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PARISH PRACTICE JAMES LEACHMAN Divining the Holy Spirit


Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday, and after the great Feast of Pentecost a further opportunity to ponder the work of the Holy Spirit. This influence is present at all stages of the Christian life endlessly developing and changing


Pentecost “the Church’s birthday” and it provides a very useful hook upon which to hang parish celebrations such as the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation with adolescents. Yet, I think we do God a disservice if we limit our parishes’ attention to the Pentecost event and the Person of the Holy Spirit just to this liturgical season. While God never changes, our experience of the Person of the Holy Spirit does change year by year as we try better to understand the mystery of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit gives himself throughout the year and every year of our lives, so we need to go on praying and learning.


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One of the many gifts of God to the Church in the past 100 years has been a fuller understanding and a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit. No longer understood as gift and power, many in our parishes now understand the Holy Spirit in a more per- sonal and active way. And, just as the whole Church has come to a deeper understanding of the Person of the Holy Spirit, each of us should be ready to do the same. We live this mystery of God and of our- selves paradoxically as we experience in ways ever new our passing through life and our presence to others. This twofold process of passing through and being present occurs repeatedly throughout the course of our human maturation. All the baptised, of whatever age, are called to love and to serve God in the world, yet we do so in ways appropriate to our own degree of Christian maturation. At each stage of our lives, a person transcends their previous way of life to incarnate a new one, and comes to live self-gift of God the Holy Spirit to the Church in a new way. Taking the time to reflect on these stages or discussing them in the family or in a parish group helps us


16 | THE TABLET | 18 June 2011


very year, at Pentecost, we mark the mystery of the Holy Spirit passing over and being present among the gathered disciples. We often call


identify the characteristics, strengths and challenges of the stage of maturation to which one has progressed. I was brought up in the Church of England in Lincoln. Preparation for Confirmation for me and my friends consisted of classes and conversations with the elderly vicar. I still have the notes that I made at Confirmation class after school on those summer evenings. Along with most Christians in those days, we were taught and came to consider the Holy Spirit as a gift, a source of grace and of power – something to be asked for and prayed for and received – not a person with whom to be in relationship. We knew and could pray to God the Father and Creator and to Jesus Christ, Word of God incarnate, but the Holy Ghost remained a mystery waiting to be discovered and experienced. Soon afterwards in 1962, in the very


TO DO


Church of England neighbourhood around Lincoln Cathedral where we lived, we heard about how Pope


John


Think about how you pray to the Holy Spirit


Ask what the youngsters in your parish will remember of their Confirmation preparation


Spendsome time with the Prayer over the Gifts for this Sunday: “Lord, make these gifts holy, and through them make us a perfect offering to you” and make it your prayer


announcing that all Christians should pray for


XXIII was a


“New


Pentecost for the Church”. That was when the Second Vatican Council began. We joined in this same prayer, using the same prayer cards as used by local Catholic parishes. By the time I was at univer-


sity in Durham in 1969, my Catholic friends were taking me to their Mass in English, proud of what their Church had accomplished, explaining


the doctrines that were stirring them. Later on, after ordination in the Church of England, a strong experience of the charismatic move- ment in the Anglo-Catholic part of the Church of England helped me to consider the Holy Spirit more as a person and I would pray for guidance. Reflecting back, I can see that the Holy


Spirit was challenging me to widen my hori- zons. In those early years of working as an Anglican curate, our prophetic bishop, Mervyn Stockwood, constantly pointed out the need to be engaged with people of different races and religions and cultures.


As a Benedictine monk in the Church of


England, I came to discern the activity of the Holy Spirit in a different and more disturbing way, as I was led gradually toward the fullness of communion with the Catholic Church. And now, as an academic, towards the end of a working career, I can see that the Holy Spirit has been continually working and revealing and giving himself. People who are at the end of their working


lives typically learn to transcend their pro- fessional and vocational self in order that, through discerning the most urgent needs around them, they may incarnate the wider service of love, wherever they see the need. These years become the time for the fruition of a love of wisdom, of interior freedom, of laying down no conditions, of being a humanising influence in the lives of others. Adapting to a life of retirement from pro- fessional responsibilities enables one to celebrate the Pentecost mystery by being at the service of love in the world wherever one finds it.


Each of us moves gradually onwards and through different steps to appreciate more and more of the Holy Spirit. Our challenges, awakenings, periods of growth and setbacks help us to make sense of our vocational path in life. When a person comes to view their whole life as a passing over and being present, as the Holy Spirit did at Pentecost, they can share in God’s self-gift, and their former self is given over to God by generously yielding to the person God is calling them to become. They can give themselves to future tasks and come to have a clearer view of the past and of what they have left behind. The Prayer over the Gifts for the Solemnity


of the Holy Trinity says, “Lord, make these gifts holy, and through them make us a perfect offering to you.” As we celebrate Trinity Sunday in our parishes, perhaps we should ask ourselves how we can help others in our parishes to appreciate that the Holy Spirit is passing over the Church, and at the same time is present with us to help us to give ourselves in love and service.


■James Leachman is a Benedictine monk- priest of Ealing Abbey in London. He writes and teaches liturgy in Rome and London.


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