Today we began mass: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – in the name of the Trinity. At the end of mass today, Father Paul will bless us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And, of course, our parish is named for the Holy Trinity. We Catholics are “Trinitarian people” – our faith is based on the Trinity. And though we’ll never really understand the Trinity, we all have a sense of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Most of us have an image of God the Father. We might see him as the creator, as our judge, as a caring and loving father – or mother. Maybe we still think of God the Father as the guy with the long grey beard sitting in that big chair in the sky.
We’ve heard so much about Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, and we’ve seen so many images of him, that we probably also have a picture of Jesus in our minds and in our hearts. He’s our brother, our saviour, the one who loved children – the person who was God and man – who suffered and died for our sins.
But as we’ve moved through the Easter season toward Pentecost, we’ve heard more and more about the Holy Spirit. I think it’s difficult to get an image of the Holy Spirit. Some of us remember when we used to call the Holy Spirit the Holy Ghost. I think that made it even harder to get a sense of who or what the third person of the Trinity might be like.
As Jesus approached his passion and death, we heard him speak to his disciples about the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel today he said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth. You know him, because he abides in you.”
The first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles talked about something that happened in the early Church, after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We heard that Philip (who was one of the first deacons) went to Samaria and told them about Jesus. And we heard that the people got very excited and they were baptized -they believed! But that wasn’t enough. Peter and John went to Samaria and prayed that the people would receive the Holy Spirit. And they laid their hands on them. We’ll see the same thing in a couple of weeks when Archbishop Smith comes to confirm some of our young people.
But I still think it’s hard to wrap our minds around this idea of the Holy Spirit. It might be easier if we try to think about people we know or people that we’ve met who we consider to be “spiritual.” The word “spiritual” simply means “of the spirit.” I am lucky that I am able to speak often with Father Paul. When I spend time with him, I often walk away feeling that I’ve been in the presence of a truly spiritual person. The folks in the Pastoral Care Program who visit shut-ins and parishioners in nursing homes will tell you that they often visit people who have a very special spiritual connection with God.
So maybe it’s better if we don’t worry about a textbook definition of the Holy Spirit, but instead, try to get a feeling of the Spirit by looking for people who are spiritual – as we understand the Spirit – and sensing how they affect our hearts.
Last week when I was in Jamaica with the group from the parish, we visited an extraordinary woman – a person filled with the Holy Spirit – Miss Ivy.
Many years ago, Miss Ivy almost single-handedly held her small parish together when they had no priest in the area. This is a very poor, rural part of Jamaica. She would organize prayer services, communion services, and other activities. She also served those who were even poorer than she was.
About 30 years ago, she was riding a donkey when the animal jumped. She fell off, but her foot was still caught in the stirrup. She was dragged along the ground until the donkey stopped and her foot fell out of the stirrup. She was paralyzed from the waist down.
Now, if that had happened in Spruce Grove or Stony Plain, someone would have called 911, she would have spent months receiving first class physical and occupational therapy. She would have had a wheelchair, and would probably have had nursing support when she returned home. Well, this was rural Jamaica – the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – and this was one of the poorest parts of Jamaica.
Days, months, and years passed. She lay on her mattress in her tiny two-room house. No running water – no plumbing. Family and friends brought food and looked in on her when they could.
About 15 years ago, a missionary sister – Sister Connie – visited Miss Ivy. You might remember that Sister Connie came to our parish a couple of years ago. She’s great fan of our Father Paul, and she agrees that he is someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit.
When Sister Connie visited Miss Ivy, she had not had anyone looking after her for some time, and she asked Sister Connie to look at the bedsores that she knew she had. Sister Connie’s not a nurse, and didn’t look forward to the prospect of examining, much less cleaning these wounds. But she is also a person filled with the Holy Spirit, and she knew she had to help. As she turned Miss Ivy in her bed, she noticed that repeated soiling with urine and many years of lying on the bed had almost completely disintegrated the mattress. The place where Miss Ivy laid was totally worn away, and there was only plastic and some cardboard.
When Sister Connie looked at Miss Ivy’s backside, she found three very large and very deep bedsores. She had very limited training and a weak stomach, but she did the best she could to clean and dress Miss Ivy’s wounds. As she was cleaning the wounds, she noticed that the edges of the wounds looked scalloped. She couldn’t understand why the sores looked that way, but she knew that Miss Ivy needed a new mattress. She was able to get a $300 donation, and the new mattress arrived a few weeks later. Sister Connie brought it to the house and the old mattress was thrown out into the yard. As the old, deteriorated mattress hit the ground, rats scurried out of it and ran into the bushes. Those neatly scalloped patterns at the edges of Miss Ivy’s bedsores came from the rats that were nibbling away at her flesh. You see, because of her paralysis and lack of sensations, she couldn’t feel this happening.
It took a year of care in a Catholic nursing home to heal her wounds. After that she returned to her home.
Fast forward now, to April, 2008 – last week. Eleven Canadians, most from Holy Trinity Parish, stopped by to visit Miss Ivy. When we arrived, there was a friend sitting at the edge of her bed. The room was small, and our group stood, shoulder to shoulder, around her bed. Jamaica’s a humid country, and the room smelled musty. If there were windows, they must have been covered, because the room was dark despite the bright sunshine outside. Miss Ivy was now blind in addition to being paralyzed.
We each greeted her. “Hi Miss Ivy, how are you?” “I’m fine, thanks be to God.” Each time she was asked the question, her answer was the same: “I’m fine, thanks be to God.”
Sister Connie had asked us to pray with her, so we asked if she would pray with us. None of us were prepared for what happened. Miss Ivy broke into spontaneous prayer – her arms raised and her blind eyes looking to the heavens – her fingers were moving constantly, as if she were stroking the robes of Jesus. Occasionally, she broke into song – her voice was not strong, but it was clear and full of joy.
Now I know how difficult it is to come up with prayers spontaneously, but the words flowed effortlessly from Miss Ivy. They flowed from the depths of her soul – from her Spirit. This amazing woman whose life had been so difficult – even by Jamaican standards – could have been bitter – angry at God and the world – and yet her prayer was a prayer of thanksgiving for the many blessing she had received. This amazing woman who had every right to be absorbed by her own hardships prayed only for us as we stood in the humble room where she had laid, day and night, for nearly 30 years.
This is the Holy Spirit! In the midst of poverty, physical handicaps, and blindness – Miss Ivy was able to see God alive and active in her life. Coming from a world where we keep score with money and possessions, we were captivated by this humble woman who lived in what we would call total and abject poverty. Yet we knew that we were in the presence of the Spirit of God.
As we left Miss Ivy’s room, we each said goodbye. She took our hands – stroked them – and kissed them.
We received the Holy Spirit.