I know it is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, and in keeping with the season I should be talking about John the Baptist, and his cry of “make straight the way of the Lord.” But I would rather talk about St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, and so that is what I am going to do. I am a Paulist after all!
St. Paul – in contrast to his usually long, complex, convoluted, highly theological and deeply spiritual statements - today gives us some very concise and pragmatic advice. It is the kind of practical statement you can get your hands on. He tells us “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Then Paul goes on to say something a little surprising: “Do not quench the Spirit.” Do not quench the Spirit? The old NAB had “Do not stifle the Spirit.” The JB has “never try to suppress the Spirit.” What is St. Paul talking about?
Well, think about this. Have you ever met anyone who is a Spirit quencher? A Spirit stifler? A Spirit squelcher? Of course you have. They are all over the place. And most of us, at one time or another, have done this ourselves.
The Spirit squelchers are people who are “realists,” who see all the problems and obstacles to getting anything done. They stifle the Spirit by criticism, by lethargy, by hopelessness, by cynicism, by lack of imagination, by anger, envy and hatred, and above all by fear. Fear quenches the Spirit.
So let us say you feel an impulse of the Spirit to reach out to a stranger at Mass and welcome him or her. But it involves effort and you’re tired. You might get rejected and you don’t want to face that. You may get one of those talkers who goes on and on and on, telling you all sorts of stuff about their life and you certainly want to avoid that. Reaching out takes effort and is a risk. It is easier to stifle the Spirit and just not bother.
Maybe the Spirit inspires you to reach out to a neighbor who has no church community, and invite them to Mass for Christmas. Maybe the prompting is to bring up the topic of religion with a co-worker who seems receptive. Or to invite a family member who has kind of drifted away from church to join you at Mass. But that involves a risk. You could be rejected. It takes some effort. And the Spirit can be squelched by laziness and fear.
Perhaps you have been touched by the Spirit to volunteer for a ministry at the parish; or to work with a civic organization; or to reach out to an estranged family member; or to be more generous with your worldly possessions; or to donate blood; or to speak up in an unjust situation; or if you are a young person even to investigate a vocation as a deacon, priest or religious.
There are a myriad of ways the Spirit prompts and leads us. And there are a myriad of ways the Spirit can be squelched, but they all come down to fear. How often in the Scriptures we hear the injunction, “Do not be afraid!”
The Spirit leads us not just as individuals but even more importantly as a community. How well do we as St. Austin Parish open ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, listen to the Spirit, and follow through on the promptings of the Spirit? On the other hand, how much do we give into cynicism, inertia and fear? How well do we follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings to be an evangelizing parish, a community that proclaims Good News, reaches out, and welcomes in those called by the Spirit?
St. Austin’s is not a typical suburban parish. St. Austin’s is not a typical ethnic parish. St. Austin’s is not a typical parish. But none-the-less, we are called to be an evangelizing community. How much and how well do we really evangelize?
Evangelization is not a program. It is a way of life. It is carried out in the ordinary day-to-day effort of living as a Christian, as a disciple, as a follower of Jesus who has heard Good News. The Holy Spirit leads, guides, directs and strengthens us in this effort. Pay attention to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Do not quench the Spirit.
Take to heart the advice of St. Paul to us today: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit.”
Happy Advent! Amen.