guest of the soul,
In labor, rest,
in heat, temperance,
in tears, solace.
O most blessed light,
fill the inmost heart
of your faithful.
Without your spirit,
there is nothing in man,
nothing that is not harmful.
Cleanse that which is unclean,
water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.
Bend that which is inflexible,
fire that which is chilled,
correct what goes astray.
Give to your faithful,
those who trust in you,
the sevenfold gifts.
Grant the reward of virtue,
grant the deliverance of salvation,
grant eternal joy.