Hi everyone - Happy Pentecost Sunday! The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/060417-day-mass.cfm. Thanks as always for reading this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit; and for you comments and feedback. Have a great week. God Bless - Fr Jim
Because I was attending a priest-friend’s 25th anniversary celebration this afternoon, I didn’t have to prepare a homily myself for the celebration of Pentecost. I had looked at and discussed the readings on "The Catholic Guy Show"; the Sirius/XM Satellite Radio show I co-host on Thursdays and Fridays for one of the segments called "homily on the spot." That’s the bit where the host Lino Rulli will read the gospel and want me to give an instant homily... which rarely goes well for me (which is one of the comedic aspects for sure). So I knew what the readings for today were going to be before Mass, even though I hadn’t prepared a homily.
But I guess that’s why I was surprised that when the deacon proclaimed the Gospel I kind of was taken aback. It’s not like we haven’t heard this passage from John before. In fact it’s actually a "repeat" from the Second Sunday of Easter – Jesus enters 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 was jarring was the words of Jesus:
"Peace be with you" - which in this very short passage of only 4 verses, he repeats... "Peace be with you" before he bestows the Holy Spirit on them.
"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 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. The news is filled with talking heads on either side of every issue ready to pounce to defend themselves and explain why it’s the other side’s fault as they launch another tirade. Entertainers or celebrities seem to buy the notion that any publicity is good publicity and grown more vile and disgusting in their attempts at humor - which is followed by OUTRAGE OUTRAGE OUTRAGE... With calls for boycotts, protests... And those who have been in the public eye for any length of time and end up going through a personal crisis, once we’re done hearing how one politician is the anti-christ; and gotten the update over which celebrity said something so awful and terrible that we’re going to talk about it and show it to you another 15 times.... we’ll close out with picking apart this other celebrities fall from grace. 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"
But the more I thought about it over the afternoon, the more it hit me was that 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, at this Easter season that we conclude today with stained-glass vision. Beautiful, spiritual, transformational events that changed the world and that we recall as happy memories. 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. Because 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.
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 ton the Eucharist hat they must eat his flesh and drink his blood - and couldn’t or wouldn’t hear these words - they walked away as well.
The 12 could’ve taken off as well after Good Friday, and perhaps some of them were even contemplating it. Yet they choose to come together - as Jesus had told them to do. And Jesus enters into that locked room; 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 struck 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 terrors of London, 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?
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. It’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.