Saturday, May 22, 2010

Let us become fire

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 23, 2010:


There is a story of a woman who took her five-year-old son to see a famous piano player in concert. Her hope was that the experience would encourage her young son in his own musical pursuits. Arriving at the concert hall, she was thrilled to see how close their seats were to the stage. Then, the women ran into an old friend and became so involved in her conversation that she failed to notice that her son has slipped away to do some exploring. As 8 o’clock rolled around, the lights of the concert hall dimmed, the audience hushed to a whisper and the spotlight came on. Only then did the women see her five-year-old on the stage, sitting on the piano bench, innocently plucking out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

She gasped in total disbelief. But before she could retrieve her son, the famous pianist walked onto the stage to perform. Walking over the piano, he leaned over and whispered to the boy, “Don’t stop. Keep playing.” Then leaning over the boy, he reached out his left hand and began to fill in the bass. A few seconds later, he reached around the other side of the boy, encircling him, and adding a running obbligato. Together, the great maestro and the tiny five-year-old mesmerized the audience with their playing. When they finished, the audience broke into thunderous applause. Years later almost everyone who had witnessed this event forgot all of the other pieces the pianist played. But, no one forgot “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

Think for a moment how wonderfully this image of the great maestro and the young boy speaks of what we gather to celebrate today in this Solemnity of Pentecost. Pentecost means literally “50 days” and it has been 50 days since we celebrated the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Today is often called the birthday of the Church as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples just as Jesus promised when He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always… The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

Our story of the boy and the maestro serves as a contemporary parable. We can see that the boy resembles the disciples. When Jesus departed from their midst, ascending to the Father in Heaven, they were like spiritual children. Their knowledge of God and how to spread God’s kingdom was terribly deficient. It was not unlike the boy’s knowledge of music. And, of course, the maestro resembles the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples, encircling them with love, whispering encouragement in their ears, and transforming their simple human efforts into something greater, something powerful, something beautiful – something that has spanned two millennia and continues into a third.

And, I think this is the lesson for all of us today. We can look at our world and see so many problems that need to be addressed. It seems like the list never ends. We can compare that with our talents and come to the conclusion that we are inadequate to the task; that the problems far outweigh our ability to do anything to make a difference.

For example, we can look at the vast army of poor people in our world, and say, “How can I, with my limited means, put even a dent into this enormous problem?” Or we can look at the immense ocean of hatred and anger in our world, and say, “How can I, with my limited love, change any of this?” Or we can look at the growing apathy of Christians when it comes to following Jesus with all that we are and say, “How can I, one person, help to reverse this situation?”

And this is precisely where we need to recall the simple image of the great maestro and the little boy. Musically, the boy’s skills were minimal. But the maestro built upon them and turned them into something masterful – something that completely mesmerized the sophisticated audience that had gathered that night. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit will take whatever we have – no matter how small – build upon it, and transform it into something powerful and beautiful. We see God do this exact thing in every Eucharist – we place before Him something as meager as simple bread and wine, and He – by sending His Holy Spirit upon it – transforms them into something powerful and beautiful – the very presence of Jesus in our midst.

And, He wants to send that same Holy Spirit upon each of us to the same result; to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary; to transform the regular into the holy; to consecrate the mundane and make it into the spectacular beauty that results from His presence.

This is the good news of our Scriptures today. This is the good news that we celebrate on this Solemnity of Pentecost. It is the good news that Jesus has sent His promised Holy Spirit upon each of us – His Church. We are not alone. The Holy Spirit is leaning over us, encircling us with His love, taking our small contribution and transforming it into something we never dreamed possible.

All we have to do is invite Him in. Let me end with an adaptation of a poem by Amado Nervo:

Alone we are only a spark,
But in the Spirit we become fire.
Alone we are only a string,
But in the Spirit we are a lyre.

Alone we are only an anthill,
But in the Spirit we are a mountain.
Alone we are only a drop,
But in the Spirit we are a fountain.

Alone we are only a feather,
But in the Spirit we become a wing.
Alone we are but a begger,
But in the Spirit we become a king.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, enkindle in us the fire of Your love.

May God give you peace.

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