Sunday, June 12, 2011

Homily Pentecost Sunday, Year A

Following is my homily for Pentecost Sunday which has a different set of readings than the Pentecost Vigil. I used some material from the homily for the Vigil Mass.  This particular Mass was a Mass of Thanksgiving for my Priesthood Ordination that I celebrated at St. Athanasius parish in Louisville, KY – I had been assigned there for my Pastoral Year as a seminarian and celebrated my Diaconate Ordination there last year.

I am so happy to be here this morning! Around this time last year I celebrated my Diaconate Ordination with all of you. And now I stand here as a priest, thanks to God's grace and your prayers! And I am bringing to this Mass all of the wonderful memories I have of the academic year I spent with you a couple years ago. How powerful the Holy Spirit is, to have brought us together in this way, under such joyful circumstances! I am also glad to have been at the presbyteral assembly this past week with Fr. Gary and all of the priests of the Archdiocese. I am happy to be Fr. Gary's brother priest.

Add to that the fact that today is Pentecost Sunday! Aside from Easter, if you were to ask someone what the second most important Feast Day of the year is, he would probably say "Christmas" or "Halloween"… maybe even "St. Patrick's Day"! But, I would argue that Pentecost is the second most important Feast Day of the year. It brings to an end what we call "The Great Sunday," the 50 days of the Easter Season. It marks the birthday of the Church as it is sent forth, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the praises of God and to forgive sins. All of this gives a special meaning to this day for me.

    Today the Church has placed us in the middle of two of the most powerful events in salvation history. The Risen Lord appeared to the apostles on the evening of Easter Sunday, breathed into them the Holy Spirit, and gave them the power to forgive sins – a sort of foretaste of the Spirit the Apostles received in full, 50 days later at Pentecost. Then, the Holy Spirit almost seems to be breathed into them from the lips of God the Father Himself – "suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were."

This isn't just one among many miracles. The power breathed into them on Easter Sunday and the filling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are intimately connected. The only other times in Scripture when God breathed on mankind, was in the beginning – in the book of Genesis, when "the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Gen 2:7) – and in Ezekiel, where God raises an army of corpses to new life by the breath of the Spirit (37:9). Just think of how the apostles felt! They probably remembered when Jesus breathed on them on Easter Sunday and they knew the Scriptures of Genesis and Ezekiel. All of this comes together in one magnificent moment in which the apostles receive a newfound courage and zeal and the ability to praise God in languages they didn't even know. Their hearts, and souls, and minds are filled with God, the Holy Spirit. The Church is on fire and alive! Today this moment is ours too! We are that same Church today. We are the Church of the Apostles, still alive, still on fire, forever young with the exuberance of the Holy Spirit!

    God the Holy Spirit wants to fill us too. He wants us to receive the same fullness of Himself that the Apostles received on this very day, over 2000 years ago. In fact he has done this already. He infused in our souls Faith, Hope, and Love through the waters of our Baptism and he enhanced and completed these gifts when we were Confirmed. But He hasn't stopped there! The Holy Spirit wants to fill our souls every single day so that the Church 2000 years from now will still be on fire and alive.

    We have our own part to play in this. Most importantly, I think, would be to simply pray to God, the Holy Spirit. Often times we have no problem praying to God, the Father, because we can imagine a fatherly figure, with gray hair, and a beard! And we can pray to God, the Son, because Jesus Christ is so vividly depicted in the Gospels and in artwork. But the reigning image of the Holy Spirit is a dove! We don't pray to doves! Most of the time we think of God, the Holy Spirit, simply as a force, or a power, that comes and goes, as if He is the magic pixi dust that God sprinkles on us every now and then! He is much more than this! He is God.

    Throughout my childhood and still today, my Dad always encouraged my brothers and me to pray to the Holy Spirit. Any time we were nervous about a minor league baseball game, or a test at school, or an argument with a friend, my Dad would always tell us to pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance. I recommend that for us today. If you have not been in the habit of praying to God, the Holy Spirit, today is the perfect day to start, the day when we celebrate how generously He filled the apostles, and us, with courage and zeal.

    The Holy Spirit comes to each of us in His own way. "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts," St. Paul said, and different forms of service and different workings. But, "To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit." And, he continues, "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." Therefore, today we, myself certainly included, must ask ourselves: As one member of the entire Body of Christ… As one Catholic in the whole universal Catholic Church… How am I serving the larger body? How am I portraying the Catholic Church to the world around me? Do I make the life of a Catholic one that others would want to follow so that they too can be helped by the graces given to me through the Church? Does my life cause others to want to be one with Christ too?

    Being a faithful Catholic would be a heavy yoke, burdensome, and impossible really if we were only to rely on our own power. But, neither God nor the Church gives us responsibilities and then leaves us to our own devices. Rather, we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified. It is this same Holy Spirit, who spoke from all time through the prophets and through the Church today, who is our help, our advocate, our guide. He is the one who makes the yoke and the burden of the life of holiness, the life of a Catholic Christian, easy and light. He makes life as a child of God one of joyfulness, happiness, peacefulness, and calmness.

    We have only to acknowledge and remember the great things He has already done for us, plead for Him to come again and again, be willing to receive Him, and then be willing to live according to Him. The Holy Spirit will even help us ask. For as St. Paul says, "the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought." With His help we can be a people who courageously speaks to all ethnic and social classes of the "mighty acts of God," exclaiming that "Jesus is Lord", sharing with them the true peace that comes only from the Lord, and drawing each other together as one Body united to our head, Jesus Christ.

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