Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, New York, NY
Fourth Sunday after Easter in the 1962 Roman Missal
May 3, 2015
James 1:17-21, Jn 16:5-14
Today’s homily was not recorded. The text that guided the homily was:
Today in the Gospel Jesus says something truly shocking: “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus is basically saying that if we have a choice between Him and the Holy Spirit, we should choose the latter. That’s how important he says the Holy Spirit is.
The great joy is that we don’t have to have to choose between the two! But it is crucial for us to ponder the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life and to examine whether we’re docile to the help He wants to give us to live by faith.
The reality, however, is that the Holy Spirit remains the “great unknown” not just in the life of so many of the Christian faithful.
There’s a well-known scene in the Acts of the Apostles when St. Paul came to Ephesus and met some disciples. He asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They responded, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Pope-emeritus Benedict, at World Youth Day in Australia in 2008, said, “The Holy Spirit has been in some ways the neglected person of the Blessed Trinity,” and confessed that it was only as a young priest teaching theology that he began not only to recognize the importance that the Holy Spirit should play in his life as a priest and professor but that he came to know him intimately. He added, “It is not enough to know the Spirit; we must welcome Him as the guide of our souls, as the ‘Teacher of the interior life’ who introduces us to the Mystery of the Trinity, because He alone can open us up to faith and allow us to live it each day to the full.” And we don’t have to be a member of the Charismatic Renewal to allow the Holy Spirit to become that teacher and guide. If we wish to understand the faith, if we wish to live it, if we wish to pass it on, we must allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, even if we, like Joseph Ratzinger, are beginning as adults. For us, the “great unknown” must become the “great known,” the teacher, the leader, the consoler, the advocate.
The importance of the Holy Spirit in our life as Catholics cannot be overstated. Jesus tells us this in today’s Gospel when he emphasized that it was good that he left us because in comparison with the gift of His presence, the gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life is more important. That’s how crucial the Holy Spirit is meant to be in our life as disciples and apostles. Benedict told the Church down under, “The Holy Spirit is the highest gift of God to humankind,” something that we proclaim whenever we sing the Veni Creator Spiritus and call the Holy Spirit, “Altissimi Donum Dei.”
As Catholics, how should we be seeking to grow in our docility to this highest gift of God?
The first is in our prayer. St. Paul tells us, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray. He does this not principally by putting words in our minds and mouths to say, but changing who we are as we pray, helping us to be conscious of our reality as sons and daughters so that we can cry out “Abba, Father!” “Daddy!”
Second, we also need to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our speaking about and giving witness to the faith. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit he would send would teach us all things, lead us to all truth, remind us of everything he had taught us, and, as we hear in today’s Gospel, prove the world wrong about sin, holiness and judgment. He had said that when we are dragged before governors, and synagogues and courts, or into television and radio studios and into debates, or before cantankerous relatives or coworkers, “Do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given to you in that hour, for it is not you who pray but the Holy Spirit.” We see the miracle that occurred in the life of the apostles with the help of the Holy Spirit. The same apostles who 53 days before Pentecost had left the Upper Room only to scatter like frightened children in the Garden now left the same Upper Room to gather 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. It was the Holy Spirit that had effected the transformation from apostates to apostles, from cowards to courageous witnesses, from chickens to shepherds. The Holy Spirit wants to work that same inner transformation in all of us — and he will, provided that we cooperate with him like Jesus’ first followers.
Third, the Holy Spirit wants to help us to live according to the Holy Spirit. This is the definition of a Christian life of faith. St. Paul in his letters to the Romans and Galatians contrasts the life according to the Spirit and the life according to the flesh. That’s the biggest choice we make in life. In today’s readings, we see some aspects of this life according to the Spirit. He says, “Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” Through life according to the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity wants to help us to seek the things of the Spirit, what God wants, rather than worldly desires. He wants to help us walk by the Spirit by strengthening us to crucify our flesh with its passions and desires so that we may be able to be other Christs. That is authentic Christian “spirituality.”
One means by the Holy Spirit does this is through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, by which the Holy Spirit helps us in the concrete circumstances of our daily life to act in conformity with what God wants and others need.
- The gift of wisdom helps us to evaluate all things in the light of the truth, from God’s own perspective, so that in seeing things clearly, we may help others to see.
- The gift of knowledge helps us to come to know not only the truths of the faith but other truths, to remember them, to recall what the Lord Jesus, the great saints, said or did.
- The gift of understanding fosters in us a deeper insight into the truth, so that, in seeing the connections between things, we can stimulate others to enter into the real, real world.
- The gift of counsel or prudence helps us to order our path toward the good and to choose among various goods, and to help others to do the same.
- The gift of courage sustains us in hardship, helping us to move onward despite our natural human fears and to be bold because of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It helps us to grasp that the victory has been won and we are the heralds of the one who has conquered even sin and death and therefore have nothing to fear in trying to bring to people the medicine of immortality.
- The gift of reverence revives in us the relationship of intimate communion with God and of trusting surrender to his Providence. It is key so that we become a more compelling message, someone whose existence and way of life reminds one of God, someone who sees in others “no mere mortal” to use CS Lewis’ phrase, but someone infinitely loved by God, someone who sees in creation and even in suffering a mystery that can unite us to the divine, opening up our eyes and through us the eyes and hearts of others to grasp that the world is charged with the grandeur of God.
- The gift of fear — or better translated awe — of the Lord gives us a greater sense of our human weakness and therefore of the indispensable role of divine grace.
When we live by the Spirit, we receive the fruits of the Spirit, which will obviously make our Christian life of faith come alive and help us to be far more capable of communicating the truth, communicating a glimpse of divine reality, communicating God more attractively and compellingly to others. Just think about the life that would be ours if we lived with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control.
Benedict told the young people of the world seven years ago words: “Test the quality of your faith in the Holy Spirit, rediscover it if it is lost, strengthen it if it has become weak, savor it as fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, brought about by the indispensable working of the Holy Spirit.”
St. Paul in his first letter to Thessalonians said, “Do not quench the Spirit!,” because in some sense they obviously were limiting his work in them. To the Ephesians he said something even more powerful, imploring them, “Do not grieve the Spirit of God.” How much believers grieve the Holy Spirit by their treating him as an unknown, or merely a theological concept! How much richer would their life be, how much effective would their task of witness be, how much stronger would the Church be, if we didn’t grieve or quench the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit for whom we need to pray with greater insistence as we draw closer to Pentecost comes to us at every Mass. Just as he overshadowed Mary at the Annunciation, so he overshadows the altar and the priest at the consecration to transform bread and wine into the eternal Son of God incarnate. And so he overshadows the Church to make us one body, one Spirit in Christ. Pope Benedict said, “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.” Today we turn to the Holy Spirit, the “better part,” and pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love!” Amen!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
James 1:17-21: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.
John 16:5-14 But now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.