Pentecost and the Courage to Witness, Pentecost Sunday), June 8, 2003

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Pentecost Sunday, Year B
June 8, 2003
Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13; Jn 20:19-23

1) 53 days ago, the apostles were all gathered together in the Upper Room. Jesus washed their feet and instructed them about true service. He gave them his body and blood for the first time. He ordained them priests so that through them, Christ could give us that same body and blood. He prayed for them to His Father, prayed that they might be one, prayed that the Father would protect them from the Evil one, prayed that they might be consecrated in the truth, prayed that all those who would hear the Gospel through their lips. But what happened when they left the room? They all went out and abandoned the Lord. Right after Mass, right after receiving the Lord Jesus within. The day they were ordained priests. Judas sold Jesus. All 11 apostles ran away from the garden petrified. Peter, for whom the Lord had prayed personally, denied even knowing Jesus. All but St. John were still hiding the next day as Innocence, as Jesus, was being tortured and killed upon a Cross. Jesus had prepared them for three years about what would happen to him and what they were called to do, but none of that preparation, none of Jesus’ prayers, not even the sacrament of the Eucharist, sufficed to keep them faithful. Something was missing.

2) Today we see the Apostles return to the same Upper Room. Jesus has ascended to heaven, and so the apostles surround his mother in order to learn from her about Jesus, to learn from her how to pray, to learn from her how to say yes to God. This time they leave the Upper Room and begin to preach the Gospel fearlessly. 3000 people were converted that first day. The same apostles who scattered like frightened children in the Garden were now gathering for Christ. The same Peter who denied even knowing Jesus in order to keep himself warm by the courtyard fire, was not on fire confessing that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of the Living God. The same disciples who were too ashamed to appear at the foot of the Cross now boldly and proudly proclaimed God’s love seen by Christ’s death on that Cross. What was different? Sure, Mary’s example had doubtless helped them. Sure, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, once they overcame their initial doubts, would have filled them with joy. But what could have made these people turn from chickens to shepherds, from cowards to martyrs, so soon? The answer is what and whom we celebrate today: the Holy Spirit.

3) On Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit worked a miracle in each of the apostles, and through them, in the whole Church. As the apostles were huddled together around Mary in the Upper Room 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead, suddenly from heaven there was the sound like the rush of a driving wind that filled the entire upper room. Tongues of fire came down and rested upon each of them and all were filled with the Holy Spirit. This was the difference. They received the Holy Spirit’s help boldly to proclaim Jesus. The Holy Spirit came down upon them as tongues of fire — tongues because they were to speak, fire because they were to speak with the passion of burning love. And they responded. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit he would send would teach them all things, lead them to all truth, remind them of everything he had taught them, and prove the world wrong about sin, holiness and judgment. Then, moved by the Holy Spirit, they began to fulfill this mission. The Acts of the Apostles had begun.

4) Well, the Acts of the Apostles continues down to our own day. God wants to write new chapters, with each of us — and that includes you — playing a starring role. The wind is still blowing. The fire of the Holy Spirit still burns. We just need to let the Holy Spirit in. Too often we are more like the Apostles on Holy Thursday than on Pentecost Sunday. We come to Mass, Jesus prays for us, he feeds us with his flesh and blood, but we leave and basically leave him behind, we give in to various denials, perhaps for comfort like Peter, perhaps out of fear like all the rest. We know what our mission is — to give witness to the whole world that Jesus is the truth worth living for, worth dying for — but sometimes we just cannot put that truth into reality and we get disappointed. Today’s feast, therefore, is our hope. Alone we can do nothing. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, we, too, can become the great saints of the 3rd millennium. We, too, can turn from cowards to heroes, from apostates to apostles, from sinners to saints. The key is allowing the Holy Spirit to act.

5) To do so, we first have to get to know know the Holy Spirit. There’s an episode in the life of St. Paul when he was at Ephesus and met some people who said they were disciples. Paul asked them: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They, who had only received John’s baptism of repentance, replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Sometimes Catholics today might well say the same statement, or something not much better. The Holy Spirit is in the mind and hearts of many disciples the Great Unknown. I was with a group of the young people from our parish a few days ago and asked them who the patron of our parish was. They didn’t know what I was talking about. I said, “St. Michael’s has St. Michael the Angel, St. Stanislaus has that great Polish bishop and martyr, Notre Dame has our Lady. Who is ours?” They said they didn’t know. I asked them, “Well, what’s the name of our parish?” “Espirito Santo,” they replied. I said, “What does that mean?” They couldn’t tell me. I remembered back the scene with St. Paul in Ephesus, “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Especially us at the parish dedicated to the Holy Spirit, our own parish patron, we should feel an extra motivation not just to know the Holy Spirit, but to spread knowledge and love of the Holy Spirit among Catholics and among all people.

6) What do we know about the Holy Spirit? We know much more than we think we do. He overshadowed Mary at the Annunication and helped her to conceive virginally within the Eternal Son of God. He filled Zechariah and helped him to prophecy about John the Baptist. The Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus like a dove at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus said the Father and he would send the Holy Spirit and that it was good for him to go, because if he didn’t he wouldn’t send us the Holy Spirit. What a great gift he must be! Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would teach us all things, would help us in a moment of trial to know what we ought to say, would remind us of everything he had commanded us. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Sacred Scripture and is the principle author of every book of the Bible. The Holy Spirit acts in every one of the Sacraments. John the Baptist had said that Jesus would one day baptize not just with water but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. That’s what happens in baptism. We beg the Father to send the Holy Spirit into the water of the font to make it holy so that it may make others holy. Baptism makes us temples of the Holy Spirit. In Confirmation, the bishop anoints us with oil and says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” in which we’re changed for life by the Holy Spirit and given the graces we need to be real witnesses of Christ. In the sacrament of penance, the priest says, “God, the Father of Heaven, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” In the Eucharist, we pray to the Father, “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become teh body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” Later, we ask him to send the Holy Spirit to make us one, “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with His Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.” In the sacrament of anointing, when the sick person is anointed with oil, the priest says, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” In holy matrimony, the Holy Spirit is the one who unites spouses in love, just as the Holy Spirit is the unity between the Father and the Son. Finally, in Holy Orders, the Holy Spirit is called down to sanctify the priests in the prayer of consecration, to make us in reality what Christ calls us to be. But it goes on. St. Peter says in the Acts of the Apostles that we are co-witnesses with the Holy Spirit to Christ. “We are witnesses to these things, together with the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul tells us we cannot even say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. We cannot pray without him. We cannot do anything without him.

7) This Pentecost is the time for us to focus ever more deeply on the great gift who is the Holy Spirit. When we remain in grace, we are temples of the Holy Spirit, which is a mind-blowing reality. God the Holy Spirit lives inside of us. The Holy Spirit blows within us. The Holy Spirit burns within us. But we have to let that flame grow into a bonfire. If we were to realize that God the Holy Spirit is inside, our whole lives would change. We would feel God’s incredible love from within. We would never sin, because we never willingly choose to sin in the presence of those we love and respect. We would have great boldness, because with the Holy Spirit, we can do everything. Whatever we are, when you add the Holy Spirit to us, our possibilities are infinite. Now’s the time to unwrap this incredible gift and learn how to “use” it.

8 ) The same Holy Spirit who filled the apostles on Pentecost is about to come down here in this Church. We are in the midst of the Upper Room, where Jesus himself gives us his body and blood, where the Holy Spirit himself comes down. If we wish to leave this Upper Room and carry out our mission as the Apostles of our own day, let us beg the Holy Spirit to fill us with tongues of fire, so that with passion and love we might speak the Lord’s praises to all we meet, in word and deed. Come, Holy Spirit, Fill the Hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love!