HOMILY, Pentecost Sunday
May 24, 2015
Fr. Charlie Fox, Spiritual Director, St. Paul Street Evangelization (www.streetevangelization.com)
Life in the Spirit
I’d like to begin this homily with the Sequence for today’s Mass. A sequence is a special hymn typically sung on some of the most important feast days of the liturgical year. The words to today’s sequence are as follows:
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end. Amen.
This hymn is around 800 years old, and gives us such a beautiful poetic picture of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. But I’m going to move quickly from the sublime to the ordinary in order to explain our faith in the Holy Spirit further.
There is a scene in the original Star Wars movie in which Luke Skywalker is just getting to know Han Solo and is shown to the hangar where Solo’s ship, the Millennium Falcon, is docked. Luke, who needs a fast and able ship in order to elude the fleet of the evil Empire, looks the Millennium Falcon over and, noticing its age and pretty obvious wear-and-tear, refers to her with some disbelief as “that hunk of junk”. Han Solo, ever touchy about his favorite ship, replies defensively, “She’s got it where it counts, kid.”
I’d like to think together a bit today about what it means for you and me to “have it where it counts”, and you won’t be surprised to hear that it has a lot to do with the Holy Spirit.
One of the great blessings of the priesthood is to hear people’s confessions and to offer them God’s forgiveness. People come to confession with all kinds of sins and problems, and while God is always happy to forgive our sins, people still leave confession with many of the same problems as they had when they walked in: bad health, challenging marriages and family situations, persistent temptations to sin, etc. Going back to the Millennium Falcon image, to the eye of someone without faith people can look pretty “junky” both coming into and going out of the confessional. So what difference does confession make?
The difference is that when you have received God’s forgiveness, you can be sure that you’ve “got it where it counts”. The most important line in the Formula of Absolution is obviously, “I absolve you from your sins…”, but the rest of the formula is also very significant:
“God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace…”
The Formula of Absolution tells us that the Holy Spirit has been sent “for the forgiveness of sins”, and it includes a prayer that “God give you pardon and peace” through the sacrament. In the Profession of Faith we’ll say together in just a few minutes, the Holy Spirit is identified as the “Lord and Giver of Life.” So the Holy Spirit does no less than to bring the dead back to life, to make sure we’ve “got it where it counts”.
So what does it mean to have it where it counts? It means that however challenging your life may be on the outside, God lives within you, and you are alive and well because of God’s presence within. The Holy Spirit is truly and fully God, so to have the Holy Spirit live within you is to have God within.
The Spirit first comes to live within us at Baptism, and we receive a fuller outpouring of the Spirit into our hearts at Confirmation. Maybe we don’t think a lot about those sacraments, because we received them at infancy and during adolescence—a time when many of us were not at our spiritual best. But Baptism is the reason we became spiritually alive in the first place, and Confirmation was for us what we celebrate today—our own personal Pentecost. In other words, the Holy Spirit has come upon each of you and upon me just as powerfully as He came upon our Blessed Mother and the apostles on the first Pentecost.
Your body has become a temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of God! You—with all of your faults, scars, and baggage—have been made into something so good and pure that the all-perfect God can live in you and be pleased to do so. And even when we sin, confession heals us so that we can become holy temples of the Spirit once again.
And what difference does it make for us when we have the Holy Spirit? It’s essential that we understand the transformation from death to life the Spirit makes possible for us. On the one hand, if we don’t get the “death” part, we end up taking God’s gifts—and even God Himself!—for granted. We come to think it’s perfectly natural that God should love and come to live in people as wonderful and charming as we are. On the other hand, if we don’t get the “life” part, we despair, thinking only of death and darkness, of human misery and tragedy. We need to “get” the whole journey in order to “get” what God is doing in our lives.
St. Paul teaches in Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” And in today’s First Reading and Gospel, we see that the Holy Spirit is critical to the new life the apostles lead. Their transformation is nothing short of an experience of spiritual death and resurrection—death, in their infidelity to Our Lord; resurrection, in the new life they so clearly live as evangelists, apostles, and finally martyrs.
So what does this mean for our lives? What do we need to do in order to keep moving away from the death of sin and into the life of God? What do we need to do in order to begin doing the work of the apostles in sharing our faith? Here are four steps you can take beginning right now to increase your life in the Holy Spirit:
1. Desire it. This sounds obvious, but this first stage is often overlooked. We should hunger and thirst for God, but often we allow the Holy Spirit to become dormant in us through our disinterest or apathy. To be very concrete, we can act as if our smart phones are much more important to us than our relationship with God.
2. Pray for it. Again, praying is a pretty obvious suggestion, but how often do we actually ask for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Jesus tells us our Father will give us the Holy Spirit if we ask in His name.
3. Surrender to the Spirit. Be careful what you wish for! To ask for the Holy Spirit is to ask God to take control of your life. We must yield to the Spirit’s influence. God will not force us. Say “yes” to God!
4. Follow-through. We have to live this new life, actively, as disciples of Jesus. Our lives must be different because of our faith, and we must be intentional about living in this different way every day of our earthly lives.
To have the Holy Spirit within us is to “have it where it counts”, and this is what we celebrate on this feast of Pentecost. May the Body and Blood of Jesus strengthen us so that we might be ready to receive a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit and live according to the Spirit’s direction, living the only life truly worthy of the name, and sharing the goodness of this life with every person we meet.
[Pictured: Pentecost by Jean II Restout, 1732]