Acts 19:1-8
Psalm 67(68):2-7
John 16:29-33


The approach of Pentecost is a good time to think about what the Spirit of God really means in our lives.  

In today’s Gospel reading, the disciples are beginning to become alert to the new reality of Christ’s resurrection.  What they had thought were dreams, were coming true.  When the going got tough, with Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution, they were nowhere to be seen.  Now, following his resurrection, they are awakening to the realisation that Christ is of God. ‘Finally’, says Christ, ‘Finally you get it!’  But had they really?  He alerts them to the costs of discipleship, that they are about to be scattered and that they will encounter troubles.  Yet he encourages them to be brave and so they may find peace in him.

Many of those disciples and followers of Christ since, have found his peace, sometimes in the most confronting and threatening of circumstances. 

Irene McCormack, the anniversary of whose death occurs next week on 21st May was a contemporary of ours who found the peace of Christ in circumstances from which many of us would run away. Irene was a sister of St Joseph (a Brown Joey), originally from Kununoppin, in rural Western Australia. A life-loving character and Aussie Rules tragic, Irene went to work in Peru, after years of teaching in Josephite schools. 

In 1991, Irene was distributing food and supplies on behalf of Caritas and running a school library in the village of Huasahuasi, in the Andes. Word reached the village that Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path guerillas were intent on killing local and church officials. The priests left town, but Irene and her companion sister refused to leave the people. They continued to visit the sick, to help with the kids’ education, to lead Eucharistic services and to train Eucharistic ministers.  On 21 May, whilst her fellow sister was temporarily absent, Shining Path guerillas descended on the village. Irene was taken from the convent to the village square and subjected to a show trial along with four male officials.  They were each accused of spreading American propaganda and were summarily executed by a bullet to the head. To the people of Huasahuasi, Peru,  Irene is revered as a saint to this day.

I don’t imagine that too many of us will be confronted with the sorts of stark choices Irene faced.  Yet Christ didn’t promise a cushy life as a member-benefit of discipleship. How do we let go of anxiety and fear and open our hearts to receive the peace of Christ when we are troubled?

Perhaps Irene found the answer. Some months before her death, she wrote the following prayer, which may give some insight into how God worked in her:

God, my Father, you love me and forgive me.
So today I accept all as gift
And ask to find you Lord,
The giver in the gift.
I choose to face life without fear
And to live wholeheartedly
In each present moment.
May my heart sing today
A song of loving, grateful praise.
I am God’s work of art.
I am precious in his sight.

Brian Norman has been associated with the Passionists in various ways since he was three weeks old when he squared off with Fr Placid Millay CP over the baptismal font at St Brigid’s, Marrickville.