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Pentecost Sunday, 19 May 2024. Homily by Deacon Jim Curtain

I’d invite you, when you have the time, to have a good look at the windows on the back wall of our church. They are quite beautiful, and they depict the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of the rosary. Four of the glorious mysteries are shown in the middle two windows- the resurrection and the ascension of our Lord, the assumption into heaven and the crowning of our Lady. The third glorious mystery, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is shown above the other mysteries. The top window shows the dove, a traditional symbol of the Holy Spirit, and the small window beneath that shows seven tongues of flame, symbolising the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In our Catholic understanding the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, right judgement, courage, knowledge, reverence, and holy fear in God’s presence. These are what the Holy Spirit gave the apostles at Pentecost, and today I particularly want to talk about courage.

Think about what apostles had been through over the previous eight weeks. Talk about an emotional roller coaster! From the crowd yelling hosanna on Palm Sunday, the apostles seeing themselves as the new leaders of Israel, who would free their people from tyranny and oppression, then Jesus talking about betrayal at the supper on Thursday night, then all of the apostles being terrified and running away and, for most of them, being too scared to support Jesus with their presence at his crucifixion. Then the wonder and joy of the resurrection. Then the ascension, and asking themselves ‘Where do we go from here?’ Jesus told them to go forth and make disciples of all nations, and what do they do? They go back to the upper room, and stay there.

The Holy Spirit gets them moving, the Holy Spirit gives them the courage to go out and preach that Jesus has risen from the dead, Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, and by his cross and resurrection all are invited to new life. It took courage for them to do that then, it cost them their lives. It also takes courage to do that now, to proclaim that Jesus is risen, and calls us to new life. In this new life we are called to treat all other people as our brothers and sisters, because, as Peter found out when he began preaching to non-Jews, God has no favourites, but people of all nations are called to this new life. In this new life we are called to treat all people with respect, to serve the poor and not give special honour to the rich or respectable, ‘celebrities’, as Paul reminded the church at Corinth.

Behaving like this needs courage, because if we do it consistently we will run up against people who want to create division, who desire wars and empires to show that their nation is superior, people who treat the poor, the human beings at the bottom of our society, with disdain because after all, it must be their own fault that they are refugees, or homeless, or mentally ill, or disabled. To turn around and say that they are human beings who, in a Christian society, should be treated with respect, even if that means paying taxes and encouraging governments to act with compassion , that can make you unpopular. If you start asking questions about why people are refugees, or why we have an economic system that results in homelessness, with the mentally ill or addicted begging on the streets, that really does need courage.

I want to tell you about two examples of courage I’ve heard about recently. They aren’t big deeds, they probably won’t change much about the world, but I see them both as people showing Christian courage, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The first is John, a man I know in NZ. He’s 87, a person of prayer. A few weeks ago he decided he would pray for peace in the world, particularly Gaza and the Ukraine, and do it publicly. He goes to daily Mass, and every day after Mass he rides his mobility scooter onto the pavement outside the church, and stays there praying, with a hand lettered sign stating that he is praying for peace.

He’s had a variety of reactions. Some people have supported him, others have abused him. A Samoan man came and they greeted each other. They had a loving conversation. He brought greetings from the Samoan Catholic community. On the other hand, a woman came and said all Palestinians have to be wiped off the face of the earth they are evil. John said to her he thought she was quite wrong, but said “I am not going to argue with you.” Of course he’s had people coming up to him telling him what’s wrong with the Catholic Church, but as John is interested in acting out of love, he does not want to argue.

Three Evangelical Pentecostal ladies came and prayed with him, they have come back to him three times. Most people are supportive. Some people initially thought he must be a beggar, with a sign on a piece of cardboard.

John has an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. After the first day he thought he wanted it with him, so he put it is his bag where he can see it and She keeps him company. If distracted or loses track, he glances at the icon and it brings him back again.

John says “Communion each day gives me courage.” And he is also aware that he needs to be careful of attention on him. He says “it’s so easy to be pleased with yourself, which is absolutely the opposite to what is required. You have to be humble and simple. I pray I will not deviate from this. It is all good, I know it is. Peace needs the prayer more than I do that is the big thing. I keep in my mind the people who are suffering who may have no one praying for them”.

The other example is of an elderly lady in the USA, Rosie. She has a friend Marie. They’ve been friends since childhood. 20 years ago Marie developed a disease that slowly paralyzed her whole body. Her brain does not communicate with her muscles. Little by little her body became scrunched up. Now, she can’t move, can’t turn her head, or speak clearly. She has to live in a nursing home under constant care.

Marie’s sister died a year ago. Marie has no other family and Rosie is her only visitor. So, the nursing home where Marie has lived for 15 years has to contact Rosie for anything to do with Marie’s treatment. Rosie does more. When she visits Marie she brings her clean bed clothes and flowers, rubs her arms and face with soothing lotion, kisses her on the cheeks and tells Marie, “I love you.” And Marie says in return, barely audible,, “I love you too Rosie.”

Rosie is Marie’s advocate. She is by her side when the need arises. She offers Marie love when there’s no one else to offer it. She oversees Marie’s daily care and argues for her when she is neglected. She brings the nurses cookies, a “friendly bribe” for their good care of Marie. Rosie is on Marie’s side, speaks up for her, protects her rights, brings her joy and hope, because Marie knows Rosie will be there for her whenever she needs her. In St. John’s Gospel the name Jesus gives the Holy Spirit is Advocate. Think of Rosie’s presence in Marie’s life: that is just a hint of how the Spirit is in our life.

Think of the courage both Marie and Rosie show, think of the courage John shows. Really, courage like that comes out of love. Love for another human being, love for the world, the love that God made visible in Christ Jesus. The courage to show this love is truly a gift of the Holy Spirit, and let’s pray that we can have the courage to show love in whatever part of God’s world we live.

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