COME HOLY SPIRIT!
A few months ago a friend of mine said "Fr. Jim you gotta check this movie out." It was called Henry Poole is Here and starred Luke Wilson - an actor some of you probably can’t picture right now, but might recognize if you saw him. In the film, Henry has been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, and in response, he purchases a new home where he can consume a steady diet of pizza and whiskey in solitude as he awaits the inevitable.
Not long after moving into this house though, a strange phenomenon occurs. A somewhat nosey neighbor notices the image of Christ on the side of his house, she is convinced it has miraculous powers and it mysteriously starts to exude blood. While Henry doesn’t see it and refuses to acknowledge this phenomenon, a growing number of people begin coming to this site, almost making pilgrimage to it. Even people close to Henry are genuinely affected, sincerely moved, some begin to experience miracles themselves. Yet, Henry remains skeptical... even angry at all of the commotion. People who know all that Henry is suffering from keep suggesting that he touch the wall himself... What does he have to lose, they ask? He already is dying - why not give it a shot?
It was funny because I found myself feeling the same tension and saying just touch the stupid wall already! Yet the source of the tension and the main question that the film did a great job exploring was- is that the basis of faith? Is faith determined by whether they touch this phenomenon and experience a miraculous healing themselves - or were people able to see the image, experience the healing because they were already believers or because their hearts were even remotely open to it. If Henry touches it and he’s cured does that make him a believer? Will he discount it as merely a coincidence? If he touches it and nothing happens, does that confirm his lack of belief?
The film really captured a struggle that is all too familiar isn’t it? Why do some experience a miracle and some don’t? Or even more generally, more ordinary: Why doesn’t God perform some major phenomenon for us to make it clear, make it plain, to prove to us once and for all to us that he’s here... that he’s present... that he’s active in our midst?
For example, we heard in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles that fantastical account of the first Pentecost Sunday. The Apostles are gathered in that upper room – this strong driving wind fills the house, tongues as of fire comes upon the men gathered there - they are filled with the Holy Spirit which empowers them to go forth and speak foreign languages - and perform mighty acts of God.
We can envy that experience -- thinking "Lord that would be kind of cool... kind of nice?" If we were able to feel and experience something that miraculous. If we were able to go out and do something that impactful. I can fall into that temptation too. When I read how St. Peter - the same guy who denied he even knew Jesus on Good Friday at his darkest hour – yet after Pentecost Sunday is able to go forth, preach with such conviction, such boldness that thousands of people are baptized in one day - well let me just put it this way: in 16 years of priesthood, that’s not happened yet...
But all of those thoughts, as well intentioned as they might be, really are fruitless - in some ways even destructive. The truth of the matter is - the Holy Spirit is active in me, and in you. One obvious example is that we’re here. While it is Pentecost Sunday – for most people they only know it to be Memorial Day weekend. Of all the things we could be doing, of all the things that a majority of people are doing at this very moment - we are here. A great number of people we know, we love aren’t here today with us. Yet something moved us, motivated us to carve out this space, this time to be here. Maybe it is routine? That’s not a bad thing. We discount that good habits are just that - good habits - that are there to support us in good behavior, good movement. But we’re here — To hear this word...to take part in a truly miraculous event - To receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
And one of the things that struck me was how often we discount that type of action of the Holy Spirit in those types of good habits, those choices we make in our daily lives. As we keep looking for those big moments, the reality is that there are miraculous experiences where the Holy Spirit can be found, is acting, is moving in you and me in countless ways.
Think back to that second reading from St. Paul to the Galatians. Paul gives this whole list of examples of how we live as people touched and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But before that, he also offers a substantial list - an uncomfortable list -possibly a convicting list of the opposite of that type of living; outlining what he calls the works of the flesh...
immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like...
We often allow failures of the past when we’ve succumbed to one or all of the items in that list, (or maybe are struggling with right now) as well as other sins to weigh us down and perhaps dampen our faith. Yet the Gospel today specifically points to how Jesus is calling us not to stay there... not to live in the past, not to believe the lie that we are merely people of the flesh, letting those things weigh us down or define us. That’s why we hear in the Gospel on this last day of Easter, a flashback to the first thing Jesus does when He is risen from the dead on Easter Sunday: He offers us His lavish gift of mercy, of the forgiveness of our sins.
When we accept that gift, when we respond to that gift and start to let that impact our daily choices... when instead of letting our eyes give into seduction we open them to see the needs of those around us; when instead of raising our hands in anger we offer them to the Lord to do His work; when instead of letting our feet lead us to a place where we focus merely on our own comfort we allow our feet to move us to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others – then we start to experience the fruit of the Spirit Paul talked about ...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
That is the miracle!! It's not something you hope for, but already have. The miracles of the Bible and today that we see or hear about are bonus, and they are for God's kingdom. There is a purpose for every miracle … they are never random.
When we open ourselves to see and experience those things ourselves happening in our daily lives, through our daily choices, - we have that image of Jesus Christ - not on a wall of a house, but in our very lives.... We are transforming to His image. When others can discern those things and see the Holy Spirit bringing Christ to life in us - then they too will have seen and experienced a miracle.