HOMILY FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY, May 31, 2020. Readings: Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians 12:3-13, Gospel of St. John 20:19-23. The Lord and Giver of Life!
The Solemnity of Pentecost has always been a very special day to me. There is just so much joy and hope in this feast on which we celebrate the Great Arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, as we call him every Sunday in the Creed. It reminds me that we Christians have two forms of the gift of life within us: natural life and supernatural life. And while they share some similar needs for proper growth and functioning, they are also so very different.
Through birth from our mothers we enter into our natural life, our physical life. And while the details of this life on earth differ greatly among us, depending upon our various cultures and social circumstances, there are things that we have in common, that we all must to do sustain and nurture life. We must breath and receive nourishment. We have to receive formation in knowledge and virtue so that we can grow to be healthy and happy. And of course, this needs to be done within the protective and loving community of the family.
But I wonder how many of us realize that our supernatural life, that is, the life of God’s grace in our souls, can be spoken about in much the same way? Just as with physical life, we are born, or as Jesus called it we are born again, in the spiritual life through a mother, our mother the Church. This spiritual birth happens through the Sacrament of Baptism. Then, we need the Eucharist to nourish us and Confirmation to enable us to grow strong and mature in the Spirit. And just as physical life has its wounds and scars, so too in the spiritual life we can be scarred and wounded by sin, but we find healing in the Sacraments of Confession and Anointing. This life of God within us, just like our natural physical life, needs the care and loving support of a family, and it is the responsibility of the Christian community of the parish to be this loving and supportive family for God’s children.
But no matter what form of life we are talking about, whether it be the physical or the spiritual, the most basic thing that both need along with family, for health, survival and growth is air…oxygen…breathing. If this vital need becomes endangered or compromised, as the present COVID pandemic we are experiencing shows us, we are in deep trouble. And that’s where today’s Pentecost celebration of the Holy Spirit comes into play regarding our spiritual life. You see in both of the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew and Greek, the one same word that means “breath” or “air” or “wind” also means Spirit. And we see this wordplay in today’s readings. In the Book of Acts the Spirit comes in a mighty wind, and in the Gospel, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. These Scriptures teach us that the Holy Spirit if the very life-breath of God, the power and presence of God in and among his children.
So how does the Holy Spirit bring and increase this very life-breath of God within us? Through the Christian community of the parish which exists as a spiritual life-support for the natural family by preaching of the Word of God and the celebrating of the Sacraments. This is why active participation in parish life is so very important ad truly indispensable for us! This is why we are feeling so terribly at a loss in today’s situation where our access to the parish is so restricted! Our life, our supernatural life, literally depends upon it!
Where do we first receive the Spirit in Baptism and have his presence strengthened within us in Confirmation? Through the parish! Where are we fed with the Bread of Life in Holy Communion and receive healing for our bodies or souls by Confession and Anointing of the Sick? Through the parish! Where do we usually hear the Word of God proclaimed and explained to us for our growth in faith? In the parish!
But this supernatural life is not just about receiving. It is also about giving. St. Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit is also a Life-giver in the community through the parishioners who put the gifts of the Spirit they have received at the service of their spiritual family. Each one of us, through Baptism and Confirmation, have received a spiritual gift or ability that has been intentionally given for the purpose of life-giving. It might be singing or playing an instrument to enhance worship; it might be compassion and understanding to minister to the sick and the poor; perhaps its teaching and the desire to share the Gospel with others. The list is really endless. Whatever it might be, each one of us has received a gift to build up our parish and contribute to its life, the life of God.
But this mutual relationship and responsibility we have for receiving and giving life is not put on hold because of social isolation or other aspects of our present pandemic. Very soon Holy Mass will resume in some fashion and we will be able to come together again to offer praise and worship to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit! In the meantime, our parish church is open seven days a week so you are all invited to come and spend time in Eucharistic Adoration asking Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament to uphold and strengthen us. And if you cannot make it to church then pray and read Scripture from home, but never ever lose contact in some form with the parish community, because it is how God has willed to give, increase and sustain his life of the Spirit within us.
And as we await the reopening of churches and the resuming of Mass and sacraments, let’s be grateful for the life we still have. Let’s reject the fear which is so prevalent around us and is paralyzing so many. The kind of fear that stifles us, that imprisons us and compromises the gift of life – both natural and supernatural – is not from God but from the Evil One, whose delight is that we cower with this fear. We can reject and conquer this fear by never forgetting the Great Arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and his Great Arrival within each one of us through the Sacraments. He dwells within us and reminds us of what Jesus said at the Last Supper: the One who is in you, that is the Holy Spirit, is greater than anything that is in the world. He has made each one of us his living temples, filled us with the fire of his love, enlivens us by the wind of his grace, and protects us by the power of his in-dwelling presence.