“The Holy Spirit cannot be bottled or canned!”
by Sr Máire O’Byrne FMA
On Friday November 13, 2015, Helen Leiris was shot dead in Bataclan, during the Paris attacks. In the days that followed the words spoken by her husband, Antoin, on Facebook went viral. He refused to hate those who had killed his wife and pledged to bring up their 17 month old son as a happy child, without hate.
Why did Antoin’s words spark off such a reaction? Perhaps because the Holy Spirit is so clearly active in his words and attitude, a Spirit of love, peace and a gentleness that is strong enough to reject the temptation to respond to violence with violence.
He spoke in his native French but, like the disciples on Pentecost, everyone understood, because he was speaking the unifying language of the Spirit.
It is easy to forget about the Holy Spirit or limit the action of the Spirit to special occasions like Pentecost or Confirmation, or to special people like charismatics. Even the Scriptures have resort to figurative language when they speak of the Spirit: like a dove, like a mighty wind, like tongues of fire. Perhaps this is due to the fact that spirits cannot be seen and so are difficult to describe or even imagine. Yet much of what is truest and most important in life, like love and truth, is not visible to the eye.
However, the action of the Spirit can be clearly seen all around us by its gifts and fruits. All these gifts are given for the good, not only of the individual, but especially that of the community. Some are more or less extraordinary, given in response to particular needs of God’s people, but most are ordinary and seen in everyday life. When someone shows love for others, especially when it is not humanly easy, acts for peace, responds to violence with gentleness, is patient, kind, trustful etc. they are living by the Spirit and the Spirit is ever creative, always doing something new.
Each of today’s readings presents us with a different aspect of the action of the Spirit.
In the first reading, the coming of the Spirit transforms a group of frightened individuals into courageous missionaries, happy to suffer and even die if necessary for the name of Jesus. Their word becomes a unifying element, understood by peoples from different parts of the world. May the Spirit inspire us to speak the message of Jesus in a language that is understandable to the people of today’s world.
In the Gospel, John reminds us that the Spirit will remain with us always to teach us the truth of Jesus’ Word and to keep us in His love. May we remain always in that love.
In the second reading, Paul reminds us that we have not received a spirit of slavery but one of sonship that allows us to call God our Abba, Father. We are all God’s children and no one can be excluded. The Spirit cannot be bottled or canned, nor can the Holy Spirit be kept as the exclusive possession of any person or group. What was the religion of Antoin Leiris? Was he a church going person? I don’t know, and I doubt if that really mattered to the Holy Spirit, who is like the wind that blows where it will. All the Spirit asks is our openness and loving readiness for whatever God asks of us in this moment. Let us open our hearts today and pray: Come Holy Spirit!