Hi everyone, here's my homily for THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST - MAY 20, 2018 the readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052018.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, your feedback and comments and for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. God Bless you and have a great week - Fr Jim
PS - several people have asked me about making audio's of the homilies available. I've tried figuring out how to make a podcast but I've gotten more and more confused each time I've attempted. If any reader knows how to take a voice memo from an iphone to become a podcast, I'd appreciate the help... Just email me - firstname.lastname@example.org
Tonight’s feast of Pentecost - where we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church; we focus on this, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity’s continued activity in the Church and how the Holy Spirit wants to have a relationship with each of us as well, the Gospel we heard kind of struck me in a different way then I expected.
It’s not like we haven’t heard this Gospel before - in fact we did, just a few weeks ago on the Second Sunday of Easter. This is the passage where Jesus has entered the locked upper room of the Apostles on Easter Sunday Night. So this reading isn’t an obscure passage that hasn’t been heard for some time, it’s not something that is unfamiliar. But what stood out was the words of Jesus:
“Peace be with you” - which in this very short passage of only 4 verses, he repeats a second time ... “Peace be with you” before he bestows the Holy Spirit on them.
Those words seem jarring to me. Particularly this week... We had another school shooting yesterday carried out by an obviously disturbed student - or possibly students - who also had planted bombs and explosives around the school and in the community, so determined they were to impose the greatest destruction of life that they could on their fellow classmates, teachers and staff... The more I listened to the news last night, the more I could feel myself getting angry, tense, and fearful...
“Peace be with you.”
Last night wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself turning off the news – and even the so called “entertainment” world. I’ve been finding myself doing that a lot more often to be honest. When I do put the TV on, I’ve been opting for either a rerun of Seinfeld or Everybody Loves Raymond - or something calm or peaceful like HGTV more and more. Because the amount of negativity in so much of what is being broadcasted has grown increasingly toxic. Entertainment seems to portray stories that have no redemptive qualities and glamorize what are called “Anti-heroes” (Ever seen the Walking Dead) Celebrities or public officials personal crises, failures are broadcast and shared with an even greater frequency then ever before as “gossip programs” which are almost considered news programs by some, where the public can pick apart a person’s “fall from grace” to - I don’t know, make ourselves feel better, or more superior? Yeah, I’d much rather see the Property Brothers - take a train-wreck of a house and transformed into something beautiful (magically reducing months of work to a nice 30-60 minute program)
“Peace be with you”
Truth be told... it’s not just the outside world that brings us down... that seems to speak words that are completely contrary to these words of Jesus. I think of the family who just lost someone they loved way too young and too tragically... I think of a relative who’s been fighting cancer for over 10 years and being told their remaining options are very limited.... I think of the couple who've been married for years but who are struggling to keep faithful to their vows... I think of students struggling to figure out how they can afford next semesters tuition when they have already taken out more loans than they had hoped or anticipated... There’s no shortage of problems, difficulties, struggles that are all around us that if we take a moment to remember them all seems to make hearing those words - “Peace be with you” jarring... or insulting Unreal... too idealistic.
But the more I sat with this, the more it hit me was that yes, Jesus is offering us Peace - but it’s a choice. It’s our choice, our decision to receive it. It’s our choice, our decision to utilize it, to live it.
And it always has been.
We tend to look at Pentecost, and this Easter season that we conclude today with stained-glass vision. Beautiful, spiritual, transformational events that changed the world and we recall with pride - as this momentous historic moment in the life of the Early Church. I think about the mosaic I saw in St. Louis’s Cathedral of Pentecost where it’s this awesome illustration of the apostles, dressed in their heavenly looking robes, with the Blessed Mother sitting there with a halo and the dove hovering over them with these tongues of fire over each of their heads. It looks so perfect. It looks so amazing. It looks like everything they could’ve wanted or imagined has been fulfilled instantly and completely. And it looks so removed from our experience.
What we miss in images like that was that it was a choice - it was a decision for the apostles, for Mary to be there. They were filled with fear. We can’t forget, that in this very gospel, we hear that the room was locked. And St. John makes no excuses for the locked doors, it was - “for fear of the Jew [-ish leaders who had conspired with the Romans to kill Jesus, and who they feared were after them next].” Yet despite the sadness and sorrow which was still looming in their heads and hearts from Good Friday... despite these fears, they choose to be there. They choose Jesus.
It’s not like they didn’t have choices. Maybe because we’ve heard this story many times, we tend to think of the apostles as characters in a play that we know how it’s going to play out. Yet they were just like us. They could’ve given into despair. We can’t forget that one of the 12 had... Judas after choosing to follow the world, and at least securing himself with the Romans and the Jewish leaders for turning Jesus over, recognized the horror of that decision. But rather than remembering all that Jesus had said and done... the words of Mercy, the acts of love – the forgiveness to sinners - he choose despair and hung himself.
Judas was not the only one... there are other instances throughout the gospels where we hear of people who walked away from Jesus: The rich young man for one who after asking Jesus what more could he do, found Jesus’ call to give up all that mattered in the world and devote himself solely to Jesus too much for him to do. The group of disciples who first heard Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood - and couldn’t or wouldn’t hear these words - they walked away as well.
So the 12 could’ve taken off as well after Good Friday, and perhaps some of them were even contemplating it. Yet they made the choice to come together - the made the choice to do what Jesus had told them to do. And so Jesus enters into that locked room; He enters into that fear - already blowing their minds having been risen from the dead – and then He offers them His Peace which is tied to His gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the days that followed that Easter night, the apostles would be confronted again with all kinds of fear. After appearing to them for 40 days, Jesus commissions them to now Go and proclaim His Gospel and then He ascends into heaven. They leave Mount Olivet - they return to the upper room - they had to choose to be there together - to dedicate themselves to prayer - to believing and trusting that Jesus’ promise of sending this “gift” this “Holy Spirit” upon them would somehow enable them to fulfill Jesus’ commands.
And so it happened. The Spirit comes upon them, and we see that the apostles are transformed to speak in new languages and the beginning of the Church takes place. But just reading through the Acts of the Apostles - after that event, this would be a daily choice, an ongoing thing that they had to do. They would be confronted with difficult missions, hostile crowds, angry leaders - and ultimately almost all of them would face their own deaths for being apostles of Christ. Yet they kept choosing Peace they kept choosing the Holy Spirit and looking to Him to provide the strength, to give them the words, to be their consoler in the moments of darkness when it felt there was no one left in the world to support them.
That’s what stays with me today. We too have to choose to be men and women of Peace - We too have to choose to let the Holy Spirit into our lives and our decisions:
So when we hear of the the latest atrocity, we have to be cautious of our reactions, our responses individually and personally. Do we choose Christ and let His Peace be with us?
When we hear of nasty, deviant things being said by entertainers, do we share them (and help amplify them); do we join in the slugfest and buying into the non-stop “Outrage” culture that only seems to be creating a “gotcha” environment. Or do we stop before we tune in, or “share,” or chime in and comment, and choose Christ and let His Peace be with us?
When we think of all the personal struggles that family, or friends or even each of us are going through personally - do we let our hearts get weighed down, give into despair, and walk away in our depression, our fear, our worry? Or do we come as we are, looking to the apostles example, and yes acknowledging our fears, our worry’s but not giving into them and choose Christ and let His Peace be with us?
That is the difficult place we find ourselves in. We who have received this same Holy Spirit, we already have this precious gift of God within us.
t’s not a distant spiritual reality.
It’s not some confusing theological concept that we need extensive teaching.
Jesus, who remains with us in His Word, in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, in the Church - continues to pour out His gift of the Holy Spirit upon us.
He has promised that He will never leave us.
He has promised that He will continue to do tremendous deeds through each and every one of us who make up the Church.
But it’s still a matter of a choice, a decision on our parts.
We have to want the Holy Spirit.
We have to want His Peace.