Sunday, May 31, 2009

Unleash the Power of the Spirit

30-31 May 2009 - Holy Cross Parish, Hutchinson, KS

“Come, Thou Holy Spirit, come!”

Pentecost Sunday is referred to as the birthday of the Church. On this feast the Holy Spirit enkindled in the hearts of the Apostles the fire of God’s love, the possibility of fulfilling the two great commandments of love for God and love for neighbor.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the first gift of God to us His children, the gift of Himself, is none other than love, love in the fullest sense of that beautiful word. When the Fathers of the Church analyzed the Scripture passages assigned for the celebration of Pentecost they spoke of the sending of the Holy Spirit in terms of the giving of this gift of love. These great saints spoke of a horizontal and a vertical sending of the Holy Spirit at the beginnings of the Church. Jesus, on the evening of that first day of the week, the day of Resurrection, breathes upon the Apostles and gives them horizontally the gift of the Holy Spirit and the power to love their neighbor through the forgiveness of sins. Fifty days later, on those same people gathered in prayer in that same upper room Jesus now seated at the right hand of the Father, sends down vertically that same Holy Spirit, love given and love received, empowering them to love God in return and thus fulfill the first and greatest of all the commandments.

Pentecost is about power or empowerment; it is about our victory over Adam’s sin experienced through the triumph of love, lived out in this world on a trajectory that leads us to God and for all eternity. Pentecost is about hope and it is about truth. It marks the bestowal upon us of the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

For me among all the images from the world financial crisis of recent date I find both telling and haunting one picture in particular. It is the one which appeared in a lot of newspapers some months ago showing just some of the estimated 3,000 luxury cars, covered with dust, which had been abandoned at the Dubai airport by people on their way out of the country. To me this picture said better than many words “The party was over and everybody headed for home in a rush”. Dubai, which had been for some time the world’s boom town with its artificial islands for development (available at no small price), one set of them laid out like a big palm tree and another like the continents on the globe, Dubai, home of the tallest towers being built anywhere, so tall that what the author of the book of Genesis talks about when he describes the Tower of Babel would seem like a sand castle by comparison. 3,000 abandoned luxury cars! Mankind without God, sinful man on the strength of his own genius and his capability to touch the sky has once again been dealt a mortal blow. Pride comes before the fall.

Where is salvation? Where is lasting joy? Certainly not in petrodollars or in bullish or bearish stock markets! Where is love? Nowhere within the grasp of brains, beauty or charm, to say the very least! Faith teaches us something quite different and lets us look upon life from a very different perspective. Pentecost is God’s show of power; it inspires in us hope of something certainly more than human imagination alone can provide; Pentecost reflects the truth about God and about humankind – about what God wills for the good for you and for me. We are talking about God’s love for you and for me, each one of us by name, love from all eternity.

The Entrance Antiphon assigned for both the Vigil and Pentecost Sunday can be the same one. It is drawn from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (5:5; 8:11). It reads: “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by his Spirit living in us, alleluia”. The verse for the Responsorial Psalm for both the Saturday evening and the Sunday Mass is the same too: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth”. When, how or where is Pentecost to be experienced today? The Acts of the Apostles tells us what others outside the upper room experienced that day: “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At the sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, ‘Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?’” That was their experience and Pentecost is experienced yet today where men, women and children recognize the Hand of God working in one’s life! Pentecost is the Church in every day and time at its very best. Where is the Church at its greatest; where are we at our very best? When and where do we show ourselves gifted with, filled with the Holy Spirit like the Apostles, one with God and truly, successfully, enduringly one with our neighbor?

Somebody might say “I have no idea of what you’re talking about! Where is the rush in my life of faith? Where are the roaring wind of the upper room and its tongues of fire to be seen today?” Why isn’t Pentecost for us, the baptized and confirmed who are, in a very real sense, Christ’s messengers for today, why isn’t it dynamically and even somewhat dramatically characteristic of our life? The grace of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit in the life of each of the baptized and confirmed is most certainly the same. But the manifestation not only on Pentecost day but throughout the rest of the lives of the Apostles was truly something mightier than I’ve ever seen in a month of Sundays. Why is it that the fireworks are missing in my life or more to the point, why does God’s love either seem to die or perhaps better stated never get off the ground as the propelling force for most of us in our lives? What’s missing?

With genuine concern, some folks point to the homeless, the vagrant, and the desperately poor in our midst and ask why this is so when there are so many Christians around, so many people who should be on fire with God’s love for the sake of their less fortunate neighbors? Folks point to the divorces which never seem to get less as having something to do with the failure of love and this in the lives of the baptized and confirmed. Some folks are scandalized by the violence of war, the violence which troubles many homes, the violence of abortion, of embryonic stem cell research, of euthanasia, which is as much to say, the violence involved in all sorts of behavior unworthy of human beings let alone of people who claim to be Christian, behavior which simply tramples on the weakest and most vulnerable of society. How can this be?

“Come, Thou Holy Spirit, come! Shed a ray of light divine.”

Apart from all the really glaring stuff just mentioned, I ask myself how it is possible that fewer people who claim to be Catholic make it to Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Why do people seem to miss the point?

St. Paul was both a great theologian and a realist; he knew the why of our failures; as he said to the Romans: “…we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies… we wait with endurance.” In hope we possess the Spirit of God in pledge of how things will be when Christ is all in all. The prosperity gospel preachers have missed the point when they tell people to expect material wealth or prosperity as a reward for professing Jesus. Those who despair of the triumph of love have lost out as well. For everything in my life which is genuinely already accomplished (already baptized, already confirmed), there is a hefty portion of not yet (not yet a saint, not yet safely in the bosom of Abraham). We learned once upon a time to pray for perseverance. The prayer to Saint Joseph for a happy death, as we know, is a prayer for the presence of a priest at our death bed, so that indeed the angels might lead us into paradise.

More than anything else, my thoughts this Pentecost turn to all those young people, young adults often enough, who don’t come running, who despite a Catholic upbringing wouldn’t qualify as being enthused about being Catholic, let alone classifiable as on fire with love of the Lord and love for their neighbor. What’s missing in the equation that we don’t find more young people confused or astounded like those devout Jews 2000 years ago who on hearing the Apostles’ witness were the first to come forward for Baptism? What’s missing? The devout Jews in Jerusalem on Pentecost day were humble, they were receptive; the people who put together the plan to build the Tower of Babel were not. How often is stubborn pride at the root of the failure of love in the lives of human beings! Here again is John’s Gospel for Pentecost Sunday: “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” We’re too quick to point the finger of blame, to introduce the lawsuit, to pose as victims, aren’t we? St. Catherine of Siena would probably say that the single greatest impediment to the Holy Spirit’s working within us is our pride. She prayed unceasingly and fervently for the gift of humility for herself and for others, such that she and we might receive the Holy Spirit or better unleash the Spirit’s power. As she prayed so must we pray in all sincerity, so must we!

Pentecost is a manifestation of God’s power in the world, in the lives of real human beings like you and me. Those devout Jews asked Peter how they were to respond to what they had seen and heard; he invited them to repent of their sins and to accept baptism. St. Augustine taught and the Church in every day and time teaches that the Church possesses two kinds of water for the forgiveness of sins: the saving waters of Baptism and the cleansing tears of penance. Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, is a celebration of triumph and a marvelous expression of hope in the power of God’s love dwelling in our hearts. It is also an insistent call to seek forgiveness for your sins, to renounce Satan’s pride and choose life in Christ.

People don’t talk as much about fulfilling their Easter duty as they used to. That was and is a Church precept which involves receiving Holy Communion worthily during the Easter Season, which ends today but for purposes of the precept was always extended until next Sunday, Trinity Sunday. Common sense made a good Confession part of the preparation for that Holy Communion. There was something very humble and forthright about how people observed this obligation of their Easter duty years ago. Did you get to confession during Lent this year? If you did, that’s been two months ago. Maybe it is time to approach the Sacrament of Penance again and see whether that might help unleash the Spirit in your life and allow love its triumph?

The vote is still out on social networking and how it might improve our world and make us all happier and more connected. No offence intended to anyone out there who is into FACEBOOK or TWITTER in a big way, but I’m not convinced! If it were possible to invest, I’d put my money elsewhere, I’d put it into renouncing pride, confessing my sinfulness and opening every corner of my life to the Holy Spirit already bestowed.

I watched a PBS special this week where one historian described Buffalo Bill Cody as the first celebrity in the modern sense of the word and sang the praises of the publicist who made the star of the Wild West Show even greater. Personally, I’d rather live a hidden life, but in the love of the Lord.

"The love of God has been poured into our hearts by his Spirit living in us, alleluia”.

“Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth”.

“Come, Thou Holy Spirit, come!”

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