He has filled the hungry with good things

Sermon preached by David Povall (ordinand on placement)
on Friday 31st May 2019 (The Visit of the BVM to Elizabeth)

Zephaniah 3.14–18; Romans 12.9–16; Luke 1.39–49

He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

It can be easy to think that the Holy Spirit is the private property of the charismatic evangelical movement. A feature of their worship is the outward expression, through words, music, hands raised in the air, of a state of euphoric joy attributed to the inward presence of the Spirit. We are perhaps a little more reserved, but I am sure that many of us have experienced, however rarely and briefly, the precious gift of moments of a grave and holy joy, often in times of the greatest darkness; unexpected; unearned.

In my darker and more critical moments (in fairness, that is most of the time), I sometimes wonder whether our more demonstrative brethren regard joyful happiness as a reward of faith – put in enough belief and out will come wellbeing. I know that is not really fair to those sincere and devout Christians, but it is a real danger and temptation for all of us: to judge our own righteousness by how good we feel.

As so very often, it is Our Lady who shows us the way. She tells us in today’s Gospel reading how her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her saviour: she is filled with an overflowing joy, in the same way that John the Baptist, still in the womb, has leapt at the proximity of his Saviour. But there is more: in her hymn of praise, she moves on to acknowledge that her joy is not of her own making but a gift from God  (“He that is mighty has magnified me”) and then to look beyond the personal and internal to the implications of outpoured grace for justice. It is the hungry, the meek and the humble who gain, and the rich, proud and powerful who lose. Out Lady’s words are both an expression of unshakeable faith in God’s justice, speaking prophetically of its consequences as if they had already happened, and they are a call to action for Christians.

In one of his commentaries, St Cyril of Alexandria said:

Even though we are many individuals, and Christ, the Spirit of the Father and his own Spirit, dwells in each one of us individually, still the Spirit is really one and indivisible. And so that one Spirit binds together the separated spirits of each one of us so that we are seen to be one, together in Christ.

Paul emphasized this point:

Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together.

The Holy Spirit grants us beautiful gifts, but those gifts are not just to make us feel good, to be hoarded and enjoyed in solitary gratification. They are to be made real by being shared and lived out in our relationships with our brothers and sisters:

So, as we go into the days leading up to Pentecost, we will be joining together in a novena, nine days of prayer, when we will ask, day by day, to be given the gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and goodness. Each of these will have its effect personally on us, but, if that is the end of it, if we do no more than enjoy the feeling of holiness they give, we will be like the rich who are sent away empty. If, however, we strive to live out these gifts, following the example of Our Most Blessed Lady, then we will be instruments of God’s will. May we be so inspired by the Holy Spirit with his indwelling joy that our lives may show forth God’s Justice, His Peace and His Love.

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