Pentecost: Responding to the Holy Spirit

Two thousand eighteen years ago, maybe give or take a few, something incredible happened. All the conditions were just right for God to do something incredible. God became man. He became one of us. He was no longer content to remain on the sidelines and watch us fall into sin, so he entered into history and showed us not only his love but also what each of us is capable of being. We celebrate this event every Christmas, bringing it back into our minds and hearts, and truly entering into the event of God becoming one of us.

We humans, though, we are a “stiff-necked people” in the words of Moses. We don’t like someone coming to tell us that we’re wrong. So we rejected God’s incredible attempt to show us his love, and we demanded for Jesus to be crucified, because we didn’t understand who he was. We relived this event 53 days ago, on Good Friday.

God was not content to let that be the end of things. Even though we demanded his death, he still loved us. He showed us that death was not the end for us, and that we are called to so much more. 50 days ago we relived this Resurrection, when Jesus rose from the dead. After Easter, Jesus spent 40 additional days with his apostles and his disciples, teaching them and living with them. (40 is a really important Bible number, but I won’t get into that right now.) At the end of that time, 10 days ago… ish…, Jesus ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Jesus left his mission to his apostles and his disciples: he left it to us. At his Ascension, Jesus sent us all out to spread the Good News and to baptize all the nations, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

But he didn’t leave us empty-handed. That’s not good enough for God, because today we celebrate another incredible gift God has given to humanity: the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son now lives within each one of us. Each one of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, a temple of God. There is no need for a temple in Jerusalem, as the Jews once thought, because God lives within each of us! God lives within us, because he loves us so much that he cannot stand being separated from us! The Holy Spirit isn’t sitting in the tongues of fire above the heads of the people at Pentecost, the Spirit is inside of them. The tongues of fire come from the person being on fire with faith and love for God!

This same Holy Spirit lives in each one of us. He calls us to our ultimate goal: eternal joy with God in Heaven. He helps us achieve this goal of holiness by giving us many gifts. One gift is the gift of vocation. A vocation to married life, religious or vowed single life, or to the priesthood, teaches us how best to use the gifts that God gives us. The Bible tells us about some pretty fantastic gifts: prophesy, speaking in tongues, etc. The Holy Spirit continues to give us gifts today. Though they might seem boring, they are no less amazing: the gift of fortitude to a father defending his family, especially his daughters, from various ills in our society; the gift of patience to a mother of many children who always want attention; the gift of teaching to all who instruct our children in schools; the gift of wisdom to our grandparents. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Prayer can help us recognize these gifts if we are struggling to see them, and recognizing our gifts is crucial. When we recognize the gifts that God has given us, not only can we use them more effectively, but we are also reminded of God’s great love for us. By recognizing our gifts, we begin to recognize how generous God has been with each of us.

Prayer helps us to see all these gifts:

  • That God took on human nature, showing us the true dignity of our humanity.
  • That God died for us, destroying sin.
  • That God rose from death to show us the way to eternal life.
  • That God entrusts us with the mission: to spread the Good News to all the world.
  • That God continues to come and dwell inside each one of us.

That’s not even all of the gifts God has given us. God also gave us the life we live, the air we breath, the family we love, all of “our” possessions, the friends we’ve made, the jobs we work, and everything else. God made all of them, and he gave them to us. They are all gifts from God.

Once you and I recognize all these gifts God has given, only question remains: one question, which each of us must answer individually. Whether we want to or not, we must answer it, because our lives are how we answer. Once I recognize the gifts God has given to me, the question every one of us here must ask, what you must ask, what I must ask, what we must ask ourselves every day is this:

How will I respond to the gifts that God has given to me?

Note: this was written for May 20, 2018; however, I didn’t get it posted until June 3, 2018. I put the date for when the homily was given on the post, not the actual post date.

Today’s Readings
May 20, 2018
Pentecost Sunday
Various readings were possible for Pentecost Sunday. They are listed here.

Reflection for Pentecost

Every year on Pentecost, we hear about the noise and the wind rushing upon all those gathered with the apostles. We hear of the tongues that appeared as fire resting upon each of them. We are told that this is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that nobody can say Jesus is the Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that he will send his Spirit among us, and through the Power of the Spirit gives the apostles the ability to forgive and retain sins.

These are all amazing things. I have just one question for us all: who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us in each of the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation, and He dwells within us. If the Spirit is living inside of us, then shouldn’t we have a relationship with Him? Should we not know him as more than simply the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity? Isn’t it insufficient to think of Him as a little dove who hangs around God the Father and God the Son, who are depicted as men with impressive beards in artwork?

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

I like to go back to the images from today’s first reading. First, the tongues that appear as fire. I can’t help but to think of the Sacrament of Confirmation when I read that portion of the story. The tongues of fire, which represent the Holy Spirit living inside, are like the pilot lights on a water heater or a furnace. They get things moving, but they must be given fuel, and they cannot heat the water or the air on their own. The Holy Spirit, to me, is like the pilot light and the fuel. What does that make me? That makes me the guy who controls the on/off switch for the burners. If I accept the gifts that the Spirit gives me, it is like turning on the switch, allowing the fuel to flow, warming the water or the air. If I do not accept these gifts, by sinning—it does not matter whether it is mortal or venial—then I turn the switch off. The graces that the Holy Spirit wishes to give me to fuel the fire of love within my soul are unused.

The Holy Spirit, to me, is the source and the reason for all the love that I have for God. If I did not have the Holy Spirit assisting me, daily, I would not be able to love God. Going back to my image of the water heater: sometimes the water gets too hot, and so the water heater will turn off. With love for God, however, this is not the answer. A soul on fire with love for God is a beautiful thing to witness, and it must not be turned down. In fact, we should turn the switch on even higher. We may think it is too much, but the Holy Spirit helps us to be strong, to be daring enough to enter into this burning love for God.

The image of the noise and power of the wind rushing upon the apostles and their companions reminds me that the Spirit has immense power. The Bible uses images such as the waves of the sea or the rushing of the wind to depict God’s immense power over all things. When we recognize that the Holy Spirit has this incredible power, and that He is the one urging us to enter into the burning fire of God’s love, we should know that we are safe. The Spirit will protect us from all things—even ourselves—and bring us to a level of joy and love and happiness of which we never could have dreamed.

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit is my friend, who guides me toward Jesus Christ, my Lord. He is my strength, who gives me the graces and energy to follow God down roads I may not want to go. He is the “pilot light” in my soul, always ready to reignite me when my own love for God wavers and flickers. He is my protector, who saves me from the evil one, his minions, the follies of this world, and myself. He is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and through the Son into this world to assist mankind in blessing, redeeming and sanctifying it.

To me, the Holy Spirit is the One who will take me by the hand and lead me to Heaven, so that I may conquer sin and live forever with God in eternal bliss.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Reflection for the Visitation of Mary

This year, the Visitation sits right in the middle of two great feasts: the Ascension and the Pentecost. At first, this seemed like an interesting coincidence, but not much more. After all, what does Mary visiting Elizabeth have to do with the Ascension, when Jesus raises himself into Heaven? What could it possibly have to do with the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes? After some reflection, however, I realized that there is no more fitting place for the Visitation to end up in the calendar.

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9) The first thing to look at is the symbolism in this sentence. Jesus was lifted up. He is no longer confined to the Earth. He is above the Earth. Furthermore, he was lifted up of his own power. The last time he had had been lifted up was on the Cross. He had been nailed to the Cross, and hung there, still attached to the Earth. At the Ascension, he triumphs over the Cross definitively, being lifted up. The cloud which took him from the sight of the apostles was, undoubtedly, no ordinary cloud. Think of all the other times we see clouds in the Bible. The cloud on Mt. Sinai, the Cloud of Presence that led the Jewish people through the desert, the Cloud of Presence in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Cloud of the Father who proclaims that he is pleased with Jesus. Clouds stand for the Heavenly Kingdom in the Bible. Jesus didn’t fade out of sight and become a wispy cloud, he disappeared because he fully entered into the Heavenly Kingdom.

At the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit rushes upon all those present. The Holy Spirit was breathed into us by the Father through the Son. The Holy Spirit acts throughout the world, and especially through the church of Jesus Christ—the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded at the Pentecost. Baptism and Confirmation conform us to God in a new way, and allow the Holy Spirit to act more fully within us. These two sacraments open the doors of our souls to all of the graces and gifts that the Holy Spirit wishes to give us. These Sacraments are truly necessary for our spiritual well-being. St. Paul tells us that, “[t]o each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Cor 12:7) These gifts, these graces, are for our benefit, namely so that we may reach Heaven.

So what does Mary’s visit to Elizabeth have to do with either of these?

Between the Ascension and the Pentecost, we are often tempted to think that the apostles were dormant, that they did nothing. But that is not true. When a woman is the early stages of pregnancy, nothing appears to be happening within her; however, there is a new life growing! Between the Ascension and the Pentecost, this is what was occurring with the apostles. They were processing and coming to understand all the good that Jesus had worked, and everything that was going on inside of their hearts. Even more importantly, Peter and the apostles recognized that Judas must be replaced and elected Matthias. This recognition was crucial in many ways to the growth of the embryonic church. They recognized that they were chosen not simply as individuals, but as officials. The apostles had recognized that this work must continue to go on after them. Once they had realized their status as officials (think of something like an elected administrator in the Kingdom of God) and their need for a plan of succession, they were ready for the Holy Spirit to come.

The Visitation reminds us that Jesus grew inside of Mary, in the same way that each of us do. He developed in a particular way, and certain things had to happen in a certain way for him to be born. Celebrating it in between the Ascension and the Pentecost reminds us that Jesus’s Church, similarly, had to grow in a particular way, and certain things had to happen in a certain way for the Church to come alive. Finally, we must take notice that just as Mary was present through Jesus’s birth, she was also present when his Church came truly alive at Pentecost.

Today, let us remember that Mary will always accompany us to her Son, just as she accompanied her Son into the world. Let us ask her to prepare our hearts to fully receive Jesus and his Holy Spirit.

Today’s Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18A; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6; Luke 1:39-56