Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday
May 15, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today, of course, is Pentecost:
one of the greatest and holiest days in the life of the Church
as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Church
and in the hearts of the faithful.
The Church seems filled with joyful expectation as we prayed in the Sequence:
“Come, Holy Spirit Come!”
And all this is right, and good.
But there is one little problem:
the Holy Spirit has already come.
He came almost 2000 years ago, and He’s been here ever since.
For most of us,
our first direct personal encounter with the Holy Spirit
was when He came to dwell inside of us in the sacrament of Baptism,
joining our lives to the life of Christ:
as our 2nd reading says today:
“in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”
—the body of Christ.
Our next important encounter with him came,
although a bit less directly or personally,
when we were about 6 or 7,
in our first Penance and then in First Holy Communion
—when, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
our sins were forgiven
and the bread and wine were transformed into,
and we received,
the actual Body of Jesus.
We’ve also had lots of indirect encounters with the Holy Spirit since our Baptism.
Every time we prayed, or received an answer to a prayer.
Every time God’s power affected our lives
—either in miraculous events,
or the most mundane events of everyday life.
But these are manifestations of the power of the Spirit,
not His actual personally coming to us directly in our souls,
as the 3rd person of the Trinity, as He did in Baptism.
The next time that happened
was when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation.
How many of us here have been confirmed?
…. That was Pentecost for you!
On that day the same thing happened to you
that happened to the Apostles and the first disciples at the First Pentecost,
“[the Spirit] came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Still, I’ve been to literally thousands of confirmations,
but I can’t say I’ve ever seen the Holy Spirit
come down on the newly confirmed in the form of tongues of fire
much less heard any of them
start to speak in strange foreign languages,
like at the first Pentecost.
So we can’t help but ask two questions:
first, why are we praying for the Holy Spirit to “come”
if He is truly already here?
and second, if He’s already here,
why doesn’t He show Himself like He did at the first Pentecost?
The answer to both is very simple:
he’s here but most of us ignore him.
He dwells in our hearts as a kindling fire,
but we shut him up, build up walls around him.
The gifts of the Spirit are not like magic
—we receive them and presto-change-o, everything is different.
Imagine if Michelangelo with all his tremendous artistic power and gifts,
had wasted it all by simply laying on his couch
drinking wine and eating spaghetti all day.
You can have all the talent in the world,
but if you don’t use it, it makes absolutely no difference.
You and I have the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in us,
and yet we waste it, we ignore it, –and then wonder:
where is he? why doesn’t He do something?
So what do we do?
First, believe in the words of Jesus Christ when He promised:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate
to be with you always.”
And believe that Jesus has sent his Spirit,
and believe that He, the Holy Spirit, dwells inside you,
and fills you with His power—His Gifts.
Then, be open to the Spirit, let Him work in you.
Sometimes, if we let him, He pushes us like a strong hurricane wind,
sometimes He coaxes us like a light summer breeze.
Sometimes He burns inside of us, like fire raining from the sky,
and sometimes He flickers like a warm inviting light in the darkness.
Believe and be open to and cooperate with
the movement and power and the gifts of the Spirit.
Even so, St. John warns us elsewhere:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.”
And how do we test to discern if we’re moved by the Spirit of God,
or the spirit of evil?
First of all Jesus tells us:
“The Holy Spirit…will …remind you of all that I told you.”
Whatever the Holy Spirit leads you to do
will always be consistent with what Jesus has already taught
—so He’s not going to tell you to ignore one of the 10 Commandments
or give you some new doctrine.
Still, that’s not quite enough for discernment.
I knew a priest once who was very knowledgeable of Scripture,
who prayed constantly,
and seemed be completely open
to the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in his life.
Until the day he told us the Spirit had moved him to leave the Catholic Church,
get married and become a protestant minister.
Now, nothing against protestant ministers,
but the Holy Spirit, never leads any Catholic, much less a priest,
away from the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church.
That may have been a “spirit” that led him, but it was not the Holy Spirit.
As we read in the Acts of the Apostles,
the Spirit was given on Pentecost to the Church
—to the Apostles and the disciples “all in one place together.”
And it is the Church, that goes out and proclaims the word to all nations,
and it is the Church,
through the hands of the apostles and their successors,
that passes on the Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The Spirit of God will never lead you away from that Church,
the Catholic Church, founded on the apostles and St. Peter,
in any way, shape or form:
from its doctrines, its disciplines or its sacraments.
Okay, so when you believe, and you’re open to the Spirit of God,
and discern His movement,
then what happens?
Will you start to speak in all sorts of foreign tongues or perform miracles?
As St. Paul tells us in today’s 2nd reading from 1st Corinthians:
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.”
And, although we don’t read it today,
he goes on to list and rank some of those gifts.
And the first gifts he lists—the most important—are wisdom and knowledge.
Here he’s clearly referring to the prophesy Isaiah gave
about the characteristics the Messiah would have when He came:
“the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and fortitude,
the spirit of knowledge and piety.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.”
These 7 gifts are commonly called “the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
There are actually countless other gifts the Spirit gives to us
in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
And there are, of course, other particular gifts that He gives to individuals
to help them or others or the church
in a particular situation or in a particular need.
But these 7 have been traditionally considered the greatest
and most basic and essential gifts that every Christian needs
to live the life of a mature Christian.
And so St. Paul goes on to write:
“Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing?
Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.”
What more could we want than these 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit
—the greatest spiritual gifts?
Wisdom–seeing things the way God himself sees them.
Understanding–grasping the truths of religion.
Knowledge–pointing out to us the path to follow in order to reach heaven.
Counsel— enabling us to apply wisdom, knowledge and understanding
to choose correctly what is right in a given practical situation.
Fortitude–or moral courage to do what is right—this we especially need today.
Piety–or a tender and filial confidence in God.
Fear of the Lord—or “reverence”—
recognizing that God is the all-powerful creator and ruler of the universe,
and I am merely a fragile sinful creature:
He is God, and I am not.
What more could we want than these Seven greatest gifts?
You and I need and want all these gifts—and we have them!
But the world also needs and wants these gifts.
And the only way they can get these gifts is through the Holy Spirit,
and the only way they can normally receive the Holy Spirit is if
we who have the Holy Spirit bring Him to them.
Just like on the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Church,
and the Church took the Spirit out into the world so that it could believe.
Now it’s true that only bishops and priests can give people
the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in sacrament of Confirmation,
but the work of the Spirit isn’t just the vocation of bishops and priests.
The same Holy Spirit that dwells in them also dwells in you,
and begs you to take Him into a world that is desperately seeking him.
You are filled with His gifts: use them!
Be wise, be reverent, be courageous!
Now, I said before these are the greatest gifts,
and I asked “what more could we want?”
Actually, there is one other greater gift.
after Paul lists the greatest gifts beginning with wisdom and knowledge,
and tells us to “strive eager after” these,
he then adds: “But I shall show you a still more excellent way.”
What is that more excellent way, the greatest spiritual gift?
He says: “if I do not have love, I am nothing…the greatest of these is love.”
Love is the greatest gift of the Spirit:
the love of the Father Son and Spirit, dwelling in our hearts
—given to us in baptism,
and strengthened to its full stature in Confirmation.
Let this gift of divine love burn brightly in your life, and become a raging fire.
And in this love, love the Lord and your neighbor enough
to use all the other gifts of the Spirit
to bring your neighbor to the Lord, and His life giving Spirit.
Today is a great day—one of the holiest and most joyful of the Church’s year.
Because of what happened 2000 years ago to the Church,
and because of what happened 5 or 10 or 30 or 60 years ago to you,
first in your baptism and then most gloriously at your confirmation.
And because of what can happen today.
Today we pray “come, Holy Spirit, come”, not because He isn’t here,
but because He’s been here waiting for us and we’ve ignored him.
But now we understand, and turn to him, and say “yes” to Him,
because today we’re ready to accept His gifts
and bring Him to a waiting world.
And so today let us pray with profound reverence and true piety,
and with all our being:
“Come, Holy Spirit, Come.”