Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
Vigil of Pentecost
May 14, 2016
Gen 11:1-9, Ps 33, Ex 19:3-8.16-20, Ps 19: 8-11, Ezek 37:1-14, Ps 107, Joel 3:1-5, Ps 104, Rom 8:22-27, Jn 7:37-39
To listen to an audio recording of tonight’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided tonight’s homily:
The Difference the Holy Spirit Makes
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, 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 that his faith would not fail (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.
Today we see the Apostles return to the same Upper Room. Jesus has ascended to heaven, and so the apostles huddle around his mother not for a holy hour, not for a day, not for a long-weekend, but for four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten days — not knowing how long they’d be there — 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. An astonishing 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 men turn from chickens to shepherds, from cowards to courageous martyrs, from apostates to apostles, so soon? The answer is what and whom we celebrate today: the Holy Spirit.
The Moral Miracle the Holy Spirit Did and Wants to Repeat
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 gathered around Mary in the Upper Room, during what I like to call the “Advent of the Advocate,” 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.
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 — all of us — 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. 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, many of us 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 Jesus is alive, that he is the truth worth living for and worth dying for, that he is the pearl of great price worth selling everything else to obtain, that he is the one thing necessary and we’re called to choose the better part — but many of us do not come anywhere close to giving 100 percent to fulfilling that mission. Proclaiming the Gospel today is surely not easy; so many do not accept Christ and his counter-cultural 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 do to them what they had previously done to Jesus (crucify 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. We have so many more advantages than they did in terms of education, in terms of social communications, in terms of travel, in terms of grace, since many of us, unlike them, have been Christian from just after birth. If by the grace of the Holy Spirit, they were able to leave the Upper Room on Pentecost differently than they did on Holy Thursday, then, 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.
The Great Unknown
One of the problems we face is that many of us totally neglect the Holy Spirit. That’s shown in the way most Catholics approach Pentecost. With Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is one of the three most important celebrations of the Year, but most of us don’t prepare for Pentecost the way we get ready for Christmas or Easter. We generally treat it just like any other Sunday. That’s because, when we come right down it, most of us don’t grasp the importance of this feast for our life, for the life of the Church, for our salvation and the salvation of the world.
The most shocking phrase in all of Sacred Scripture, I believe, occurs during the Last Supper when Jesus says, “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 swears an oath basically saying that if we have a choice between keeping him and going without the Holy Spirit, or letting Jesus depart and receiving the Holy Spirit, it’s better for us to have the Holy Spirit. If Jesus didn’t himself say it, it would be hard to believe, but he is essentially saying that the Holy Spirit is even more important for us than He is. Most Catholics, however, don’t treat the Holy Spirit this way. We often treat him as a lesser known nobody included in a package deal with God the Father and God the Son. The Holy Spirit remains for so many — including Confirmation candidates, highly dedicated laity even priests and religious — just a strange white bird, or mysterious descending flame, or howling wind of Biblical history. Rather than a personal, vital “helper and guide” — as the Confirmation Rite begs the Father that he will become for us — he remains the great Unknown. And our Christian life, and the whole mission of the Church, suffers from this lack of relationship with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit’s Work in Raising Us to Share Jesus’ Risen Life
What’s the Holy Spirit want to do in us? He wants to raise us from the dead! St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans tells us, “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.” The Holy Spirit wants us to experience the fullness of Jesus’ Risen life to which we’re capable, even now, here in this world. That’s one of the reasons why Pentecost is the end of the Easter season, because it is the dramatic exclamation point on Easter. Jesus suffered, died, rose and ascended in order that we in him, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might experience his risen life. But that life comes from what St. Paul calls living according to the Holy Spirit, setting our minds on the things of the Spirit, and putting to death in us the things of the flesh, world and the devil. The stakes are between life and death, St. Paul says. “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Therefore, the most important reality about the feast of Pentecost is that each of us make a resolution to allow the Holy Spirit to do in us what he did in the early Church, to help us experience within Jesus’ risen life, with all the consequences that come from it. What are the ways in which the Holy Spirit wants to raise us from the dead and help us to live in communion with Jesus?
- The first way is through our prayer. We need help to pray, to unite our prayer to Jesus’, and the Holy Spirit is the answer to that need. St. Paul tells us, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought.” The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray. He does this principally not by putting words on our lips, but changing who we are as we pray, helping us to be conscious of our reality as beloved sons and daughters. He helps us confidently to cry out, “Abba, Father!,” knowing that if we know how to give good things to our kids, so much more will our Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to us no matter what we ask for.
- The second way the Holy Spirit wants to raise us from the dead is in our daily life, so that our whole life might be a Holy Communion with Jesus. Through baptism, we have become the temple of his holy presence, and that reality should change us and make us different from the rest. Pope Francis has said that the worst evil that can affect us and the Church is “spiritual worldliness,” allowing ourselves to be corrupted and live according to the world, putting our faith, hope and love in money, or possessions, or pleasure, or power. We are called to live full-time in communion with Jesus and one who is truly “spiritual” lives a charismatic life by the power of the Holy Spirit in things big and small.
- The third way the Holy Spirit wants to raise us up to be a full-fledged active members of Christ’s mystical body the Church. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit has given each of us a “manifestation of the Spirit” for the benefit of the whole. He has given each of us “spiritual gifts” so that we may carry out the “different forms of service” and “different workings” necessary to make the Church strong. He wants to help us to recognize what our gifts are and, just as importantly, to use them to build up our family, to build up parish, to build up the Church as a whole and help it fulfill its mission in the world. The mission of the Church is not just for ordained or consecrated “specialists.” We’re all called to be contributors rather than consumers, givers rather than takers, co-responsible participants rather than seated spectators. Our roles will vary — just as an eye is not the same thing as a foot — but all our roles are important. We’re not alive in Jesus if we’re passing the buck of responsibility for sharing in his mission of the salvation of the world. If we think the mission of the Church is someone else’s concern, the Holy Spirit wants to raise us from the dead and unite us to Jesus’ mission.
- Finally, the Holy Spirit wants to fill us with a fire to light the world ablaze with the Gospel. The Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost as tongues of fire — rather than ice-cold, quivering lips! —for a reason. It was a sacramental sign effecting what it signified: that those who receive the Holy Spirit are equipped and emboldened to proclaim the Gospel with ardor. We see how the Holy Spirit helped simple fisherman speak powerfully and effectively in front of vast crowds. He can do the same with us, beginning by strengthening us to proclaim the truth of the faith before our family members, friends, coworkers, fellow students, and more. On Pentecost, each of us is called to ask, “Who is the last person that I tried to bring to faith in Jesus?” “When was the last time I invited someone to Church with me?” “To whom can I speak this week to try to bring them to experience Jesus’ risen life, Jesus’ joy, Jesus’ love by the power of the Holy Spirit.” As the Holy Spirit comes down as fire, too many Catholics remain wrapped in spiritual asbestos. By Baptism and Confirmation, we’ve all received the same Holy Spirit that the apostles received on Pentecost. We just need to cooperate as much as they did and spread the faith more charismatically, as joint witnesses with the Holy Spirit, that Christ is alive and wants to raise not only the dead but the living!
St. Paul begged the early Christians not to “quench” or “grieve” the Spirit of God. He wanted them — and us —to give the Spirit full reign, by allowing him to work in us the same moral miracles he worked in the apostles and members of the early Church. One of the reasons why so many individuals are lost, why so many parishes are struggling, consolidating and closing, why the Church as a whole in many places has undergone various recent crises is because we have, in fact, been stifling the Holy Spirit’s work, either trying to do it on our own, or not doing anything at all. This feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, is a true God-send, on which the Holy Spirit wants to give us all a true spiritual rebirth, so that we might pray, live, build up and preach together with Jesus.
Pentecost of Pentecosts
The Holy Spirit whom we and the whole Church needs so much in each of these ways comes to us new at every Mass. Just as he overshadowed Mary at the Annunciation, so he will overshadow this altar and me at the consecration to transform bread and wine into the eternal Son of God incarnate, and so he will overshadow all of us to make us one body, one Spirit in Christ. It’s here in the same upper room in which Jesus gives his body and blood that the Holy Spirit comes. Benedict XVI said eight years ago in Australia, “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, on this Pentecost of Pentecosts, the Holy Spirit wants to fill us with fire, a fire that will overflow into all parts of our life. He wants to change us the way he changed the apostles on that first Pentecost. And so, at the end of this “”Advent of the Advocate,” we pray, “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 us renew the face of the earth!” Amen!
The readings for tonight’s Mass were:
Reading 1 GN 11:1-9
While the people were migrating in the east,
they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.
They said to one another,
“Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.”
They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city
and a tower with its top in the sky,
and so make a name for ourselves;
otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”
The LORD came down to see the city and the tower
that the people had built.
Then the LORD said: “If now, while they are one people,
all speaking the same language,
they have started to do this,
nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do.
Let us then go down there and confuse their language,
so that one will not understand what another says.”
Thus the LORD scattered them from there all over the earth,
and they stopped building the city.
That is why it was called Babel,
because there the LORD confused the speech of all the world.
It was from that place that he scattered them all over the earth.
Moses went up the mountain to God.
Then the LORD called to him and said,
“Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob;
tell the Israelites:
You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians
and how I bore you up on eagle wings
and brought you here to myself.
Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant,
you shall be my special possession,
dearer to me than all other people,
though all the earth is mine.
You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
That is what you must tell the Israelites.”
So Moses went and summoned the elders of the people.
When he set before them
all that the LORD had ordered him to tell them,
the people all answered together,
“Everything the LORD has said, we will do.”
On the morning of the third day
there were peals of thunder and lightning,
and a heavy cloud over the mountain,
and a very loud trumpet blast,
so that all the people in the camp trembled.
But Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God,
and they stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain.
Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke,
for the LORD came down upon it in fire.
The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace,
and the whole mountain trembled violently.
The trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking,
and God answering him with thunder.
When the LORD came down to the top of Mount Sinai,
he summoned Moses to the top of the mountain.
Or EZ 37:1-14
The hand of the LORD came upon me,
and he led me out in the spirit of the LORD
and set me in the center of the plain,
which was now filled with bones.
He made me walk among the bones in every direction
so that I saw how many they were on the surface of the plain.
How dry they were!
He asked me:
Son of man, can these bones come to life?
I answered, “Lord GOD, you alone know that.”
Then he said to me:
Prophesy over these bones, and say to them:
Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!
Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones:
See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life.
I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you,
cover you with skin, and put spirit in you
so that you may come to life and know that I am the LORD.
I, Ezekiel, prophesied as I had been told,
and even as I was prophesying I heard a noise;
it was a rattling as the bones came together, bone joining bone.
I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them,
and the skin cover them, but there was no spirit in them.
Then the LORD said to me:
Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, son of man,
and say to the spirit: Thus says the Lord GOD:
From the four winds come, O spirit,
and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.
I prophesied as he told me, and the spirit came into them;
they came alive and stood upright, a vast army.
Then he said to me:
Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.
They have been saying,
“Our bones are dried up,
our hope is lost, and we are cut off.”
Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.
Or JL 3:1-5
Thus says the LORD:
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions;
even upon the servants and the handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
And I will work wonders in the heavens and on the earth,
blood, fire, and columns of smoke;
the sun will be turned to darkness,
and the moon to blood,
at the coming of the day of the LORD,
the great and terrible day.
Then everyone shall be rescued
who calls on the name of the LORD;
for on Mount Zion there shall be a remnant,
as the LORD has said,
and in Jerusalem survivors
whom the LORD shall call.
Responsorial Psalm PS 104:1-2, 24, 35, 27-28, 29, 30
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
You are clothed with majesty and glory,
robed in light as with a cloak.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
How manifold are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you have wrought them allC
the earth is full of your creatures;
bless the LORD, O my soul! Alleluia.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
Creatures all look to you
to give them food in due time.
When you give it to them, they gather it;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
If you take away their breath, they perish
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
Reading 2 ROM 8:22-27
Brothers and sisters:
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that sees is not hope.
For who hopes for what one sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.
In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 7:37-39
On the last and greatest day of the feast,
Jesus stood up and exclaimed,
“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
As Scripture says:
Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.”
He said this in reference to the Spirit
that those who came to believe in him were to receive.
There was, of course, no Spirit yet,
because Jesus had not yet been glorified.