Monday, May 20, 2013

Pentecost Sunday Year C

Thinking over the whole liturgical year, I would argue that Pentecost is the second most important Feast Day of the year, behind Easter. 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.

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. 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 50 days before 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. He is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. And, as God, He welcomes and answers our prayers.

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 before we went into it. 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.

Maybe during the quiet time after Communion today, or at home together with your family, or before you go to sleep tonight, call to mind something that may be troubling you. It could be the pressures of our economy, a difficult project at work, a relative who has fallen away from the Church, a wound from your past that is still painful, or anxiety over an illness. Ask God, the Holy Spirit, to renew in you the graces He gave you at your Baptism and Confirmation. Ask him to make you on fire and alive with the same courage and zeal that He gave the Apostles on this very day. Ask for big graces! Ask him for wisdom or healing or reconciliation or faith. Heck, ask Him to make you a saint! There probably will not be a driving wind or tongues of fire. He may only come to you in a very small way. But when he does, he will stretch your soul to receive him in a little bit bigger way the next time he comes. Then, he will work on your soul even more. And between His visits, if you maintain your soul with prayer, with Confession, with the Eucharist, He will find you more and more receptive of bigger and bigger gifts.

Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest, and in our hearts take up Thy rest; Come with Thy grace and heavenly aid to fill the hearts which Thou hast made, to fill the hearts which Thou has made. Come the same Spirit, let us pray, that breathed into the Apostles on Easter Sunday and filled them when Easter had ended at that great Pentecost. Come, the same Spirit, let us pray, that makes the Church, then, now, and forever on fire and alive. Let us, each one of us, go forth today bearing new fire and life to every place and relationship we have.

Pentecost Vigil Year C

When Jesus, as St. John’s Gospel tells us, stood up and exclaimed to all the people, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink…‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.’” – this was a bold statement. John explains, “He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive.” For Jesus, timing is everything. This happened on the last day of the Jews’ great seven-day celebration called, The Festival of Booths. During this annual liturgical celebration, pilgrims who came to Jerusalem would live in huts made of braches, called “booths.” In one of the major rituals of the week, the high priest drew water from the Pool of Siloam, carried it in procession into the Temple and then poured it on the stone altar of sacrifice. This ritual commemorated the time in which God provided for his people during their Exodus journey through the desert by making water flow from a rock. It is against the backdrop of this celebration that Jesus stands up and exclaims that he is the source of spiritual water, the Holy Spirit, and that it is he who satisfies all that we thirst for.

Everything that water means for the body, now has meaning for our soul. Just as water cleanses the body, gives us strength, and refreshes us, so the Living Water of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, cleanses our souls of sin in Baptism and Reconciliation, gives us strength in Confirmation, and refreshes us in the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick. The Holy Spirit is active in all seven of the sacraments constantly forming and transforming us as the New People of God as we wander in our own Exodus journey through the desert of this life to the Promised Land of Heaven. How are we doing on this journey? At times do we doubt that the Lord can provide for us? If we see ourselves as God’s chosen people, joined to Him by a covenant, then we can ask ourselves, “Am I faithfully keeping my covenant with God? Do I avail myself generously of all that the Holy Spirit provides me through the Church in order to stay faithful to God? Do I turn to other things to satisfy my deepest thirsts?”

Our first reading began to describe how God forged the covenant with his people; it was done amid the majesty of Mt. Sinai, amid thunder and lightning, heavy clouds, loud trumpet blasts, columns of smoke and fire, and earthquakes. This was done in order to show His people that his might and power exceeds that of all the other pagan gods. God is the One, True, God of Power and Might. This spectacle also showed them the great significance of what they were being brought into; what it means to be the chosen people of such a powerful God.

The Lord said to His People through Moses: “If you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.” Our covenant with God wasn’t forged amid fire and lightening, rather, it was forged amid the fire and light of our Baptismal candle and the fire and light infused in our souls by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Holy Water. With His grace, we become more and more God’s special possession. In fact, we become, as Moses foretold, a holy nation.

As a people set apart, for all the world to see, we can also 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? Do I act in a priestly way – and this question is for all of us. Do I make sacrifices for other people? Do I offer up my sufferings to God? Do I pray for my family and friends? In these ways we all, ordained or not, can become the holy people that God wants us to be.

All of his would be a heavy yoke, burdensome, and impossible if we were formed as God’s people and then sent forth 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, who with the Father and the Son is adored 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 rather than harsh or restrictive. The Holy Spirit makes life as a child of God one of joyfulness, happiness, peacefulness, and calmness. Does this describe our lives today?

The Holy Spirit comes to each of us in His own way. But we can find hope in knowing that the Holy Spirit has indeed come to all of us. At this Vigil Mass we anticipate and long for Him to come again in our lives. This is His desire too! 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.” How happy the Lord will be to look down upon his people and see in each one of us rivers of living water flowing forth in a life of holiness and a world transformed by His Power in us.