Fr. Paul's Homily
On the first Pentecost, 2,000 years ago, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples under the symbol of fire and wind. While these two symbols are exciting for banners, they are frightening in reality. If you put fire and wind together, you have a force that is extremely difficult to control. The story of any forest fire will confirm this. For several weeks now a huge forest fire has been burning in Alberta, Canada, consuming hundreds of thousands of acres of land. It appears that a shift in weather will be needed to bring the fire under control. Right now it has a mind of its’ own.
Are you ever a little bit scare of God? Does God un-nerve you? Now, I don’t mean fear in the sense that God is going to hurt you, but rather that God might change you?! Even when we want a better spiritual life, we still can be hesitant or fearful, about allowing God to really work in my life. Why? Because we have to let go of some control and allow “Fire and Wind” to change us? It is a little scary, isn’t it! Let’s talk about this.
While we have multiple scripture references to the Ascension, Pentecost is limited to St. Luke telling the story in the Acts of the Apostles. At the Ascension, the apostles are told to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. We have traditionally said that this occurred 10 days after the Ascension since the time between Easter and Ascension is 40 days and the word “Pentecost” means 50.
The disciples are together in a large room. We don’t know how many, but we know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is present and some scholars would put the number over 100. First, they hear a noise like a strong, driving wind INSIDE the house! Then tongues of fire descended upon each person present.
While this is amazing, what happened next is the real miracle. The disciples changed! Moving from fearful, timid followers, they moved to courageous, articulate leaders. For this to happen, something very powerful must have happened in their hearts and souls; something transforming.
Change can occur quickly sometimes. Spiritually, the history of the Christian faith is filled with stories of people who had a conversion experience, and everything changed. St. Paul who was blinded by the Light of Christ and knocked to the ground would be the most obvious example. In modern times, a person might go on a Christ Renews His Parish Weekend and come out different, changed, touched by God. Can you identify a time in your life when you changed significantly for the better? Perhaps it was when you went from being a wild and crazy person, to being a parent? Maybe the realization of your role as parent radically caused you to refocus your entire life? You changed.
Sometimes change can occur quickly and profoundly as it did with the disciples on the first Pentecost when they became fearless proclaimers of Jesus Christ.
Yet, the Spirit does not always work in sudden, profound moments that result in 180 degree changes. Sometimes the Spirit is the quiet whisper that blows into our lives and makes gradual, but distinct changes. I see this happen in our RCIA class throughout the year. People start the year in August with curiosity and desire, but as the year moves forward I can see changes occur. A slow fire starts to burn in their hearts, moving them toward God and the church. Once a person told me, “This whole process has really affected me. Now when I am with friends, I find myself stopping before I start to gossip or say mean things. I am different.” The Spirit might work quietly in our hearts by softening our angers, releasing our bitterness and creating a more humble attitude toward life.
The Spirit can move dramatically or quietly, but the Spirit always draws us closer to the Person God wants us to be. The Spirit seeks to transform us into a unified community. The personal transformation we experience through the Holy Spirit is to enable the Body of Christ to grow stronger. We see this in the second reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians when he says that “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” What does this mean?
The Holy Spirit unites us more deeply into the community of faith. Each gift given to us by the Holy Spirit should help build up the community, not divide it. Let me give an example.
Here at Holy Spirit we have a special ministry to those cannot join us for Sunday Mass, usually because of health reasons. Each week our Eucharistic Ministers take Holy Communion to about 50 individuals; they pray with them, visit with them, sharing the Scriptures. Often they will also take a bulletin and talk about the activities of the parish. These ministers of the Eucharist are helping to keep these parishioners united with the larger community of Holy Spirit. As we all know, when we can no longer drive or even walk, one of our greatest fears is isolation and being forgotten. Through the visits of these Eucharistic Ministers, our homebound parishioners continue to be united with us through Holy Communion and the Scriptures, and they remain informed about the activities and energy of the parish.
The Holy Spirit, working through these Eucharistic Ministers, continues to bring about a stronger unity.
We also draw closer to each other in community by knowing each other’s stories. I would like to take a few minutes and hear the stories of a few parishioners, especially with regard to our heritage and our common faith. In the East Vestibule we have been identifying our countries of origin by putting pins on the large maps. Let’s talk about this wonderful diversity that is united in the Holy Spirit.
What is your name?
What country (countries) are you or your ancestors from?
What memory of faith do you have from your childhood?