Our Gospel reading today is all about prayer: Jesus gave us what we call the "Lord’s Prayer", and then He told us a parable exhorting us to persevere in prayer. I was very struck by those final words of His:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"
How many people, in their prayers, ask to be given the Holy Spirit? Surely, most who, in their prayer ask to be given something, will ask for a blessing suited to this world: health, food, success, comfort, strength, or whatever, for themselves or for those dear to them. Now, it is clear from the prayer Jesus gave us that He does not disapprove of such requests: for He gave us words asking for bread, forgiveness, and protection; and He Himself, in His own personal prayer, frequently asked His Father to strengthen and guide Him. So how is it then that He speaks, in the verse I have just quoted, as though the heavenly Father gives only the Holy Spirit, no matter what we might request?
We have here a wonderful example of the hidden riches of Holy Scripture! We do pray for all sorts of blessings for ourselves and, as the example of Abraham encouraged us to do, also for others. When, in such prayers, we pray according to the will of God, He hears our prayers and grants our requests: but He does this through the Holy Spirit, ever secretly at work in our lives and in our world.
Even more important, however, is the implicit teaching contained in those words of Jesus: namely, that we can ask for nothing better than the gift of the Holy Spirit: this is because He is, Personally, the "Gift of God" which means that He, the Holy Spirit, is the Gift the Father wants to give, and Jesus wants us to receive, above all; and therefore He is, indeed, the supreme Gift for which a disciple of Jesus can, and should, pray. Let us try to understand why.
In the first reading we had the vague hint of the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity - three Persons in one God – found in the deepest layers of the Old Testament:
And the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. .
Three "men" had come to Abraham's camp in the heat of the day and had accepted his hospitality; then, as you heard, they spoke as one: "The Lord said … I will go down to Sodom." Not "we will go down", but "I will go down". However, we are then told that it was two of the three who "turned away and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the Lord." Somehow those heavenly guests of Abraham were one and three.
As you know, the Son and the Holy Spirit were sent by the Father on earth, as it were to sinful Sodom, for our salvation. The Son was born of Mary and was called Jesus because He it was – the Son of Man - Who would die and rise again to free us from our sins. After dying on the Cross, Jesus rose to heaven as He had foretold (Luke 22:69):
Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God,
and it was the Holy Spirit Who came down upon the Church to extend Jesus' salvation to all mankind.
This had been foretold in Psalm 110:
The LORD said to my Lord: "Sit at My right hand till I make Your enemies Your footstool."
Jesus, therefore, the Son of Man, having conquered sin and death, is now seated at the right of God the Father in glory, while the Holy Spirit -- working in and through Mother Church and, indeed, all men and women of good will -- makes His enemies and the enemies of mankind’s salvation a footstool for His feet.
Now, perhaps, you can begin to see why we should want to receive, above all other gifts, this Gift of God, the Holy Spirit, into our lives.
For He is, first of all, the Spirit of Truth, Who alone can lead us to the truth of Jesus and about Jesus:
When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth Who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. (John 15:26)
Again, He is the Spirit of holiness:
Jesus Christ our Lord was declared the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4)
Who, therefore, can lead us to holiness of life more surely than the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of holiness.
Moreover, He alone knows God's will for us, what He expects of you and me individually, and what He has prepared for us (1 Corinthians 2:11):
No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.
The Holy Spirit knows us through and through: for if, according to the Scriptures, no other human being can know us as we know ourselves:
what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?
how much more true is it, that the Holy Spirit Who knows the things of God Himself and who dwells in the hidden depths and secret folds of every human heart, knows us infinitely better than we could ever know ourselves?
Finally we should pray for God's Gift because Jesus Himself has put this request first and foremost in the prayer He taught His disciples:
Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come.
Only the Spirit of holiness can hallow the Father's name; and He, moreover, is the One Who has been sent by the Father to make Jesus' enemies a footstool under His feet and thus bring in the Kingdom of God:
Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come.
People of God, Mother Church is suffering greatly today for the sins of the world no doubt, but also for her own sins. There is no sure defence, nor can there be, against personal sin ... it is the work of one far more powerful than men: Satan, the Devil. Against such a foe, only God, the God of truth and love, holiness and power, can defend and redeem us. When, therefore, society as a whole turns away from God, when governments accord Him no power or authority in their social structures, then we are guided and governed by nothing more than strictly limited human wisdom at the best which is totally incapable of defending us against sin. Politicians, and government ministers of all sorts, here and abroad, strike attitudes and use pretentious words that, often enough, serve no other purpose than to hide, cover up, not only human ineptitude and institutional malfunctions, but also international greed and malpractice of all sorts. Money can and does lead men and women of apparent rectitude to do great evil, not only in secret and against individuals but, what is much worse, against the public body. The desire for popular acceptance together with the fear of public disapproval, motivate the political body as a whole much more forcefully than does solicitude or respect for their fellow men.
Therefore we must remember:
We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit Who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. ( 1 Corinthians 2:12)
We must treasure "the things freely given to us by God", that is our faith, His truth and grace, and the hope which it inspires in us; we have to reject the worldly craving for popularity and political correctness if we would hope to have the Holy Spirit of God at work in us: forming us, secretly but surely, in the likeness of Jesus. The world loves to plan and plot now for its own future profit and advantage; we, as disciples of Jesus, must live in the present in such a way as to sustain hope for our eternal destiny, and that we can only do by the active rejection of sin in the present and the persevering practice of prayer for the future.
Which one of you convicts Me of sin? (John 8:46)
We can, as did Jesus in the desert, turn away from temptation and reject sin in our lives by the power of His grace, in the power of His own Spirit Whom He shares with us; and in thus fighting to overcome sin in our lives we will, inevitably, practice and grow in true virtue. The acquisition of holiness, however, is not within our sphere of competence, so to speak: we cannot plan to become holy of and for ourselves, for such endeavours, be they moved by spiritual simplicity or, more likely, by spiritual ambition, by virtue of their being fatally flawed with presumption, can result in nothing more than an imitation holiness for human appreciation only. God alone is Holy, and true holiness for a child of God is not a worldly commodity humanly conceived and fabricated, so to speak; neither is it even the faithful following of a predetermined path apparently walked by saints or taught by spiritual guides: it is a human sharing in the very nature of God, and only persevering prayer can help us toward that which is essentially His Gift alone; and even then, such prayer is largely a matter of listening and longing, looking, waiting and aspiring, come what may.
The Holy Spirit, the Gift of God, alone can lead us to that holiness which God wants of us individually: He is the Spirit of holiness, indeed, He is the Spirit of Love, and love of Jesus, love of God, is the only truly authentic holiness for human beings. We have to humbly and perseveringly pray for that; firmly trusting that the Father, of His great mercy and goodness, will give it to us, for Jesus' sake, in His own way and according to His own measure, not as the world or our own pride would have it.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on a day such as this, let us confidently and whole-heartedly renew our hope in His promise:
If you who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?