Stephen said ‘‘I can see heaven thrown open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’’ (Acts 7:56)
As you know the Archbishops have asked the entire Church of England to pray very fervently for a new evangelization of these isles in the period between Ascension Day and Pentecost. And here we are. During this time we retrace what the Apostles did in the company of the Virgin Mary and the first disciples; when, after Jesus ascended to the Father, they immersed themselves in prayer waiting for Spirit of God. This is the time when we must pray passionately for the Holy Spirit to descend with power once again over this land; a land that has fathered many great and venerable saints over the centuries. This is the time to align this nation to the Holy Spirit through our prayers; the time to make a way among our people for God’s desire to be fulfilled – that everyone might come to salvation in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
But when we ask for the Holy Spirit to descend in this way, what are we really asking for? “Please, God, evangelise this country?” “Please, God, make everyone Christian by tea-time?” No. I would suggest that when we pray for the Holy Spirit we ask God for a two-fold gift, a gift that will involve both us and the people outside these walls; we ask the Spirit to give us courage in manifesting our faith through words and actions, and to open people’s heart to the message of the Gospel.
In our first reading we find a little representation of how evangelisation sometimes works when only one side is open to the action of the Holy Spirit. On one hand we have Saint Stephen, a follower of Christ, who after being cornered and questioned, affirms his faith in Jesus. His speech is summed up in one verse by the reading, but if we looked up this passage in Acts we would notice that Stephen actually speaks for a whole chapter guided by the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, we have a group of people who strongly oppose the faith, and who do everything they can to avoid hearing about the Lord. In fact, we read that after Stephen affirms his faith these people ‘shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands’ (Acts 7:57) to prevent them from hearing the Christian truth. Their hearts are hardened and closed to the voice of the Spirit. But this representation is not confined to the Bible. I am sure many among us have witnessed situations where we have been ignored or belittled because of our experience of faith, because we have spoken about Jesus and about his Church. Even now many people ‘shout out and stop their ears with their hands’ not wanting to hear about faith; their hearts too, may be hardened and closed to the voice of the Spirit.
Our fervent prayer for evangelisation is the only way to address situations like this and open people’s heart to the action of the Holy Spirit. Through this prayer we ask that we ourselves might be more like St Stephen; that we might have courage to hold fast and to proclaim the faith, to share the joy of knowing Christ with others. Secondly, we ask that people might become more receptive to the Christian faith and to the ministry of his Church, because only the Spirit can break down people’s indifference or resentment towards the Christian faith. “Come, Holy Spirit!” Through this twofold prayer we will receive strength to be the vehicles of a new evangelisation and we will prepare people’s hearts to receive the Gospel with joy.
Come, Holy Spirit!Pour upon us your gifts of wisdom and knowledge to inspire us;your gift of understanding that we may desire to deepen our faith;your gift of courage to help us sharing the faith with others.In moments of hesitation, remind us:If not us, then who will proclaim the Gospel?If not now, then when will the Gospel be proclaimed?If not the truth of the Gospel, then what shall we proclaim?Come, Holy Spirit!Pour upon this land your gift of counsel to reawaken longing for you;your gift of wonder to breakdown indifference for the faith;and your gift of devotion to nurture in true religion.Come, Holy Spirit! Amen.