Pentecost Sunday – Fr. Rick’s Homily (Longer Version)
May 31, 2020
This Sunday we are celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles 50 days after Easter. The Spirit at this time sealed them with gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. We also had these gifts sealed in our souls when we received Confirmation.
Perhaps we didn’t feel noticeably wiser or more knowledgeable after our Confirmation? As we know, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are not magic beans like in Jack in the Beanstalk. We could think of the Gifts like seeds which have to be planted and cared for. First we must determine what kind of plant we want to grow. Obviously, if we want apples we would find apple seeds. We need to plow or prepare the ground before we plant. We would need to know how much sun and water the apple seed likes. We need to know if they like to be close to other apple trees, if they like to be planted 6 inches deep or 12 inches deep. Then when the apple trees start to grow we need to know how to prune them and how long it takes to actually produce apples. If they don’t produce right away, we don’t chop them down. It’s also helpful to know that in some years apple trees yield many apples and other years almost none. It’s a constant learning process.
The apples seed already knows what to do. We have to learn about the seed and participate with what the seed is already ‘coded’ to do…become an apple tree.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are like this. If we want Wisdom, we need to start with the Word of God, listen to our intuition or interior voice and learn to give ourselves the type of time and space we really need to HEAR God speaking. We need to read the writings of saints and other spiritual teachers. We do well to find wise people who know how to listen to God and how to listen to other people. We should consider what they have to say to us.
Over the years we learn to be attentive to all these Gifts of the Holy Spirit and learn how to actively participate with God in helping us to mature. During this season of Pentecost we should pray for others who are actively learning and teaching in aspects of our religion that the world desperately needs: Scripture studies, marriage preparation, care of the environment, social justice issues, sacramental theology, etc., etc. We could collaborate with others who are already serving and using their Gifts. The Holy Spirit is very ALIVE AND WELL in our times and working through people who are open and ready.
Over the past six months I have seen some profound examples of different groups of people cultivating, sharing and using the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Last January I attended a conference in San Diego put on by the St. Paul Center which featured several Scripture scholars explaining the biblical roots of our Sacraments. There were about 190 priests in attendance just shortly after Christmas. Although priests typically have 8 to 10 years of college already under our belts, we were all edified by the scholarly wisdom, knowledge and understanding presented. Wisdom needs to be cultivated and sometime pruned.
This year the Church is marking the 5th anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si (On Care of Our Common Home), which explores the need to respond to the true vulnerability of our ecosystems and to an enormous amount of vulnerable people who seem to bear the brunt of drastic ecological abuse. Many urban populations live in what are called food deserts because they live in neighborhoods where fresh healthy food is not even available and transportation to better stores is not readily nearby. The unsustainable food systems we have created affect some peoples’ health in a very negative way making them more vulnerable to a host of diseases and viral issues including Corona. This is part of the current riotous behavior in our cities. People are feeling the stress and injustice of poverty of all kinds.
The Catholic Climate Covenant is another initiative which organizes conferences to study similar issues, but with an emphasis on the true causes and solutions to climate change. This network of professionals from many walks of life is very well developed and constantly trying to seek and share more understanding, wisdom and knowledge.
Just this month two virtual conferences were held featuring over 100 speakers who presented some personal witness, understanding, and knowledge on the subjects of love, marriage and sexuality. These presentations were based largely on the teachings of St. Pope John Paul II in what is now known as The Theology of the Body. I was particularly encouraged to see so many people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s sharing their personal insights and wisdom derived from great effort born of their life experience and serious studies. Sooner or later we staunch pro-lifers have to get more serious about what really causes unwanted pregnancies and raise the discussion beyond polarized ideologies that still cost us a million babies per year.
As it happens, I recently watched a 90-minute panel discussion called The Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty held at Georgetown University in 2015. The discussion featured President Obama, Robert Putnam, a professor at Harvard University who had just published a book on poverty and classism and also a very articulate ‘conservative’ by the name of Arthur Brooks who was president of the think-tank, American Enterprise Institute. The panel brought together leaders committed to addressing the persistence of poverty in our times. There was no name calling, no fist fights and no one started a fire in the conference hall. They engaged in a lively discussion that touched on society’s obligations to the most vulnerable among us and the policy measures necessary to achieve those outcomes. They discussed macro (big picture) economics, education systems, social networks, and family structures including marriage and the role of fathers in the family. Discussion questions also included those offered by students and faculty attending the event.
This event was part of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. Not surprisingly the discussion bounced around like a beach ball or a volley ball which never quite lands. Nobody scores. Not a lot of solutions. The moderator and panelists even acknowledged why people could get cynical about politics. But it was a well-framed discussion and the participants seemed genuinely interested in solving some real problems. A couple times, recognizing that they were at a Jesuit Catholic University, President Obama alluded to the potential that should be present in local religious congregations that live and minister on the ground level. He acknowledged all the fine work being accomplished by faith-based groups and recalled that his first job as a community organizer in Chicago was funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, one of our regular annual collections. Obama further emphasized that more religious people needed to be involved at the policy level; especially those who are working on the ground in very strategic issues.
The larger point here is, what does it take to actually make the type of changes necessary to have a safer, more equitable society? Or World? Once you get the movers and the shakers together, the politicians, the scholars and think tankers and even the corporate executives actually participating in a wide variety of Church-sponsored conferences, who can move the dialogue forward to real sustainable solutions?
Short answer: the Holy Spirit … working through us millions of little people; we ‘non-elites.’
Most of these national conferences are available by webcast and webinar. Is there somewhere we could jump in, where we have a particular interest or expertise, or just some good ideas?
I suspect that even the mention of Barrack Obama in a Catholic Mass caused a rise in blood pressure in some. After all, his position on ‘reproductive issues’ and marriage are the very antithesis of what we party-line Catholics believe. Wanna know who else is regularly involved in Georgetown social/political discussions? Bill Clinton!#*¿ Clinton has remarked that after high school, Georgetown was the only college he applied to…. a Catholic college. It could be noted that when both Presidents Obama and Clinton were elected to their first terms they proclaimed that marriage was between a man and a woman. What if an extra 10 million Catholics had made the effort to become familiar with the Theology of the Body teachings of St. Pope John Paul II? We Catholics have some of the most influential people in the country right on our turf, in a sustained conversation. Nancy and ‘Uncle’ Joe both call themselves active, devout Catholics!! Why can’t we move forward, especially on issues about the welfare of mothers and children?
What if the priests knew how to talk about the integration of sexuality and spirituality and then guided the people into a deeper part of their souls? What if a few million more of the laity tuned into Theology of the Body and Social Justice Conferences? What if the gifts of the Holy Spirit are actually real and need to be used by us folks in the middle, between the movers and shakers and the most vulnerable?
Last week Jesus promised us that He would not leave us orphans, that he would not abandon us and that He would send us an Advocate. Was He just kidding? Maybe He forgot?
What if a tiny group of apostles and disciples, after receiving the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost actually went out and spread the faith to many nations who did not even speak their language? They would have had to ‘speak the language of the people’ in order to make a compelling case for Divine Revelation. Did that REALLY HAPPEN? If they could really do that with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, is it possible we common folk, without PhD’s or a billion dollars in the bank, could help move things forward? Are we doomed to street riots, food deserts, name calling and polarized ideologies?
If you’re lucky enough to live in Kane County and attending St. Christopher’s Parish you would know that we have already spent a little time studying Laudato Si, the wisdom of St. Benedict and his rule of life, and are now in the process of studying the themes and major events of Salvation History in the Bible. As part of our pastoral plan and attempts at more comprehensive faith formation we will soon be learning more about Theology of the Body, Catholic Social Teaching and, of course, prayer.
In our Bible study we are tracking the different covenants between God and the people. Whenever there is infidelity, it is never on the part of God. He keeps His promises. He did NOT abandon us and He really DID send an Advocate. The Holy Spirit is ALIVE AND WELL in our time.
How will we participate?