The Solemnity of Pentecost

Today’s readings

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
w
ho proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

We say these words every Sunday, and unfortunately I think they can become a little rote.  And that’s too bad, because they are beautiful words, and they have been given to us at great cost.  We should pray them perhaps a bit more reflectively today, on this feast of the Holy Spirit.

So these words are the part of the Creed that speaks of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, whose feast we celebrate today.  Today is the birthday of the Church, the moment when the Spirit descended upon those first Apostles and was passed on through them to every Christian ever since.  The Holy Spirit emboldened those first disciples and continues to pour gifts on all of us so that the Church can continue the creative and redemptive works of the Father and the Son until Christ comes in glory.  That is what we gather to celebrate today.

At the Ascension of Christ into heaven, which we celebrated last Sunday, the apostles had been told to wait in the city until they were clothed with power from on high.  This is exactly what we celebrate today.  Christ returned to the Father in heaven, and they sent the Holy Spirit to be with the Church until the end of time.  That Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary so that God can continue to work in the world and be in the world while Christ was no longer physically present.

I don’t know if we understand how radically the Holy Spirit changes things.  The Fathers of the Church wrote about it very plainly.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria writes: “It can be easily shown from examples both in the Old Testament and the New that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life.  Saul was told by the prophet Samuel: The Spirit of the Lord will take possession of you, and you shall be changed into another man.  Saint Paul writes: As we behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, that glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit, transforms us all into his own likeness, from one degree of glory to another.”

And we do see the work of the Holy Spirit on those disciples of the early Church.  They were confused people.  They had no idea what to do now that Jesus had died and risen.  Think about it.  What if you were there?  What would you have made of all that?  Would you know what to do next any better than they would?  I don’t think I’d do very well!  But it was the Holy Spirit that changed them.  And thank God for that, or we wouldn’t have the Church to guide us today!

The Spirit changed Peter from an impulsive, bumbling disciple to an Apostle of great strength.  He shared his own gift of the Holy Spirit with many others, baptizing them and confirming them in the faith.  He guided the Church from its rough beginnings to the birth of something great.  The other Apostles likewise went out, bringing the Gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit to all corners of the then-known world.  Their witness eventually brought the Church to us, in our own day.  The Spirit changed Saul from a man who oversaw the imprisonment and murder of Christians into Paul, a man who was on fire for the faith.  His preaching and writing converted whole communities of Gentiles and helped them believe in the Gospel, and continues to inspire us in our own day.

The Holy Spirit has continued to work in the hearts and minds of countless saints through the ages, making up for any personal inadequacies they may have had and giving them the strength to teach truth, write convincing testimonials, reach out to the poor and needy, bind up the broken and bring hurting souls to the Lord.

That same Holy Spirit continues to work among us in our own day, if we are open, if we let him do what he wills.  The Holy Spirit is still making saints, guiding men and women to do things greater than they are capable of all on their own, for the honor and glory of God.  This is the Spirit who enables you to have words to speak to someone who is questioning the faith, or to a child who wants to know why the sky is blue, or to a friend who needs advice that you don’t know how to give.  The Spirit even speaks for us when we are trying to pray and don’t know quite what to say to God.

The Spirit gives us the inspiration to do acts of mercy and love.  It is the Holy Spirit who encourages you to take on a ministry at church, or to coach a softball team, or to look in on a sick friend or neighbor, or give an elderly parishioner a ride to church.  It is the Spirit who inspires us to pray in new ways, to grow in devotion, to spend more time getting closer to the Lord.  All in all, it is the Holy Spirit who helps us to find the way to heaven, the goal of all of our lives.

We should pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit every morning of our lives.  It’s amazing how much that changes me over time.  The prayer I learned at my Confirmation is as good a way to pray that as any, and maybe you know it too.  If you do, pray along with me:

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

Amen.

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today, after having completed the Easter Octave yesterday, we begin the second phase of our Easter celebration.  Now we begin the preparation for the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the first Apostles, and later to each Christian believer.

We have in our Gospel today the emergence of the interesting figure of Nicodemus.  He was a Jew, and one of the Pharisees.  But he found Jesus and his message compelling, so a few times in John’s Gospel we get to hear from Nicodemus.  Even though the rest of the Pharisees flat out rejected Jesus, Nicodemus knew that he couldn’t reject him so quickly.  There was something to this Jesus, and he wanted to get to the bottom of it.   We don’t know if he never fully, publicly accepted Jesus, but he definitely took many steps on the way.

Today Nicodemus and Jesus speak about being born again, born of the Spirit.  This for us is a process of accepting the Gospel in faith, and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and then living as a people reborn.  Although we can point to our Confirmation day, and even the day of our Baptism as days when we received the Holy Spirit, the process of accepting the Gospel in faith and living as a people reborn in the Spirit is one that takes the better part of all of our lives.  What we celebrate with joy today is that we are on that journey.  Because of the Resurrection of Our Lord and his gift of the Holy Spirit, we can now live according to the Spirit’s direction in our lives, confident that that Holy Spirit will give us the gifts and courage to do what we are called to do.  The Apostles did that in today’s first reading, and now we must do the same.

Friday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time: Mass of the Holy Spirit

Today’s readings
This is the first school Mass of the year, so I celebrated a Mass of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience, when you’re talking to someone, that you feel like you’re not both having the same conversation. Or you feel like, even though you’re both speaking English, you’re not talking the same language. Sometimes that happens: you think you’re both talking about the same thing, but very clearly, one or both of you is missing the point.

I think Saint Paul’s message to the Corinthians today might be something like that. They think they know what wisdom is, and I believe they really do know how the world defines wisdom, but the thing is, God’s wisdom is very, very different from the world’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is way beyond anything anyone has ever thought. Because, for God, wisdom looks like that Cross up there. Because the Cross is what the world thinks of as the ultimate defeat. It was a death saved for the most horrible criminals. It was a very public way to put an end to someone’s criminal foolishness.

But God used that horrible thing to make the best thing ever happen. He used the Cross to overcome the worst death ever by raising Jesus up on the third day. The worst death ever became the best life ever, where there is no more pain or sadness or death. It turns out God’s wisdom is very, very wise indeed!

For Jesus in today’s Gospel the call to be truly wise was a bit more simple: be prepared. Just as the wise virgins who had taken the time to buy enough oil to last them through the night were rewarded by getting to join in the marriage feast, so all of us who are wise enough to be a light shining in a dark place will be rewarded with being able to join God’s feast and become one with him.

I think it makes a lot of sense that we talk about wisdom at the beginning of our school year. The whole point of this coming school year is for all of us to grow in wisdom. So we have to be ready to tackle subjects that maybe don’t make a lot of sense to us at first. We might think something new is just foolishness until we actually get it, and then we grow in our ability to learn. And we have to come prepared, knowing that sometimes it doesn’t seem like we’re going to understand what we’re being taught, but persevering, staying with it anyway until it actually makes sense.

For all of this, we have to rely on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s own spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the grace and the gifts to do all the really good things that we want to accomplish and that God wants us to do. And so we begin our year by asking the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, and the grace to hang in there when things get tough.

But the Spirit’s gifts are more than just wisdom. Saint Paul says to the Corinthians a little later on in his letter:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. (1 Cor. 12: 4-11)

And so someone might be able to grasp wisdom or knowledge quickly. Another might be a person of great faith, helping others to trust God when things are tough. Another person might have the gift of healing, maybe helping people when they are hurting physically or emotionally. The point is the Holy Spirit moves us in many different ways, and all of us are given some of the gifts of the Spirit. And we are given those gifts so that we can give them to others.

So as we begin our school year together, we want to pray to the Holy Spirit so that he will give us whatever gifts we need to do whatever it is we are supposed to do. We want to thank the Holy Spirit for those gifts, and promise to use them for our good and the good of the other people he puts in our lives. And we should always thank God for those wonderful gifts, because they make us better, happier people and using them makes our world a better place.

I know a lot of you know the prayer to the Holy Spirit, so if you do, pray it along with me:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle 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.

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter 

Today’s readings

I don’t believe in coincidences. Being in the right place at the right time isn’t usually a coincidence. Far more often than we realize, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Certainly that is the case in today’s first reading. How else would we explain an angel directing Philip to be on a road at the very same time as the Ethiopian eunuch passed by, reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah that referred to Jesus? Seizing the moment, Philip proclaims Jesus to him in a way that was powerful enough and moving enough that, on seeing some water as they continued on the journey, the eunuch begged to be baptized.

The same is true for those who were fortunate enough to hear Jesus proclaim the Bread of Life discourse that we’ve been reading in our Gospel readings these past days. Having been fed by a few loaves and fishes when they were physically hungry, they now come to find Jesus who longs to fill them up not just physically but also, and more importantly, spiritually. Their hunger put them in the right place at the right time. 

What I think is important for us to get today is that we are always in the right place at the right time, spiritually speaking. Wherever we find ourselves is the place that we are directed by the Holy Spirit to find God. Wherever we are right now is the place where the Holy Spirit wants us to find God and to proclaim God. That might be in the midst of peace, or chaos, or any situation. We never know how God may feed us in those situations. Because we never know when there will be someone like an Ethiopian eunuch there, aching to be filled with Christ’s presence and called to a new life. 

It is no coincidence that we are where we are, when we are. The Spirit always calls on us to find our God and proclaim him as Lord in every moment and every situation. 

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter 

Today’s readings

In these Easter days, the Scriptures begin to speak to us about the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift, is not rationed, as Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel reading. This gift is empowering and renewing and, according to the Psalmist, de-marginalizing.

We all know the kind of men the Apostles were. Yet now, given the gift of the Holy Spirit, they have been transformed completely. Cowardice has been replaced by something very close to bravado. Ineffectuality has been replaced by miracle work. Hiding has been replaced by boldness fired by the truth. In a sense, they have been resurrected in these Easter days. They are new creations because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 

This is the gift that Jesus wants for us in these Easter days too. He wants us to know a complete transformation by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Having done penance during Lent, we now have the grace of that Spirit to transform our lives, our hearts, and our desires during Easter. And we are assured by our Risen Lord that the Spirit will not be rationed. Whatever it is that is lacking in us will be completely transformed in the Spirit so that we too can boldly proclaim the wonderful works of our God. 

That transformation happens little by little as we put ourselves in the presence of our God. We have the opportunity to do that in so many ways. Opening ourselves up by taking quiet time for prayer, spending time with our Lord in adoration, reading Scripture for a few minutes each day, reaching out to others in prayerful service; all of these help us to be transformed in the Spirit. That’s how we can come to know how wonderful are the gifts that the Spirit is longing to bestow upon us, and how much they will transform us. 

The Solemnity of Pentecost

Today’s readings

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. That line from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians at the beginning of our second reading today says more about the Holy Spirit than we might catch at first.

Words contain a lot of power. We know that well, because lots of times we say the wrong things and we see how it upsets people we love. And equally we experience the power of someone saying just the right thing at the right time and we see how that expression of love changes everything. Words can convey a range of emotions from love to hate, and everything in between. Words can start an argument, but the right words can diffuse a really bad situation. We’ve seen it thousands of times.

Most of us receive the gift of speech at birth, and come into it during our childhood. We develop the gift of speech throughout our lives, perhaps learning foreign languages, or become skilled speakers. Speech is crucial to living in society.

But it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to say anything really good. The only way that we can say “Jesus is Lord,” as Saint Paul tells us, is by the Holy Spirit. The only way that we can witness to the faith, is by the Holy Spirit. That was true of the first Apostles. Remember what happened to them right after the events of Good Friday. They scattered. When they did speak, they put their foot in their mouths. Peter used his gift of speech to deny that he even knew the Lord, let alone witness to the Lord’s power to save. At that time, the Apostles couldn’t even wrap words around what was going on in their own minds, so they were never going to be able to spread the Gospel.

Until Pentecost. Receiving the gift of the promised Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus promised to send them, they are able not only to preach the Gospel, but to preach it in a way that people who spoke different languages were all able to understand it. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit brings everything together for them, and now, only now, are they able to say that Jesus is Lord!

The absence of the Holy Spirit is unparalleled sadness. We can’t say – or do – anything really good without the advocacy of the Holy Spirit to inspire – literally breath into us – the goodness for which we were created. The sequence today proclaimed it well:

Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

So when we receive the Holy Spirit, we are inspired to say and do good things too. The Holy Spirit will inspire us to speak many kinds of words in many situations. We can depend on the Spirit to give us the words when we don’t have them. Saint Paul teaches that the Spirit even prays in us when we can’t pray, expressing our needs in groanings when we can’t find the words to say. So the Holy Spirit will inspire us to speak…

  • Words of comfort to those who are going through difficult times. Maybe just by being with them and saying nothing at all.
  • Words of challenge when we are in a situation that is veering off course, and others are urging us to go the wrong way.
  • Words of correction when a child is acting out or not living up to their full potential.
  • Words of reconciliation when we seek to heal a broken relationship.
  • Words of vision when we are part of a group that is seeking to do something new.
  • Words of healing when we comfort another person who has been wronged by others.
  • Words of change when we stand up for what is right in a society that wants to do what it wants to do.
  • Words of mercy when we let go of a grudge, or forgive someone who has hurt us.

The Holy Spirit will give us the right words for all of this at the right time, and we will be able to speak them in a way that everyone who needs to understand them can understand them. We may never be able to speak multiple languages – God knows I can’t! – but in the Holy Spirit we will be able to proclaim that Jesus is Lord in our words and actions and no one will be able to miss the significance of that – everyone will understand it.

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Being in the right place at the right time isn’t usually a coincidence.  Far more often than we realize, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly that is the case in today’s first reading.  How else would we explain an angel directing Philip to be on a road at the very same time as the Ethiopian eunuch passed by, reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah that referred to Jesus?  Seizing the moment, Philip proclaims Jesus to him in a way that was powerful enough and moving enough that, on seeing some water as they continued on the journey, the eunuch begged to be baptized.

The same is true for those who were fortunate enough to hear Jesus proclaim the Bread of Life discourse that we’ve been reading in our Gospel readings these past days.  Having been fed by a few loaves and fishes when they were physically hungry, they now come to find Jesus who longs to fill them up not just physically but also, and more importantly, spiritually.  Their hunger put them in the right place at the right time.

What I think is important for us to get today is that we are always in the right place at the right time, spiritually speaking.  Wherever we find ourselves is the place that we are directed by the Holy Spirit to find God.  Wherever we find ourselves is the place that we are directed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim God.  And so we may be called upon to find God in the midst of peace, or chaos, or any situation.  We never know how God may feed us in those situations.  And we may indeed be called upon to proclaim God in those same peaceful, or chaotic, situations.  Because we never know when there will be someone like an Ethiopian eunuch there, aching to be filled with Christ’s presence and called to a new life.

It is no coincidence that we are where we are, when we are.  The Spirit always calls on us to find our God and proclaim him as Lord in every moment and every situation.