Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3-7,12-13/Gal 5:16-25; Jn 20:19-23 (15:26-27,16;12-15)
Jesus Breathes the Holy Spirit
OTHER HOMILY SOURCES from epriest
2015 May 24, 2015, Pentecost (ABC)
Acts 2:1-11; Psalms 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; First Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Lesson 1: The Church’s Work: Reuniting Mankind (First and Second Readings, Gospel)
For the ancient Jews, Pentecost was one of the top three religious holidays. It had two important meanings.
First, on Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover (the word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek for “fifty”), the first fruits of the spring grain harvest were offered to God in a special sacrifice at the Temple.
(That may sound strange to us, who live in a climate that has only one harvest each year. But in Palestine, they had two yearly harvests.)
- In this sense, it was highly appropriate that God sent the Holy Spirit to his Church in a public way on Pentecost.
- The Holy Spirit is the first fruit of the harvest of the New Covenant.
- The New Covenant is Christ giving us a new, redeemed life of grace.
- This life begins here on earth under the action of the Holy Spirit, but it will only reach its fulfillment – the full harvest – in heaven.
But there was a second meaning to the Jewish festival of Pentecost. It commemorated God giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai.
- Soon after the Israelites had miraculously escaped from Egypt, God sent them the Law, a guide for how they should live now that they were freed from slavery to Pharaoh.
- In this sense too, it was appropriate that God sent his Church the Holy Spirit during that Festival.
- The Holy Spirit is the bond of unity between the Father and the Son. And the Law of the New Covenant, the Law of the Church, is unity.
- As St Paul says, the Church is a body with many parts, but it remains one, united body.
It is the Church’s mission to reunite the human family that has been torn apart by sin.
That’s why all the visitors in Jerusalem heard the Apostle’s words in their own languages.
That’s why as soon as the risen Jesus breathes on his Apostles; he instructs them to forgive sins.
Illustration 1: Pope John Paul II’s Funeral
Most of us remember the events surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005.
Those extraordinary few weeks gave us a brief glimpse of this work being done by the Holy Spirit through the Church, this work of gradually uniting all of mankind.
- More than three thousand foreign journalists descended upon Rome as John Paul II was dying.
- Almost overnight hundreds of media broadcast tents sprang up on the outskirts of Vatican City.
- Worldwide media gave around-the-clock coverage to viewers across the globe, of every age and ethnic group.
- During the week before the funeral, 2 million pilgrims paid their last respects in person to the pope as he lay in state. Some of them waited in line for 24 hours to do so.
On the night before the funeral, more than 800,000 pilgrims spent the night praying and waiting in the streets and plazas of Rome.
- Most of these were young people who had come from all five continents.
- All night long you could see them waiting in line for confession at makeshift, outdoor confessionals that Rome’s priests had set up on doorsteps and under lamp posts.
The funeral itself was followed closely by millions via television and radio.
The amount of world leaders who actually came to be physically present was extraordinary.
- It included four queens, five kings, seventy prime ministers or heads of government, and more than 100 other recognized dignitaries.
- Dozens of Orthodox, Protestant, and Jewish leaders joined them.
- It looked and sounded like the first Pentecost.
The whole series of events was like a living symbol of what God is doing, has been doing, and will continue to do through his Church until the end of time: making one family out of a divided world.
Illustration 2: St Peter’s Square: Symbol of Dynamic Unity
This is the Church’s work.
It is symbolized by the architecture of the Church’s most famous plaza: St Peter’s square, in Rome.
- Almost a hundred thousand people can fit inside that plaza, which is as wide as three football fields and located in front of St Peter’s Basilica, the heart of Vatican City.
- It is constructed in the shape of a rectangle connecting the basilica’s entrance with a huge oval space surrounded by almost 350 massive columns and pilasters.
- If you look down at the plaza from above, those curved lines of columns surrounding the oval look like huge arms spread in welcome.
- The artist who designed the plaza, Gianlorenzo Bernini [john-lorenzo buhr-KNEE-knee], described this as a symbol of “the maternal arms of Mother Church“.
- The arms of a mother always ready to welcome all her children, both the ones who are already full members of the family, and those still looking for their spiritual home.
- And those arms have indeed welcomed pilgrims from every continent, age group, and walk of life for the last 500 years – ever since this expanded plaza was first constructed.
- And the crowds are still coming. Every Wednesday the Pope welcomes pilgrims to the plaza, and in the last two years the number of pilgrims in those audiences has averaged 20,000 per week.
- The unity symbolized by this space even goes beyond the limits of time.
- Lining the columns and walls around the plaza are 140 taller-than-life-sized statues of saints, of men and women, peasants and kings, hermits and housewives, who come from every period of history and every corner of the globe.
Bringing unity, in Christ, to the divided human family, this is the work of the Church, which began on Pentecost and won’t stop till history ends.
Illustration 3: Our Lady of Guadalupe Rolls Up Her Sleeves
The miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe is perhaps one of the clearest and most dramatic historical examples of how Christ brings his people together through his Body the Church.
The popular image of Our Lady has hung in Mexico City for over 475 years, and scientists who have examined it agree it is not of natural or human origin; but relatively few know the whole story.
- Before Columbus arrived in America, Mexico was a naturally beautiful yet morally dark world.
- Ruled mostly by the Aztecs, the culture had made great leaps in engineering, but their civilization rested on a pagan religion that demanded continual, bloody, and violent human sacrifices.
- The Spanish, led by Hernan Cortes, conquered Mexico in 1521.
- They put an end to the pagan worship practices and gratuitous slaughter.
- Though many dedicated missionaries came to Mexico, they had difficulty bringing the native peoples to the Christian faith.
- This was because some prominent European colonialists there gave bad personal example and heartlessly exploited the conquered population.
- The Bishop of Mexico City at the time even wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, saying that unless God directly intervened, there would be no way to convert the Mexicans.
- Historians have even said that in 1531 a revolt among former Aztecs was a real possibility, which would have set off a chain of violence ending in mass genocide for both races.
- Just then the Virgin Mary appeared to a little Indian named Juan Diego, and her message and image touched both the Europeans and the natives so tenderly that a mass conversion followed.
Today both races have blended to form one Mexican nation, and the shrine housing the miraculous image attracts 18-20 million pilgrims every year, making it the most visited Catholic shrine in the world.
This is a sample of the uniting power of God, the “Pentecostal” power of the Holy Spirit.
[Information for this Illustration was drawn from this Zenit article.]
Application 1: Breaking Down Barriers
We are members of this Church, and so we have all benefited from its mission of unity – the Church has reached out to each of us and brought us into God’s family.
But as members, we are also responsible for carrying this work forward.
One way to do so is by breaking down barriers.
- Barriers are things like fear, misunderstanding, prejudice, jealously, envy, resentment, grudges.
- These are at the root of all the conflicts that threaten world peace. But all those large scale conflicts can always be traced back to conflicts in individual hearts.
- If we learn to break down barriers in our own hearts, we will become more effective builders of unity in the world around us.
One of the barriers that come up most frequently in our daily lives is that of misunderstanding.
- This is also known as “lack of communication” or “miscommunication”.
- An international business consulting firm did a study a few years ago about the most common obstacles to productivity.
- They concluded that over 85% of problems in the business world stem from miscommunication.
- In family relationships, I would estimate that the percentage is even higher.
Jesus has given us the method for breaking down this ubiquitous barrier.
- Before allowing ourselves to pass judgment on someone, we should make an effort to see things from their perspective.
- Until we can express the other person’s point of view even better than they can, we should refrain from passing judgment on it.
- That’s what Jesus did.
- Instead of passing judgment on sinful humanity, he came down from heaven and lived among us. He showed that he knew our perspective.
- And so he was able to break down mankind’s misunderstanding of God and open the way for a renewed relationship of trust.
Today we will receive Jesus in Holy Communion. When we do, let’s promise that this week we will follow in his footsteps, doing our little part in this great Pentecost mission of uniting a divided world.
Application 2: Becoming Smarter Partners of the Holy Spirit
This is the Church’s work – reuniting the divided human family with God and with each other.
- Most people, even most non-Christians, would agree that uniting mankind is a worthy goal.
- In fact, many international lobbying groups are dedicated full time to noble causes like world peace, eradicating poverty, and reducing arms sales – the modern world is full of creative initiatives for unity.
As Christians, though, our efforts are different.
We aim not only at the symptoms of disunity, but at its cause.
- The Church has taught us many times and in many ways that the fundamental cause of disunity in the human family is sin, the rebellion of the human heart against God.
- How can we all be united in one family unless we all love and obey one Father?
- It wasn’t the Apostles’ human brilliance that enabled them to speak the foreign tongues on that first Pentecost.
- It was God’s grace, the Holy Spirit working through the Church.
And so, if we are to fulfill our role as members of this Church whose mission is building unity, if we are to be active, efficient, and effective builders of unity in our families, schools, communities, and workplaces, we must be first and foremost men and women of prayer.
- Prayer binds us firmly to God, so that through us his strength can bring together the scattered pieces of fallen humanity.
- A mature prayer life makes us smart partners of the Holy Spirit.
Today, when the Holy Spirit renews his presence in us and in the world during this Mass, let’s renew our commitment to becoming mature men and women of prayer, so that we can boldly advance the Church’s beautiful and urgent mission.
Lesson 2: The Holy Spirit Works Quietly (First and Second Readings, Psalms, Gospel)
We all like spectacular fireworks. They are exciting, impressive, exhilarating.
The Church’s first Pentecost had some spectacular fireworks.
The Apostles and other Christians were gathered “in one place together”.
- We don’t know exactly where.
- Probably it was somewhere inside or near the Temple in Jerusalem, since right after the fireworks, crowds started to gather.
- It may have been the same large room where Jesus and the Apostles had eaten the Last Supper.
- We are not certain.
So they were all in one place, and then a thunderous noise like a strong wind, like a tornado, came from the sky.
- And then flames appeared. Flames of fire just appeared out of nowhere, spontaneously, hovering in the air.
- And these flames divided up and started floating through the air until they came to rest on each of the people gathered.
But the fireworks didn’t stop there.
- All of a sudden the Christians started speaking in languages that they didn’t know.
- A crowd had gathered by now, with visitors from all over the world who were in Jerusalem for the festival.
- Each one heard the Christians explaining the gospel in their own language.
It was a dramatic, spectacular display.
But we would be wrong to conclude from this that the Holy Spirit’s normal way of acting in our life is through dramatic fireworks.
- In fact, it’s just the opposite.
- God’s action in our life is most often gentle and hardly perceptible at first.
- How does Jesus send the Spirit to his Apostles after his resurrection? He breathes on them – quietly and subtly.
- How does St Paul describe the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church? Like the soul of a body – powerful, essential, but invisible and subtle.
The Holy Spirit works quietly.
Illustration 1: Symphonies and Windows
Think of a symphony orchestra.
- It’s made up of a hundred different musicians and dozens of instruments.
- The conductor is the visible focus of everyone’s attention, both the musicians and the audience.
- And yet, is the conductor the real source of the music?
- No, the composer is.
- In front of every musician is a music stand holding a few pages marked with black dots – the score, the music.
- No one in the audiences sees the score, but that score is what brings all those minds together, coordinates everyone’s efforts, and produces a beautiful, inspiring performance.
That’s what the Church is like.
- The Pope is the conductor, guaranteed by God to stay faithful to the musical score.
- We are all musicians, contributing our own unique talents to the symphony of holiness that resounds throughout the world and history.
- And the Holy Spirit is the living musical score, the one who tells us what notes to play, when to play them, how fast to play them, how loud and soft.
He is the silent force behind the power of every saint, every Christian, and the Church as a whole.
This same quiet but powerful style of the Holy Spirit is illustrated by the famous Holy Spirit Window in St Peter’s Basilica, in Rome.
- It is an oval window at the farthest end of the gigantic basilica.
- In the center is a figure of a dove, and around the dove are twelve sections of translucent amber that look like twelve spokes in a wheel.
- It is the only colored window in the entire building, and it quietly suffuses the immense space with a warm, golden light.
Quiet and subtle, yet full of transforming power – that’s how the Holy Spirit likes to work.
Illustration 2: St John Gualbert Sheathes His Sword
The Holy Spirit’s most important work is done quietly, because it consists of changing hearts.
And that’s something that can only happen in an intimate encounter between God and the soul.
The story of St John Gualbert (GWAHL-buhrt) is a beautiful example of this.
- John was the founder of a monastery outside the city of Florence, Italy, in the mid eleventh century, a monastery that has been a factory of holiness ever since.
- But John didn’t start out as a saint.
- He was a young nobleman who thoroughly enjoyed all his aristocratic privileges.
- Besides pleasure, his main passion was revenge.
- His brother Hugh had been murdered, and John felt it was his duty to put the killer to death.
- For a long time he searched for the culprit, becoming angrier the longer he searched.
- One Good Friday as he was returning to Florence from a short journey, he was making his way through a narrow pass in the road when his prey entered the same pass from the other side.
- There was no escape.
- John drew his sword and prepared to avenge his brother’s death.
- But the killer cast himself on his knees and begged for mercy.
- At that moment, his sword poised over his enemy’s neck, the thought of Christ on the cross, forgiving his enemies, suddenly came to the future saint’s mind.
- He couldn’t bring himself to carry out his long-contemplated plan.
- Instead, he sheathed his sword, embraced his brother’s murderer, and forgave him.
- After the encounter, he went to the nearest church to pray.
- That’s when he discovered his vocation and began the adventure of becoming a saint.
Just the thought of Christ on the cross, just a quiet little thought nudging his conscience– that’s the real work of the Holy Spirit.
That’s how God builds up his Kingdom.
Illustration 3: The Example of Mary (with quotation from Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta)
Consider the example of Mary.
The Bible tells us that Mary was there in the Upper Room, waiting with the Apostles for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
She was the mother who had given birth to the head of the Church, Jesus, in Bethlehem.
And now she is the mother who is helping to give birth to the rest of the body of the Church at Pentecost.
What was she doing?
- Praying with them, certainly.
- But she was probably also serving them, being a mother to them in the midst of their confusion and nervousness.
- They probably were asking her about Jesus, and listening – maybe for the first time – to the story of his birth and childhood.
- Maybe this is when they first heard about the Annunciation.
- That was the day the archangel Gabriel came to her and explained that “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you and you will conceive.”
- She probably told them about the many conversations she had in her heart with the Holy Spirit after that day, the ones St Luke referred to in his Gospel when he wrote (more than once): “And Mary kept all these things, contemplating them in her heart.”
This is the key.
- To contemplate is to go over an idea in the silence of your mind in converse about it with God.
- And that’s what Mary was always doing.
- Becoming the spouse of the Holy Spirit didn’t bring fireworks and fancy balls into her life, it brought meaning, mission, wisdom, courage – virtues that take root and grow in the quiet center of the soul, just as seeds take root and grow in the unseen darkness of the soil.
Quiet, gentle, unseen, yet powerful, transforming, and everlasting – that’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta put it beautifully when she said:
“God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Application 1: Obeying the Quiet Voice
There is only one condition attached to this gift.
To experience God’s transforming presence in our lives, we have to obey his will out of love: “Whoever loves me will keep my word,” as Jesus says in the Gospel.
- All of us here today want to obey God’s will in our lives – some want to do so passionately, others reluctantly, but we all want to – otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
- But how do we know what God’s will is?
The Holy Spirit quietly reveals God’s will to us in two ways.
First, he inspires and guides the teaching of the Church.
- the commandments of the Bible,
- the instructions in the Catechism,
- the examples of the saints,
- the regular updates from the pope’s encyclicals –
the Holy Spirit wants us to know how a Christian should live, and he gives us the Church to keep us posted.
In this way, the Church, under the pope’s leadership, is like the conductor of a symphony: we have to keep our eyes on him if we want to play our part well.
But the Church can only give commandments and guidelines that apply to everyone.
- That tells God’s will 85% of the time.
- But 15% of the time we are faced with opportunities and challenges unique to our own life-circumstances.
- That’s when the Holy Spirit guides us more personally, through inspirations, through his seven Gifts, through wise advice.
In both ways, he is hard at work, quietly but surely, building up our happiness and that of those around us.
In today’s Mass, when he renews his commitment to guide us, let’s renew our commitment to follow and obey – not in order to experience spiritual fireworks, but in order to feed the fire of God’s love in our hearts, whose light and heat we all need so much.
Application 2: Practice Makes Perfect
The Holy Spirit works quietly, but effectively.
Like the life of a vine, which constantly but silently carries nutrients to every branch, invisibly producing luscious, visible fruit, the Holy Spirit is always gently inspiring us to follow Christ more closely, so that we can experience a truly abundant life.
But unlike vines, this process doesn’t happen automatically. It depends partly on our free choice.
- That’s why Jesus says in the Gospel, “Whoever loves me will keep my word.”
- We don’t obey the Holy Spirit’s inspirations like robots; we obey out of love, because we know that Christ will never lead us astray, and because we want to stay close to him.
That is our part, to obey God’s will. [Here you can make reference to the illustration you used: e.g., St John Gualbert heard the Holy Spirit’s voice as he was about to execute his enemy, but he freely chose to obey that voice; e.g., each musician in the orchestra has the score in front of him, but he must consciously choose to play those notes.]
And since the Holy Spirit typically works quietly, we have to pay close attention.
- We have to make a point of listening to him, of consulting him when we have decisions to make or doubts to resolve.
- He guides us from within, the way magnetism guides a compass.
- But unless we frequently look to see where that compass is pointing, we will never reach the destination we long for.
In today’s Mass, when he renews his commitment to guide us, let’s renew our commitment to pay attention – not in order to experience spiritual fireworks, but in order to feed the fire of God’s love in our hearts, whose light and heat we all need so much.
Lesson 3: God Wants to Be Our Constant Companion (from alternative gospel Year C)
The context of the words Jesus speaks in this Gospel is crucial.
- He is with his Apostles at the Last Supper, and he has just explained to them that he will be leaving.
- He has to go back to his Father.
- He recognizes that this news is upsetting to the Apostles.
- They have left everything in order to follow Christ, and now Jesus tells them that he is leaving.
- But Jesus then gives them some mysterious news.
- He promises that although he has to go back to his Father, he will not leave them alone.
Once Jesus is back in heaven, he will be able to stay closer than ever to his followers, because he and the Father will send them the “Advocate to be with them always” the “Paraclete”, the Holy Spirit.
- The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the love between the Father and Son lived so intensely that he is a person himself.
- When we are baptized, that same Spirit takes up residence within our souls, and he brings Jesus and God the Father along with him – because where one is, all three are.
- The influence and action of the Holy Spirit in our lives increases when we are confirmed.
- This gift surpasses all other gifts.
In the Holy Spirit, the prophecy of “Emmanuel” (God-with-us) takes on unimaginable proportions: not merely God among us, as in the Incarnation, but God within us, a guest in our souls, a guide for our life’s journey, a personal trainer for our spiritual fitness.
This is the gift we celebrate today, on Pentecost. God himself has come to be our constant companion in life. What greater gift could Christ have left us?
Illustration 1: Clues from the Digital World
Our hearts yearn for this.
- We yearn for friendships that are not limited by time and space.
- We yearn to be known and loved completely, unconditionally, and all the time.
This deep human need has shown itself it in the way digital communications technology is being used.
- These technologies have taken a turn that the inventors didn’t anticipate.
- Digital communication hasn’t had its most profound effects on business, education, and politics, but on friendships.
- The most used Web sites are the ones where friends share thoughts, pictures, videos, and conversations – the sites that bring friends together digitally even when they can’t be together physically.
- The same thing has happened with cell phones – they have given people new ways to stay more completely connected.
Many times, the substance of these ongoing exchanges is meaningless.
- If any of you travel by plane, you have certainly noticed this.
- As soon as the plane lands, people pull out their cell phones and call or text the person who is picking them up.
- The conversation goes something like this: “Hello? We just landed. What? Are you in the parking lot or at the curb? I’ll see you at the baggage claim…”
- Nothing substantial is being said – nothing practical, even.
- And yet, a connection has been made.
- We want that. We want to know that we are not alone.
Cell phones may help break down the limits of time and space, but only God can break down spiritual limits.
- Only God can really meet this need, because only he knows and loves us without limits.
- That’s what our hearts yearn for.
The surprising thing is that God yearns for it to.
He wants our company so much that he has come to dwell in our hearts – digital technology isn’t good enough for him: he wants to be connected to our lives 24/7.
Illustration 2: St Catherine’s Secret Chamber
This is a lesson we all must learn if we are to unleash the power of God’s grace in our lives.
It’s not always easy to learn.
It wasn’t easy for St Catherine of Siena, one of the most influential saints of the late Middle Ages.
- She first felt called to a consecrated vocation when she was just six years old.
- Jesus appeared to her as she was walking with her brother down the street. He smiled at her, reached out his hand, and blessed her.
- From then on, her heart was for Christ alone. All she wanted to do was spend time with him and serve him.
- But her family wanted her to get married. So they did everything they could to disrupt her spiritual life.
- They gave her twice her share of chores (and the worst ones), and whenever she tried to sneak off to be alone with God, they would drag her back into work or conversation.
- This went on for years. She suffered terribly. But gradually this mini-persecution taught her the lesson that would change her life.
- She ended up constructing what she later called a “small chamber in my heart“.
- She imagined a space there, where Jesus was always waiting for her.
- Whatever chores she had to do, she could always find him there, speak to him, and share with him her thoughts, concerns, and love.
- So her vocation grew, her parents finally recognized it and allowed her to consecrate her life to God, and the Church and the world have never been the same.
And that is true for each one of us: the Holy Spirit is our constant companion, the sweet guest of our souls, sitting patiently in the secret chamber of our hearts, eagerly waiting for us to speak with him and learn from him.
Illustration 3: Saved by the Holy Name
This is why God chose to reveal his name to us.
- In the Old Testament, it was forbidden to call God by his name – the sacred name was spoken only once a year, by the high priest, during the penitential sacrifice on the Day of Atonement.
- Since God is ever-present, saying his name immediately draws his attention, and the ancient Israelites didn’t want to do that, because they recognized their sinfulness and feared that the divine presence would destroy them.
- So they kept God at a distance by not using his name.
- But all that changed with the Incarnation.
- By becoming man, Jesus paid the price for our sins, and he also made himself one of us.
- He took a name that he wants us to use all the time, because he wants us to invite him into every corner of our lives so he can shower us with his grace.
There is power in the name of Jesus when we speak it with faith, which is why St Paul says that no one can call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).
There is a famous story about a Franciscan brother who was on his deathbed.
- He had a terrible vision in which he faced the judgment seat of God and had to give an account of his whole life.
- He was not conscious of any mortal sin, but the examination was so strict that he was on the verge of despair.
- At that moment, the Blessed Virgin Mary came to console him.
- She said: “My child, say one hundred times the most holy name of Jesus, and you will obtain pardon for your faults.”
He followed her instructions and felt the flood of God’s mercy wash over his soul, and died in peace, singing a hymn to the holy name of Jesus.
Application 1: Making Good Use of the Tabernacle
Today, as we commemorate Pentecost, this great gift of God’s constant, intimate companionship, our hearts should be full of gratitude.
- We never have to be alone anymore.
- The one who knows us and loves us dwells in our hearts and is always there to guide us.
Unfortunately, this is a truth that we often forget.
- The hustle and bustle of life tends to distract us.
- That’s a tragedy, because only God’s companionship, only our friendship with him can give us the peace, meaning, and inner strength we yearn for.
So how do we keep ourselves from being distracted?
- Jesus has given us a secret weapon for this very purpose.
- He knows that one of the reasons it’s hard for us to remember that he is in our hearts, is because we can’t see our hearts, and so we can’t see him there.
And so he has given us a presence that we can see – his real presence in the Eucharist.
- After Mass, the priest gathers together the consecrated communion hosts and puts them in a golden ciborium.
- Then he puts the ciborium in the golden box near the altar, called the tabernacle. [You can adjust this description to fit your parish.]
- A red sanctuary lamp burns close to the tabernacle.
- It is there to remind us that the real presence of Christ, the same presence we receive in Holy Communion, is still there.
- That red flame symbolizes Christ’s burning love for us.
- It is the continuation of the tongues of fire that appeared on the first Pentecost.
If we come frequently to the tabernacle during the week, we can be sure that that same fire will purify the hustle and bustle of our lives, constantly reminding us of the treasure we bear in our hearts.
Application 2: Leveraging the Power of Gratitude
God has given us the greatest of all Gifts, the Holy Spirit, because he wants to be our constant companion, he wants to guide us through life, every step of the way.
- And we want the same thing – we want to experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
- But we forget about God’s grace so easily in life’s hustle and bustle.
What can we do to stay online with the Holy Spirit?
I wish I could give you a magic formula, like the formulas that crop up in all the self-help books, but I can’t.
- Our relationship with God is a friendship, not a chemical reaction.
- And so it takes constant maintenance, like any relationship.
It takes being obedient to God’s will, prayer, regular confession – but being faithful to those things doesn’t happen without effort.
That’s why we tend to slack off.
- Life is already demanding, and so it’s hard to stay motivated enough to follow through on our commitment to excellence in holiness.
- We can only do so by keeping in mind the fundamental truth that underlies everything else: that God is love, and that everything he sends us, permits us, or asks of us flows from his love.
- When that truth is firm and fresh, it feeds our prayer and fidelity.
How can we keep it firm and fresh?
- Gratitude – the rarest flower in the garden of virtues.
- If we take five minutes every day to thank God for his blessings, past and present, we will come to know his love deeply and truly.
- Don’t take my word for it: try it.
- This week, for five minutes a day, write God a thank you note or sit quietly and, in his presence, count your blessings.
If we do, the flame of Pentecost that was lit in our hearts at baptism will stop flickering and start burning.
Lesson 4: Every Christian Is a Burning Flame of Grace (from Liturgy)
For the past seven weeks we have kept the Easter Candle here in the sanctuary, lighting it every time we have celebrated Mass.
- The living flame of the Easter Candle reminded us that Christ is alive, that he rose from the dead just as the sun rises each morning to put an end to the darkness of the night.
- The tall, white candle with a burning flame on top reminded us of God’s faithfulness throughout all of history.
- It symbolized the two miraculous pillars – smoke by day and fire by night – that had guided the ancient Israelites out of Egypt, through the desert, and to the Promised Land.
- Now it is Christ, the Risen Lord, who is our pillar of smoke and pillar of fire, our sure guide out of slavery to sin, through this world of trials and temptations, and into the Promised Land of Heaven.
But today we remove the Easter Candle from our sanctuary.
Until next Easter, we will only use it during baptism ceremonies, when Christ’s risen life is given for the first time to new members of the Church.
Does the removal of the Easter Candle mean that Christ is no longer among us?
No. The sanctuary lamp beside the Tabernacle reminds us that Christ hasn’t’ gone on vacation.
Rather, today is Pentecost, the day when Christ’s risen life was entrusted to the Church by the gift of the Holy Spirit,
- the Third Person of the Holy Trinity,
- who descended like tongues of fire on the Apostles nine days after Christ has ascended into heaven.
That new season in the life of the Church is paralleled by our new liturgical season, Ordinary Time,
- when we take the Easter Candle out of the sanctuary,
- because we ourselves become living Easter Candles, burning flames of wisdom,
- pillars of Christian faith and love spreading Christ’s hope in the world.
Illustration 1: St Nino Spreads the Faith
This is why wherever there is a Christian, there is hope, because God himself is present in the soul of that Christian.
This means that it only takes one faithful Christian to start a revolution of redemptionin a family, a community, or even an entire country.
St Nino [KNEE-no] is a remarkable example of this.
- She was a slave girl who lived in the 300s and was brought to the ancient, pagan Kingdom of Georgia, just south of Russia.
- She also happened to be a Christian.
- She was a model, hard-working servant, and she impressed everyone who knew her by her joyful temperance, chastity, and piety.
- When asked about her faith, she would simply answer, “I worship Christ as God.”
One day, a mother brought a sick baby to the young Christian, asking how to treat him.
- Nino took the child in her arms, wrapped him in her mantle, and called on the name of the Lord.
- When she returned the boy to his mother, he was in perfect health.
- The Queen of Georgia, who was suffering from a mysterious and debilitating illness, heard rumors of the miracle, and sent for Nino to come to the palace and cure her.
- Nino refused to come.
- The Queen, making a great act of humility and faith, went to the young virgininstead, and she too was cured.
- She told the King, and soon afterwards he too was saved by invoking Jesus during a life-threatening hunting expedition.
- Both King and Queen then publicly declared their intention to become Christians, were instructed by St Nino, and sent for a bishop and priests from Constantinople as they began construction of Georgia’s first Christian church.
Wherever there is a Christian, there is hope, because God himself is present – that’s what Pentecost is all about.
Illustration 2: Supernatural Dandelions
Before Pentecost, the followers of Jesus could fit inside one room.
Today, Christians are found in every corner of the globe.
There is no natural explanation for this, because on a merely natural level, Christianity has relatively little to offer.
- Jesus promised that his followers
- will have to take up their crosses every day;
- will be persecuted, as he was;
- will have to strictly govern their natural impulses for money, sexual pleasure, power, and self-indulgence;
- will have to actively serve and be generous to their neighbors;
- will have to love and forgive their enemies.
- Following Christ means following a narrow and steep path through life on earth.
So how is it possible that Christianity has more followers than any other religion in the world?
Because it is comes from God himself.
- When the Holy Spirit came down upon the Church at Pentecost, the Apostles didn’t receive a clever, man-made philosophy; they received the real seed of divine life.
- That life grew in their souls, and produced fruit, and that fruit in turn carried the divine life to other souls, who welcomed it, nourished it, and produced more fruit.
- Our faith is not a new philosophy; it is a new life! And we are meant to pass it on to others until it fills every human heart, family, and society.
In 1620, when the Mayflower left Europe and crossed the Atlantic Ocean, there wereno dandelions in America.
- But immigrants who had long used them for their valuable medicinal properties, and in salads, soups, and teas, brought them along to the New World, together with other imported plants. (This was before the modern era of golf-course-perfect front lawns.)
- By 1671, according to eye-witnesses, dandelions were everywhere.
- On Pentecost, God sent a handful of dandelions from heaven to earth and planted them in the hearts of Christians.
- And ever since then, the flames of Christ’s grace keep blossoming everywhere, tirelessly announcing the springtime of redemption that is gradually thawing the long, dark winter brought on by original sin.
Illustration 3: St Patrick’s Dream
Celtic legend tells of a dream St. Patrick had when he was an old man, after more than twenty years of working to convert the barbarian Irish.
- He was standing in a field and could see lights burning in the darkness.
- In front of him was Jesus, silently motioning to follow him.
- The Lord led St. Patrick up a high mountain overlooking the valley and there Christ pointed down into the darkness below.
- “Look,” he said.
- Patrick looked down and saw, amidst the shadow of the night, a great many flames burning, lighting up the countryside, warming Patrick’s heart.
- He knew they symbolized the Christian faith he had planted, the faith that hadgrown and now spread all across the island nation.
- He looked at Jesus and smiled.
- But Jesus wasn’t smiling. He pointed back down the valley and said again, “Look.“
- Patrick looked. To his horror, he watched as one by one, the flames died out.
- Puff, puff, puff – and they were gone.
- In the darkness, the old and weary bishop looked back at Jesus with tears in his eyes.
- “Oh tell me,” he said, “Lord, tell me, that Ireland will never lose the faith!”
- And as he broke down and cried, he felt a strong arm lifting him up and a gentle hand pointing his face down again to the valley below.
- There upon the meadow in the darkness was a single lamp burning, a tiny flame that had been there all along, though Patrick had not noticed it before.
- Suddenly, as before, another flame appeared that seemed to draw itself out of the other, and another from that one; and another and another, until the lights spread once again all across the countryside, and it more ablaze than ever.
Wherever there is a single Christian, there is undying hope, because God himself, the unconquerable light, is present in every Christian heart – that’s what Pentecost is all about.
Application 1: Keeping the Flame Alive
How can we follow this call to be Easter Candles for the world?
Most importantly, we have to make sure we keep the flame burning in our hearts.
- If we do, it will give light and warmth to those around us without our even realizing it.
- Too many Christians have let the flame die out.
- They call themselves Christians, but they live mediocre lives.
- They have none of Christ’s wisdom, courage, virtue, or joy, so they can give none of it to those around them.
But today, Pentecost, God will renew the flame in each of our souls, and it will be up to us to keep it burning, to feed the flame.
We can do that in two ways.
First, we have to make sure that prayer is our highest priority in life.
- What oxygen is for a flame, prayer is for our Christian identity.
- If you take away the oxygen, the flame will sputter and die.
- If we don’t make an effort to pray each day, we will become joyless, mediocre Christians.
- [Here you can mention parish resources and activities designed to help parishioners grow in their prayer lives.]
Second, this year we can make better use of the sacrament of confession.
- When a candle is lit for a long time, excess wax can accumulate and start tostifle the flame.
- That wax has to be poured or cut away so the flame can thrive again.
- When we go about our lives in a selfish world, we inevitably do all kinds of selfish things, and that stifles the flame of Christian wisdom in our lives.
- Confession is how God cleans away the stifling wax.
- [Here you can mention the regular hours for confession each day and week, and perhaps share a personal anecdote to help encourage those who are fearful of the sacrament.]
Today, let’s pray for a new Pentecost in our lives, our parish, and our world, and let’s promise to do our part to make that prayer come true.
Application 2: Following Our “Holy Discontent”
How can we follow this call to be Easter Candles for the world?
- Most importantly, we have to make sure we keep the flame burning in our hearts,
- especially through daily prayer and heartfelt use of the sacraments.
But we are also called to spread the fire.
That’s what the sacrament of confirmation was all about.
How can we live out this part of our Christian identity?
One spiritual writer has recommended that every Christian learn to follow their “holy discontent.”
- We all know that there’s a lot wrong with the world.
- But not all the wrongs in the world touch our hearts with the same intensity.
- For each of us, one particular thing resonates more than the others.
That could be our “holy discontent,” what St Paul calls, in the Second Reading [Year A]: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
- It may be the homeless, or the injustice of abortion, or the lack of solid religious education, or the weak Christian presence in Hollywood.
- Maybe God has given us a special sensitivity in that area because he is calling us to shine his light there.
- If each of us made the commitment to brighten up just one dark corner of the world with Christ’s light this year, think how much brighter the world would be twelve months from now!
- [Here you can give an example of one or more ministries or outreach programs that are active in your parish. Stress the positive impact that even a small effort can have, both on the beneficiary and the benefactor.]
Christians are not called to be complainers.
Christians are called to be conquerors, like Christ.
We are called to conquer evil and darkness with the power of Christ’s risen life, the life that burns in our hearts through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Today, let’s pray for a new Pentecost in our lives, our parish, and our world, and let’s promise to do our part to make that prayer come true.
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