Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday
June 9, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This last week our nation, in fact most of the world,
recalled that day 75 years ago when
155,000 American, British, French and other Allied troops
stormed the beaches of Normandy.
June 6, 1944: D-Day.
It was a glorious day, but it was also a terrible day.
Many of the companies in the first wave of the invasion
had a 90% or higher casualty rate.
Overall that day 10,000 allies, and 9,000 Germans, were killed or wounded.
And the survivors were scarred by the horrific memories forever.
But then you realize that most of those men knew
they had a good chance of dying that day.
But they went forward anyway.
Who would do that?
Who would jump out of a perfectly good plane
or leap out of a landing craft into crashing waves
in order to submit themselves
to a hail of bullets and bombs going off all around you?
You have to be either crazy, or enormously brave.
And they were NOT crazy.
They were in fact, some of the bravest men who ever lived.
It leaves us all standing in wonder, and reverence.
I think about that and I wonder if I would ever have that kind of courage.
If I could ever, not so much jump into a firestorm of bullets to defend my country,
but knowingly and willingly suffer a horrible death as a martyr
for Jesus, the church, and you.
I don’t know, I’m just not that brave.
In fact, most of us aren’t that brave.
But then I think of Pentecost.
And I look back at a bunch of frightened men and women who locked themselves
in an upstairs room, 2000 years ago.
They were very much afraid of being brutally tortured and killed,
but they didn’t have to go into battle, they could just choose to hide.
But then 50 days later these same men threw open the doors
and went into the crowds and proclaimed truth
that could subject them to automatic death from the authorities.
Of course I’m talking about the apostles and the other first disciples of Jesus
who were quivering cowards on Good Friday
but were courageous preachers on Pentecost.
And the difference was the decent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
That, my friends, is what the Holy Spirit does.
It lifts up normal weak and frightened human beings
and makes them into heroic saints
with the courage to rush in where angels fear to tread.
This is the Holy Spirit that descended onto Church on Pentecost.
This is the Holy Spirit that descended on you in your baptism,
and strengthened you in a powerful way in your confirmation.
Would you be willing to storm the beach in Normandy?
Maybe some of you would,
I know a lot of you are, in fact, war heroes yourselves.
(Thank you for your service.)
But most of us couldn’t even dream of it.
And if you could storm the beach at Normandy for love of family and country,
would you be willing to suffer as much for Jesus and His Church?
Could you even simply stand up for the Church and Jesus
in the common things of everyday life?
Think of at that.
Do we have the courage to live the Christian life every day,
even if we’re not threatened with martyrdom or direct physical harm?
Maybe you’re tempted to sin–do have the courage to say no?
Or maybe someone at work or school is insulting the faith,
or even blaspheming Jesus Himself
—do you have the courage to simply disagree?
You may be afraid, but the thing is, we don’t have to do this on our own.
The Holy Spirit dwells inside of all the baptized,
in the fullness of His strength with all the confirmed.
We have same power of the Holy Spirit
that enabled Peter to go from denying Jesus on Good Friday to
throwing open the doors on Pentecost to preach to folks who wanted him dead!
That power is inside of you.
And as amazing as it sounds, and with all due respect and deference,
that power is greater than it took to be a hero on D-Day.
This is the power of God that can and does intervene, even dramatically,
in the life of every Christian—going back to the life of Christ Himself.
For example, think back to the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
How Jesus, in his humanity, was so overcome by fear and sorrow
as he could see not only the terrible physical suffering coming,
but also how it would be wasted for so many who would reject his salvation.
He was so overwhelmed that Scripture tells us he actually sweat blood
and asked His Father to find another way.
But then he concluded, “not my will but your will be done,”
and got up resolute and peaceful
and endured scourging, mocking, spittle, a crown of thorns,
carrying the cross up the hill,
and gasping for air, bleeding to death, hanging on the cross.
Imagine the courage that it took to do the that.
Even greater courage than landing on Omaha Beach
—there at least you had a chance of survival.
But it wasn’t simply human courage that led Jesus forward:
it was human and divine courage the came together
in the one person of Jesus, God the Son.
The Power of God.
And it didn’t stop there: think how even death couldn’t defeat His divine power,
so that on the third day he rose again breaking the bonds of death forever.
This is the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus and His Father.
This is the power that came to the Church that first Pentecost
in a dramatic way:
the upper room was filled with a loud wind and tongues of fire
and they were filled with courage to throw open the doors.
And this is the power that came to you in baptism and confirmation.
The power that remains in the church and in the faithful every day.
This power has been shown in many ways throughout the history of the church,
in large and small ways, dramatic and subtle ways.
Today you look up on that wall and you see a dramatic example of that power
—that took place actually on another beach.
We remember how St. Raymond of Peñafort,
had traveled to the Island of Majorca with the King of Spain
to preach to the Muslims
but soon discovered the King had brought his mistress along.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, St. Raymond
courageously chastised the King for his adultery,
and stormed out to go back to Spain.
And when the King closed all the ships in the port to him,
Raymond, filled with confidence in the power of Jesus Christ,
he went down to the beach, said a prayer, made the sign of the cross,
and stepped on one end of his great black cape,
which became filled with wind like the wind of Pentecost,
and he sailed across the sea 160 miles back to Spain.
That was not human courage,
that was the power of the Holy Spirit, that not only filled his cape with wind,
but filled his heart with confidence and courage
enabling St. Raymond to step out on the water and not look down or back.
That painting will always remind us not only of the holiness of our great patron,
but also of the power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit,
acting in each and every Christian life.
And of course we need that power very much today.
We know there are huge problems in the church.
We are in great need of courageous and faithful leaders.
And we are equally in need of courageous and faithful followers,
who are willing, by the power of the Holy Spirit,,
to stand up in charity and respect to speak and demand the truth.
And to support those leaders, who also filled with the Holy Spirit,
truly seek to renew the Church of Jesus Christ.
Not by tearing down the church, and not by building a new church,
but by cleaning out filth that has been accumulated
by those who have not been open to the Holy Spirit, but to the evil spirit.
There are, of course, lots of obstacles to this.
It seems we’re talking on an impossible task.
But think back to the apostles: at the beginning of that first Pentecost day
they led only a couple of hundred Christians.
By the end of the day there were 3000 more, and now there are two 2 billion.
Not to mention all those who have gone before us in the faith in the last 2000 years.
Yes I know today the problems seemed insurmountable,
and the power of the evil one seems unstoppable.
But imagine you’re soldier about to land in Omaha Beach in 1944.
What could you do against the power of the mighty German Wehrmacht
manipulated by the evil Adolph Hitler.?
But in the end, in spite of many casualties, the victory was theirs.
But it was not theirs alone—God was on their side.
Now, last week I watched a few of the great movies about D-Day.
One of those movies was “The Longest Day,”
a movie with every heroic actor from the 1950s and 60s.
And in two separate scenes
an American General and a German general
both say to their subordinates, “I wonder whose side God is on.”
As parochial as it may sound, God was definitely on our side.
Just think about all the things it had to go right for us, and wrong for them.
Which shouldn’t be a surprise because we were fighting to end the tyranny of
a homicidal genocidal tyrant who was taking over the world.
And God is clearly on our side today, yours and mine.
By the action of the Holy Spirit, He can and will give us courage and wisdom,
to truly purify and renew His Holy Church.
As we continue now more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,
let us recognize the power of God made manifest on this altar,
as by the command of Jesus and the action of His Holy Spirit
the bread and wine are transformed into the true Body and Blood of Jesus.
And as you receive His Body, may it strengthened and renew
that divine power within us,
power made manifest in the Cross, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost,
power made manifest in the course of human history,
and power made manifest in at every moment
in the everyday lives of every Christian.