Saturday, June 11, 2011

Veni, Sancte Spiritus!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, June 12, 2011:
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One bright Sunday morning, Stephen's mother hurried into her son's bedroom to wake him up. “Stephen, it's Sunday. Time to get up and go to church!” Stephen mumbled from under the covers, “I don't want to go and I'll give you two reasons why: First, I don't like them and second, they don't like me.” His mother replied, “Now, that's just plain nonsense. You've got to go to church and I'll give you two reasons why you must. First, you're 40 years old and, second, you're the pastor!”

We heard in our Gospel that Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We celebrate today the Solemnity of Pentecost. This was originally a Jewish festival 50 days after Passover celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses and the foundation of the covenant making Israel God’s chosen people. Today, as Christians we celebrate 50 days after Easter, the New Passover, the giving of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant established in the Church.

This story of Pentecost began in fear in the upper room and ended in joy. Pastor Stephen could as well be any of the apostles whom Jesus had commissioned to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. But as soon as Jesus leaves them ascending to Heaven, what did they do? They retired to their upper rooms and hid themselves. They were afraid of the people. Like Stephen they knew that the people did not like them, they knew that their message was different from the popular message of the time, and they just felt like wrapping themselves up in bed and not having to get up and face the hostile world.

We too are often like that, saying our prayers quietly, going to church quietly, receiving Jesus in our hearts quietly, and going home again quietly. But what about the charge that Jesus left us to be His witnesses and to share the Good News of God's love with all people? Sometimes we think that people don’t like to be reminded of God. We’re afraid they’ll tell us to “go away” if we speak to them about God. We’re afraid they won’t listen. We’re afraid they’ll say we’re too religious and out of touch. We’re afraid that our faith isn’t strong enough to stand up. Or more simply, sometimes it’s just, they don't like us and we don't like them. And so, like Stephen, we give up on our God-given duty and go on enjoying our comfortable silences, our comfortable sleep.

But, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Fortunately, Pastor Stephen had a guide, his mother, who woke him up and persuaded him to go out and preach. There is a wonderful prayer that, in religious life, we pray at the beginning of daily meditation, “Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.” This is the kind of work that the Holy Spirit does in the hearts of believers. When fear of trouble tends to freeze our faith into silent submission, the Holy Spirit warms us up – enkindles the fire - and empowers us to go out and make a difference.

The Holy Spirit reminds us that we have a mission. Our mission is to tell everybody the Good News that God is their Father, that God is the Father of us all, that in spite of all the visible difference of language and culture and social status, we are all one family and should live as brothers and sisters. Our mission is to break the barriers between “us” and “them,” between male and female, between Jew and Gentile, between rich and poor, between conservative and liberal, between Black and White, between whatever it is that divides us and to bring all people to speak the one universal language of brotherly and sisterly love. This is possible only through the working of the Holy Spirit. And so, Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

And yet, despite a more than 2,000 year history, somehow the world has yet to fully embrace the Gospel message that Jesus came to bring us. “What can I do?” you may say, “I am only a single individual. What difference can I make?” A squirrel once asked a wise owl what the weight of a single snowflake was. “Nothing more than nothing,” the owl answered. The squirrel then told the owl about a time when he was resting on a branch of a tree, counting each snowflake that came to rest until he reached the number 3,471,952. Then with the settling of the very next flake -- crack. The branch suddenly snapped, tumbling the squirrel and the snow to the ground. “That was surely a whole lot of nothing,” said the squirrel.

Our daily personal efforts to spread God’s Kingdom of love and justice may be as light weight as snowflakes. But by heaping our snowflakes together we shall eventually be able to break the heavy branch of sin, evil and injustice in our world today. And we can only do that if we are open to the Holy Spirit who wants to enter our lives and give us the strength we need.

So, on this day of Pentecost, let this be our prayer, “Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of us, your faithful people, and enkindle in us the fire of your love so that we can spread the Good News of your Kingdom to all the world.”

May God give you peace.

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