The Difference the Holy Spirit Makes, Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2006

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Pentecost Sunday
June 4, 2006
Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor12:3-7,12-13; Rom 8:8-17; Jn 20:19-23; Jn 14:15-16,23-26

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, he could give us that same body and blood. He prayed for them to His Father, prayed that they might be one, that the Father would protect them from the Evil one, that they might be consecrated in the truth, and that all those who would hear the Gospel through their lips might be one, too (Cf. Jn 17). 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, right after their priestly ordination! Judas sold Jesus, valuing him less than 30 pieces of silver. All 11 of the other apostles ran away from the garden terrified. Peter, for whom the Lord had prayed personally (Lk 22:32), denied three times even knowing Jesus (Mk 14:71). All but St. John were still hiding the next day as Love personified 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 huddle around his mother for nine days 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. Three thousand people were converted that first day. The same apostles who had scattered like frightened children in the Garden were now gathering God’s children together for Christ. The same Peter who denied even knowing Jesus in order to keep himself warm by the courtyard fire, was now on fire confessing that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of the Living God. The 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? Surely Mary’s example had helped them. Doubtless the resurrection of Jesus from the dead had filled them with joy and given them profound confidence. But what could have made these people turn from chickens to shepherds, from cowards to willing 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, helped in this way by the Holy Spirit, they began to fulfill this mission. The Acts of the Apostles had begun. The Church was born.

4) Well, the Church is still alive and 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 an important role. The wind is still blowing. The fire of the Holy Spirit still burns. Each of us, however, needs to let the Holy Spirit in to do his work. Each of us has to allow the Holy Spirit to bring about a similar miracle in us.

5) 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 when we leave the Upper Room, we basically leave Him behind, giving 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 Savior, that he is the truth worth living for and worth dying for — but how many times have we failed in that mission, and how many times have we failed even to TRY to fulfill it? Proclaiming the Gospel today is surely not easy; so many reject Christ and his teachings and the Church he founded. But when we look back to what the first disciples encountered — when first the Jewish leaders and eventually the Roman authorities were trying to kill them for proclaiming the Gospel, and when the culture was even more imbued by practices contrary to the Gospel than it is now — we find great reason for hope. For if the Holy Spirit could work such wonders with those coarse fishermen and tax collectors, then surely he can do similarly great things through us if we allow him. With the help of the Holy Spirit, 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.

6) We need to get specific about how, here at St. Anthony’s, the Holy Spirit wants to act in us. In the second reading today, St. Paul tells us, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Likewise, the Holy Spirit has given each of us a “manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” and he wants us to use that gift to the full for the building up of the Church here. What is yours?

a. If he has given you a good mind, then maybe he wants you to put it to good use teaching CCD or working in our RCIA program passing on the faith to adults, or becoming a parish leader and helping to implement the Spirit’s vision here.

b. If he has given you great and agile hands and practical know how, maybe he is calling you to use those skills to make up for your pastor’s complete incapacities in those areas. You can keep the parish plant in good order by fixing the various things that break down. You can build booths for our parish feast next weekend. You can sew and do so many of the things our women do on Tuesday afternoons. You can make new linens for the Church. There are so many needs you can fill.

c. If you have organizational skills, maybe the Lord is asking you to think “outside the box” and found and lead a parish organization that can help improve the lives of parishioners and those in the neighborhood whom the Lord calls us to love.

d. If you have the gift of sincere compassion, perhaps the Spirit wants you to lead a bereavement team to console those who have just lost loved ones, or to become modern Simon of Cyrene’s helping those who are suffering to bear their crosses with greater peace and joy.

e. If God has blessed you with a great marriage, perhaps the Holy Spirit wants you to pass on the lessons you’ve learned to new couples in the diocesan marriage preparation courses.

f. If you have the ability to relate to young people, either because you are young or because you remain young at heart despite graying hair, maybe the Holy Spirit is moving you to reinvigorate our parish’s outreach to younger children, so many of whom are preyed upon by local gangs.

g. If the Lord has blessed you with musical ability, maybe the Lord wants you to do more than to sing in the shower, but to use those gifts for inspiring others at Mass, or in nursing homes, or elsewhere.

h. If he has given you the desire to pray a lot, he wants you not only to pray for your fellow parishioners, but to pass on the art of prayer to them so that they can, too, learn how to pray more effectively.

7) I can go on, but I think the point is clear. St. Paul did not say that “manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” has been given only to “some,” or to “many,” or to “everyone except you.” He said the Spirit’s gifts have been given to “each.” We need to answer the questions about what gifts he has given each of us and how or whether we’ve been using them for the building up of the Church. The future of our parish depends on whether each parishioner of St. Anthony’s responds to what the Holy Spirit wants to do through him or her or not. The Holy Spirit wants more than for us to come to Mass on Sunday, put a few dollars in the collection basket and then leave. Imagine for a minute if the first apostles had said, “Lord, I’ll keep the commandments, pray each day, support the temple, but that’s it!” We wouldn’t be here! Likewise, people will be worshipping the one true God in the future or not depending upon whether we do our part just like the first disciples did theirs. The Holy Spirit gave us his gifts for a reason. If we want the Catholic Church in our area to make a comeback, if we want this parish to exceed what it was in the glorious days of its past, then each of us needs to recognize that we have a crucial to play in responding to the Holy Spirit so that he might bring it about. The same Holy Spirit who worked a miracle in the first disciples and helped them to evangelize the world, the same Holy Spirit who inspired the founders of this parish to build such a munificent Church and fill the pews with people from this neighborhood, can bring about similar wonders through us. But that won’t happen if ninety percent of the parishioners allow the other ten percent to do all the heavy lifting. In the Church, when disciples get what their discipleship really means, there is no such thing in the Church as volunteers. There are only stewards. There are only those who recognize that the Holy Spirit is calling them, just like he called the first disciples, to cooperate with him in fulfilling the mission Christ has given us for the salvation of all those within our reach. If each of us responds to the Spirit’s power, then through us he will renew the face of New Bedford.

8 ) Out of all the incredibly beautiful images in this Church, the one which has always most impressed me is the image of the Holy Spirit at the top of the transept. When I look up from the altar during the Eucharistic prayer, the Holy Spirit looks like it is about ready swoop down and “attack” me. Have you ever seen a dove that big? I’ve always looked at the size of the dove as an tangible sign that the Holy Spirit wants to do even more with us here than he does with parishioners elsewhere. The same Holy Spirit who came down upon the apostles on the first Pentecost is about to come down here in this Church. Just like he gave the Church its birth that first feast, so he wants to give this parish a rebirth today. He will — provided each of us allows him to transform us so that we will leave this Upper Room at the end of Mass resolved like the first disciples to cooperate with Him in the continued Acts of the Apostles that he wants to write for our own day. Come, Holy Spirit!