The Solemnity of Pentecost

Today’s readings

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!

veni_creatorI have come to discover about myself that I am not real good at languages. I took a couple of years of French in junior high and I don’t think I remember one word of it. In high school and in college, I took Spanish, and I was okay with it, but never got to the point of being able to have a conversation in Spanish. In seminary, I went to Mexico for six weeks to learn Spanish, and discovered that wasn’t even close to long enough. I can muddle through a little Spanish in the Liturgy, but to preach in Spanish or hear a confession in Spanish is insurmountable to me. I also took one unit of Greek in seminary, and that was almost disastrous. I was glad it was a zero-credit-hour class, so it didn’t get me thrown out on academic probation! I think some people are good with languages, and some are not; that ability is truly one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But, the disciples in our first reading weren’t picked out for their especially good facility with languages either. They were ordinary men, who probably didn’t even have the grammar of their native language down to a science. On these men, the Spirit descended and gave them the gift of proclaiming the Gospel in every language of the known world. This event is miraculous, I think, on two counts. First and obviously, they are given the ability to speak in languages they did not already know. Second, they were given the gift of being able to speak out boldly on behalf of the Gospel. These are men who would not necessarily have commanded the respect or attracted the attention of anyone. They weren’t naturally gifted in public speaking. Yet, they are able to proclaim the Gospel boldly and convincingly, making the message known in the ear of anyone who heard it, regardless of their native language.

This was the first manifestation of the Spirit in the fledgling Church, indeed in some ways it is the birthday of the Church. The Spirit came in power to fill ordinary men with grace to proclaim the Gospel and make it heard by everyone on earth. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ command last week at his ascension: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” They had no idea how to do that before the Spirit came; now they have the power of the Spirit to speak to every creature in every part of the world in a language that could be understood.

We’ve gathered today on the Solemnity of Pentecost … the commemoration of this great event. Today, we have one last opportunity to celebrate the joy of the Easter season. For fifty days, we’ve been celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, his triumph over the grave, and his defeat of sin and death. We’ve been celebrating our salvation, because Christ’s death and resurrection has broken down the barriers that have kept us from God and has made it possible for us to live with God forever. In the last week, we’ve been celebrating our Lord’s Ascension, with His promise that though He is beyond our sight, He is with us always. And today, today we celebrate the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out on the Church, who breathes life into all of us, giving us the power to accomplish the preaching of the Gospel.

The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruah, with is the same word they use for “breath.” So the Spirit who hovered over the waters of the primordial world also breathed life into our first parents, giving them not just spiritual life, but physical life, and life in all its fullness. The psalmist today makes it very clear that this Holy Spirit is the principle of life for all of us: “you take back your spirit, they perish and return to the dust from which they came; when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:34).

That renewing of the earth is accomplished in so many different ways. But the most important way is by the preaching of the Gospel. All of us who have been given to drink of the dew of the Spirit are called upon to preach the Gospel. We may not, as St. Francis suggests, use words all the time, but we must continually express the Gospel in every single moment. Our families need to experience the Spirit in the way that we love them and care for them. People in our workplaces need to experience the Spirit in the integrity we bring to our businesses and the concern we show to employees, employers, colleagues and customers. People in our schools need to experience the Spirit in the way that we learn or teach. People in our communities need to experience the Spirit in the way that we reach out to the needy among us. People in our world need to experience the Spirit in the way that we treat the earth and join efforts to help the poor in other lands.

We need to be a people, filled with the Spirit, who fill our families, workplaces, schools, communities and our world with the grace of the Spirit by the way that we live. We were not given the gifts of the Holy Spirit to keep them for ourselves. They have been poured out on us in order to share with others and join in the Spirit’s effort to re-create the whole world.

Our second reading reminds us that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit that gives us the grace to say anything truly worthwhile. In our own parish, we value the gift of shared wisdom. This is the way that our commissions and committees discuss issues and make decisions. Ultimately, we don’t vote on an issue; we look for consensus, we strive to come to a decision that everyone can live with, through the process of shared wisdom, guided by none less than the Holy Spirit.

But this process of sharing wisdom is a great responsibility. It means two things. First, it means that if the Holy Spirit gives us something to say on an issue, we have no business keeping it to ourselves. We must engage others in dialogue about what’s right, or we run the risk of grieving the Holy Spirit, which we never want to do! Second, it means that we don’t just say the first thing that rolls off our tongue; we don’t fire off that terse email when we’re angry and can hide behind a keyboard; we wait for the gift of the Spirit, we pray, and we engage each other face-to-face. In my time here at St. Raphael’s, I’ve come to treasure this gift of shared wisdom – you taught that to me. That doesn’t mean that any of us – you or me – have always done it perfectly, but I love that we have been learning it together.

This process of shared wisdom and consensus seeking is another way that we as a parish strive to speak the Gospel in language we might not have as part of our native tongue. The Spirit gives us the words to speak, the prayers to pray, the wisdom to share when we don’t have them. And together, we all cry out “Jesus is Lord!” with the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that everyone who crosses our paths can hear it loud and clear, in a way they can understand it.

Having gathered today in this place on this great Feast, we now pray for not only an outpouring of that Holy Spirit, but also for the openness to receive that Spirit and the grace to let that Spirit work in us for the salvation of the world. We, the Church, need that Holy Spirit to help us to promote a culture of life in a world of death; to live the Gospel in a world of selfishness; to seek inclusion and to celebrate diversity in a world of racism and hate; to effect conversion and reconciliation in a world steeped in sin. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if people in this world are to know that Jesus is Lord, it’s got to happen through each one of us. One life and one heart at a time can be moved to conversion by our witness and our prayer. Let us pray, then, that the Holy Spirit would do all that in us.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen. Alleluia!

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

One of the greatest obstacles to the Christian life is comparing ourselves to others. Because, and I’ll just say it, discipleship isn’t meant to be fair. At least not as we see fairness. The essence of discipleship is doing what we were put here to do, we ourselves. We discern that vocation by reflecting on our own gifts and talents, given to us by God, by prayerfully meditating on God’s will for us, and then engaging in conversation with the Church to see how best to use those talents and gifts. That’s the process of discernment, which is always aided by the working of the Holy Spirit.

What causes us to get off track, though, is looking at other people and what they are doing, or the gifts they have, or the opportunities they have received. We might be envious of their gifts or the opportunities they have to use them. We may see what they are doing and think we can do it better. We might be frustrated that they don’t do what we would do if we were in their place. And all of that is nonsense. It’s pride, and it’s destructive. It will ruin the Christian life and leave us bitter people.

That’s the correction Jesus made to Peter. Poor Peter was getting it all wrong once again. He thought Jesus was revealing secrets to John that he wanted to know also. But whatever it was that Jesus said to John as they reclined at table that night was none of Peter’s business, nor was it ours. Peter had a specific job to do, and so do we. If we are serious about our discipleship, then we would do well to take our eyes off what others are doing or saying or experiencing, and instead focus on the wonderful gifts and opportunities we have right in front of us. As for what other people are up to, as Jesus said, “what concern is that of yours?”

As always, the Psalmist has it right. We don’t look at others, we have only one place to look: “The just will gaze on your face, O Lord.”

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

A lack of unity will kill us all. Jesus knew this, and so did St. Paul. In fact, St. Paul used a lack of unity among the Jews to save his own life. He knew that the Pharisees, of which he was one, believed in the resurrection of the dead, and angels and spirit. He knew that the Sadducees did not (which is why they are sad, you see…). When Paul appealed to the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection of the dead, he got them on their side, and the skirmish that ensued caused the commander to whisk Paul to safety. He was not to die this day; the Lord had other plans for him.

As Jesus gets ready for his own death in the gospel reading today, he prays for the unity of the first disciples. He knew that they would be challenged greatly by the world, because they were no longer of the world. They belonged to God now, and that would be the source of their unity. That unity would keep them together and ensure that a reasoned, unified message would be proclaimed throughout the world and throughout the ages. That was the only way the gospel could be proclaimed to every creature on earth.

In our day, unity is just as critical as it ever was. We still believe in ONE holy, catholic and apostolic church. We believe that Jesus came to found just ONE church, and that the fragmentations that exist among us are the result of sinfulness and broken humanity. We need to be people who witness to the joy of our faith so that we can bind up all that disunity and become once again one people, healed of all divisions. We are called to be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one, so that we can witness to all the world the saving power of our one, almighty God.

The Ascension of the Lord

Today’s readings

For some reason, whenever I’m in the car with my mother, taking her wherever it is we need to go, we seem to get all the red lights. After we stop for a dozen of them or so, it becomes kind of a joke, and she just laughs and says, “well, it’s because I’m in the car with you!” What makes it so funny is that neither of us is really that good at waiting. But hey, are any of us good at waiting? We are a people who want to get on with it, we don’t like to stand around doing nothing. We want to come to a decision, to make things happen, to get it over with already.

So today’s feast is a little bit of a challenge for us, I think. The Ascension in some ways is the feast of waiting. The disciples in our first reading from Acts want to know if this is it, is Jesus finally going to restore the kingdom to Israel. And this betrays the fact that they’ve gotten it wrong once again. “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority,” Jesus tells them. They want to know the big picture, to see what’s coming next, and Jesus isn’t going to do that for them. They are just going to have to wait.

Waiting is hard for the Apostles to do. They have fervor having been with Jesus, but they were always getting it wrong. They are looking for the coming of the Messiah. They want Jesus to be the one to restore the kingdom to Israel. They want everything wrapped up, all of their hopes and dreams fulfilled, and they’d like all that to happen now, please. And who can blame them? Don’t we too have these same expectations of Jesus from time to time? Don’t we too want the wars in the world to come to an end and peace to break out all over the globe? Don’t we want to stop experiencing illness, and death and sin? Don’t we want the kingdom to come now, not later, in our lifetime, so we can see it? Who can blame the Apostles for not wanting to wait? We ourselves cannot wait for the fullness of the kingdom to be accomplished.

But they, and we, are told to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Because by themselves, Jesus told them, they can do nothing. It is only with the grace of God, poured out by the Holy Spirit, that anything worthwhile can ever be accomplished. Without the Spirit, those first disciples were always misinterpreting Jesus’ words and actions. Without the Spirit, they scattered at the first sign of trouble. This too, is something we experience. Whenever we attempt to do anything, worthwhile as it may be, without God’s help, we are destined to fail. We might want to better ourselves in some way, by giving up a vice or learning something new, but without God’s grace, it falls flat soon after we resolve to do it. We may want, as our Gospel says, to drive out demons, to speak new languages, to heal the sick. But how do we do that on our own? The answer is, we don’t. We too have to wait for the Holy Spirit.

Waiting is a spiritual discipline that we must all learn. The reasons to develop the habit of waiting are good ones. In waiting, we have that time out that keeps us from doing something wrong. In waiting, we gather better information and think things through before we launch into something the wrong way. In waiting, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit who leads us in the everlasting way. And that gift of the Spirit is absolutely worth the wait!

So today we stand here with the disciples. There are so many questions to ask. What’s going to happen when? How do we be a Church? What do we need to do to spread the Gospel to every creature on earth? But this isn’t the time to get all the answers. We will have to wait. Because now, our Lord ascends from our sight. In his glorified, resurrected body, he rises to heaven, returning to the Father from whom he came. Will we do the same, returning in our resurrected bodies to the Father? Yes. When will that happen? That’s not for us to know right now. Again, we will have to wait.

And so, with those first disciples, we stand here, peering up into the heavens, waiting for our Jesus to answer all our questions, to bind up all our woundedness, and to bring us all to glory. But we can’t go there just yet. And so, what are we doing standing here looking up into the sky. Jesus will return. We don’t know when; we will just have to wait. But while we are waiting there is much to do.

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” This is important work that has been entrusted to us. Because the consequences are dire: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” And this task is given to us disciples. We have to proclaim the gospel in everything that we do. In the words we speak, in our actions and habits, in the love we bring to others – this is how people will hear the gospel. If they don’t hear it in your actions and love, they may never hear it in a homily or sermon. “Preach the gospel at all times,” St. Francis once said, “and when necessary, use words.”

So that’s what we are to do while we are waiting. We have to make sure everyone knows that God loves them enough to send his only Son to be our salvation. Jesus came to earth, taking on our human body, becoming one like us in all things but sin, walked among us and died the same death we all do, paying the price for our sins and obliterating the obstacles of sin and death that kept us from God. People need to know that and if they’re ever going to hear it, they need to hear it in you – in your families, in your workplaces, in your schools, your communities, wherever God puts you. And it is that gift of the Holy Spirit, that gift for which we wait on this Ascension day, that will give you the power to do that convincingly.

These last months have been a difficult time of waiting for me. I had asked the bishop and the personnel board of our diocese for permission to stay at St. Raphael’s another year. Because there is much that still needs to be done. But, this week, I was reminded that I’m not supposed to do it all. I learned that in the week after Father’s Day, I will be transferred to St. Petronille in Glen Ellyn, and that a new priest, a newly ordained priest, would be coming here to St. Raphael. So now the waiting is over, and the moving and the leaving and the saying goodbye has to start. Quite frankly, if there is anything I dislike more than waiting, it’s moving and leaving and saying goodbye. But that’s where life takes us from time to time.

You absolutely have to know that my heart is breaking as I leave here. You have been my family, and you have been the family that has formed me in my first years of priesthood and has made me always want to be a better priest every day. You have loved me into my vocation, and have been shining examples of faith and discipleship for me. You have prayed with me, and worshipped with me, and served with me. You were the ones who helped me through the illness and death of my father in my very first year as a priest. You will always have a special place in my heart, and I will always be grateful for the gift of having been your priest.

I hope that you give those same gifts to the new priest. He will need your love and support. He will need you to challenge and teach him. He will need your prayers. Fr. Ted and I will need your prayers too as we go through this transition. I’ll still be here for a few weeks, so this isn’t goodbye just yet. Instead it is a thank-you. And God bless you for being the people you have been for me.

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

We gather here today on the eve of the Ascension. The tension is palpable; the disciples have so many more questions to ask, and they have no idea how short a time they have left to ask them. They are certainly not prepared to have the one they lost briefly to death ascend from their sight. They have been reunited with their friend and have gathered around him with a purpose; not wanting to ever be parted from him again.

And Jesus has been preparing them in the Gospel readings this week for what must come. If God’s purpose is to be advanced on this earth, then Jesus has to return to the Father. They will mourn once again for the loss of their friend. But if he does not leave them, he would not be able to send the Holy Spirit, the new Advocate to come and lead them to all truth. If the Spirit does not descend, the Church would not be born. If the Church were not born, the Gospel would be but an obscure footnote in the history of the world.

And so Jesus, their friend, prepares them for his parting. When he is gone from them, they will be able to ask the Father for whatever they need in Jesus’ name, and it will be given them. Their friendship with them will bear fruit in blessing.

The same is true of us. We disciples, we friends of Jesus, can count on his blessing, the rich gift of the Holy Spirit, the great witness of the Church. Our lives are enriched by our faith and our discipleship. What we do here on earth, what we suffer in our lives, what we celebrate — all this will bear fruit for the glory of God.

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Petty jealousy is a pernicious thing. Paul experienced it, directed against him by those Jews who were jealous of Paul’s effective preaching and suspicious of the Christian Way. In their fear and jealousy, they appeal to Gallio, a Roman official, complaining that Paul stirred up the people to worship God contrary to the law. By this they did not mean that Paul and the others were worshipping in a way they didn’t like – although that was certainly true. What they were trying to do was get Paul and the others arrested for worshipping God at all, in violation of Roman law.

The Romans were a pagan people, with their own gods, and it was required that all citizens worshipped these gods and not the God of Israel or certainly Jesus Christ. Sometimes this was not enforced so rigorously, as was the case with Gallio. So those troublemakers among the Jews were guilty of it too. But these troublemakers were trying to get Gallio to enforce it against Paul and his followers, and not against themselves of course. Gallio sees through their very thinly veiled patriotism and throws them all out, turning a blind eye as they beat a synagogue official who was a supporter of Paul.

What a horrible mess, isn’t it? Neither those troublemakers nor Gallio were at all virtuous. The troublemakers weren’t so much concerned about the laws of the land as they were quibbling about following Jesus. And Gallio wasn’t so concerned about defending the Christians as much as he wanted them all to go away and leave him alone. Through it all, Paul was able to see the fulfillment of God’s promise in the vision he had: “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you.” And that’s exactly what Paul did.

It is up to us to witness to our faith courageously too. We might face opposition, and even petty jealousy. But the message is too important to bury for fear of what might happen. We must trust that the Lord will preserve us too, in the same way he guarded Paul in his efforts to proclaim the Gospel.