Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, New York, NY
Pentecost Sunday 2015
May 24, 2015
Extraordinary Form Readings: Acts 2:1-11, Jn 14:23-31
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
The Long Advent of Prayer
On Ascension Thursday, the whole Church pondered how Jesus, at his Ascension, enjoined the apostles not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the “promise of the Father” about which they had heard him speak, for “in a few days,” he said, “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The apostles and the other followers of Jesus very wisely huddled around Mary in the same Upper Room in which Jesus had given them his Body and Blood, the same Upper Room in which they had barricaded themselves after Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, the same place wherein he had appeared to them on Easter Sunday. And it was there that the all “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” They prayed together with Mary in order to learn from her how to get ready to receive the Holy Spirit, for it was she who was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ virginal conception and who continually lived as a Spouse of the Holy Spirit, receiving and responding to his inspirations in an exemplary way. United with her they prayed and they waited. Jesus hadn’t told them how long they were to wait in prayerful expectation of that pneumatological baptism. So their first holy hour stretched into a day of recollection. They eventually went to bed and awakened and prayed a whole second day. They might have thought that, just as God the Father had had them wait until the third day for Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit would come after three days that seemed like an eternity. But he didn’t come. So they prayed a fourth day. A fifth day. Now this was taking on the form of a retreat. A sixth day. They were doubtless wondering if the Holy Spirit would come on the seventh day, the day of divine rest. But they were thwarted again. The eighth day. Were they going to have to do this forever? The ninth day. They kept praying and waiting. The tenth day. And it was finally on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit burst through the windows of the upper room like the noise of a strong driving wind, came down upon each of them as tongues of fire, filled them with himself, and sent them forth to change renew the face of the earth.
It’s important for us to ask why God had made them wait so long in prayerful vigil. Some might say that he wanted to wait until Pentecost, the day on which the Jews celebrated their harvest festival and the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai, to show that the Holy Spirit was the law of the New Covenant being placed within their hearts and was going to be the driving force of the harvest of men and women, boys and girls, for Christ’s kingdom until the end of time. Some might say because it gave them a chance to learn from Mary about Jesus’ early days, his conception, birth, flight to Egypt, finding in the Temple, and his hidden years working as a construction worker with St. Joseph in Nazareth. Both of those reasons make sense. But I think the most fitting explanation of all was that God wanted the early Church to grow in desire for this baptism of the Holy Spirit, to long for the Holy Spirti’s presence, to discover the reasons why they really, really, really need his guidance and assistance, so that they would be totally receptive and responsive like Mary to the divine ignition he was going to turn on in them.
The Church’s Advent and Pray Today: Come!
Since that time the Church has wanted us to learn from the experience of the early Church how to desire the Holy Spirit. The word that the Church puts on our lips more than any other with regard to the Holy Spirit is “Come!” We pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love!” We sing, “Veni, Creator Spiritus!,” throughout this decenarium of preparation, “Come, Holy Spirit,” and we beg the Holy Spirit to take up his rest in our hearts, to come with his grace and heavenly aid, to fill the hearts which he has made, to give us his sevenfold gift of grace, to illumine our minds, inflame our hearts, strengthen our bodies, repel our enemies, give us peace, and help us to know God the Father and the Son. We sing today in the Sequence, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus,” begging the Holy Spirit anew to come with heavenly radiance as the guest of our soul, comforting us, giving us rest in labor, refreshment in heat, solace in woe, cleansing what is impure, irrigating what is desiccated, healing what is wounded, bending to him whatever is stubborn, warming whatever is ice-cold, putting back on the narrow way whatever leads us astray, granting us the reward of virtue, the end of salvation and eternal joy. The great word of the Church, the great longing, is come!
But as these prayers indicate, we are praying for more than the Holy Spirit’s arrival. We’re praying for the Holy Spirit to come and change us and through us change the world. “Lord, send out your Spirit,” we implore God the Father in Ps 104 that the Church has us say in this Mass, “and renew the face of the earth!” The Holy Spirit comes to renew us not just once but constantly. During the Confirmation Rite, and yesterday was the 29th anniversary of my Confirmation, we beg God the Father through Jesus to send the Holy Spirit upon us as our “helper and guide.” He comes to assist us and to lead us. To pray “Come!” implies that we’re ready to be led and helped by him as he comes. How does he want to lead and help us?
Helping us to Pray
The first is in our prayer. St. Paul reminds us that we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words, that he helps us to cry out “Abba, Father!” and pray as beloved sons and daughters who know that the Father who cares for us more than the lilies or sparrows will never give us a stone when we ask for bread. To pray, “Come, Holy Spirit!,” means that we’re ready to cooperate in our prayer and all him to change the way we pray, so that he can, in a sense, blow his strong driving wind within us the way a trumpeter makes music. With regard to our prayer, we say, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
Helping us to Learn our Faith
The second way he wants to lead and help us is in our response to our learning the faith. Jesus said that he would send us the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth and to remind us of everything he taught us. Jesus himself hadn’t taught us everything because, he said, we couldn’t handle it all. To say, Come Holy Spirit, means that we are going to do the work to learn our faith better, to get to know intimately the Sacred Scripture he inspired, to become familiar with and live according to the teaching of the magisterium of the Church he guides. With regard to our continued growth in faith, we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
Guiding us to live the Christian life aright
The third way is in how we live our Christian life. The Holy Spirit is sent to guide us. St. Paul said that there are two basic ways to live, to live according to the Spirit or to live according to the flesh (Gal 5; Rom 8). To live by the Spirit means that we’re constantly seeking what God the Holy Spirit seeks. To live by the flesh means to place our heart, our treasure, in the things of this world, in money and material possession, in carnal pleasures, in fame, power, influence, in superficialities. To say “Come, Holy Spirit” means that we want him to help us to put to death in us whatever lives by the flesh so that we may totally live by his inspiration, his in-breathing, as Mary and the apostles did, and as the saints have ever since.
Leading us to Reconciliation with God and Others
The fourth way was is with regard to recognizing our need for God’s mercy and coming to receive it. On Easter Sunday night, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Those whose sins you retain are retained.” Priests pray in the formula of absolution in the Sacrament of Penance, “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, … has sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” which Jesus called the one unforgiveable sin, as impenitence, as a failure to recognize our need for God’s mercy or a failure to think God has the power to forgive our sins. “There are no limits to the mercy of God,” the Catechism declares, “but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1864). So to say, “Come, Holy Spirit!,” means that we will regularly ask his help to examine our conscience and then run out to meet him as he comes down with God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance.
Guiding us to Share the Gift of Faith with Others
The fifth way is with regard to the missionary dimension of the Christian life, of each of our lives. The Holy Spirit came down as tongues of fire upon the early Church, rather than ice cold eyeballs or tepid kneecaps, to symbolize that he wanted us, strengthened by him, to use our tongues to proclaim the Gospel with ardent love. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would be sent to give witness and that we would give witness with him. He promised us that we would not need to worry about what we would say, because at that moment the Holy Spirit would be speaking in and through us. To say, “Come, Holy Spirit!,” is to get ready to burst through the doors of this Church and go out to announce Christ’s kingdom just like the apostles left the Upper Room.
Blowing us like a Hurricane toward the Altar
And the final way we can focus on that we invoke the Holy Spirit is here at Mass. Pope Benedict XVI said in 2008, “The Eucharist is a ‘perpetual Pentecost’ since every time we celebrate Mass we receive the Holy Spirit who unites us more deeply with Christ and transforms us into Him.” It’s during Mass that we have the epiclesis in which we call down the Holy Spirit — “Veni, Sanctificator!” — upon the priest and the altar totally to change bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood, and then we call him down to change men and women into Christ’s mystical body. To say, “Come, Holy Spirit!” means to allow him to do this work. Today, on this Pentecost of Pentecosts, in response to our vigil and to our invocation, God the Father and God the Son send the Holy Spirit to fill us with fire, a fire that is meant to spread to all parts of our life, bringing all of it in an inextinguishable flame like the burning bush. Today God the Father and the Son sends the Holy Spirit to change us the way he changed the apostles on that first Pentecost. Today on this feast of the birthday of the Church, God wants to give us and the entire Church a spiritual rebirth. Today is the answer to our prayers and the long vigil prayers of the Church in the Upper Room throughout the centuries down to our own time, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love!” “Come Holy Spirit, renew us, and through our renewal, renew our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, our country, our culture and the face of the earth! Veni, Sancte Spiritus! He’s worth the wait! Amen!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Acts 2:1 When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. 2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. 3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. 6 At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? 9 We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, 11 both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
John 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me. 25 “I have told you this while I am with you. 26 The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. 28 You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe. 30 I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, 31 but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me. Get up, let us go.