Pentecost (B); May 24, 2015
Acts 2:1-11 Ps 104 Gal 5:16-25 Jn 20:19-23
Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison
At the high school where I teach theology, a favorite, boisterous cheer that punctuates rallies and sporting events is “We’ve got spirit; how about you?” When you have over a thousand adolescents chanting that refrain in full-throated abandon, one can “feel the spirit,” which permeates the gathering and takes the student body to a heightened level of enthusiasm. It’s a strange phenomenon.
Today, I want to reflect with you on the ultimate Spirit, which we celebrate on the great feast of Pentecost, which honors the 3rd Person of the Trinity. Besides that, who is the Holy Spirit? Since God is love, it is the love that connects the Father and the Son. Imagine the Father as the Lover who pours himself completely into the Son, who is the Beloved. The Son, in turn, reciprocates and that eternal sharing of love spirates the Holy Spirit who is the loving between the two.
St. Paul reveals to us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, which means he dwells within us, animating and empowering us to live according to God’s purposes. That’s right: your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit—which means your body is sacred.
In prison that Truth is not reinforced. Indeed, just the opposite as you’re given a number which is not just for identification purposes, but is a subtle way of reducing who you are to a number or your status as a convict: in other words, one can easily be objectified in prison both from without and within.
The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, knows who you are; indeed, the Spirit knows you better than you know yourself. The movement of the Spirit that stirs within you does two things: it gives Life and bonds people and, indeed, all of Creation together. The Holy Spirit is that loving energy shared between God the Father and God the Son and that divine power is generative and unitive: that is, the Spirit gives Life and bonds us in communion and fellowship.
The Holy Spirit is at work within you behind these prison walls. The challenges to you cooperating with the Spirit are formidable, indeed. You live in a violent culture. Since violence breeds violence, everyday you have to contend with social relationships that preserve the aura of violence and produce it. As someone once said, “Prison is a school and violence is the curriculum.”
So, what do you do? It all comes down to where your heart is. Either God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are about what our life is about or the goods of the world are. Soren Kierkegaard, a Swedish philosopher once said that “A saint is one whose life is about one thing.” So, what is your life about, brothers? Choose life; choose God. If you choose what is really Real, the Holy Spirit, who is your advocate, and protector, and sanctifier will transform you into who you are already: a precious child of God.
On this Pentecost Sunday, I ask you, I ask myself: Do we want to live in the Holy Spirit? If so, what does that mean? Paul beautifully illuminates this question in the 5th chapter of Galatians. In so doing, he gives us very practical instructions in the spiritual life. Indeed, he is very specific in terms of what life in the Spirit looks like and what it doesn’t look like. Paul looks at both sides—the works of the flesh, what we’d call today the False Self, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Again, what does it look like to have the Holy Spirit within you? Since the Holy Spirit is the loving between the Father and the Son, whatever is in accord with love will be in accord with the Spirit. Or, put another way, whatever is of the Spirit will be an expression of love. That’s a basic Christian insight which is derived from the Great Commandment. Whatever is outside of love, that’s something that will be opposed to the Holy Spirit. So, what does it mean to be in love. We imitate our Lord Jesus, who is the perfect image of the invisible God (cf. Colossians 1). And, how did Jesus live? He gave himself away even to the point of death, death on the Cross. Jesus reveals to us that God is Love: that is, God is self-gifting and unconditionally generous. And, since we are made in the image of God who is Love, we are most human when you are generous with your life, gifts, and resources.
Even in prison? Why not? By virtue of your baptism, you are called to become a priest—one who sanctifies his life, which is another way of saying, you’re called to become a saint. And, what is a saint? He’s a friend of God, who’s living a life of exemplary virtue and who’s on the road to heaven. You’re here in chapel this morning because you’re striving to embrace all three. Is there any body here who doesn’t want to be a friend of God? Is there anybody here who doesn’t want to act according to the Father’s will? Is there anybody here who doesn’t want to get to heaven? But, I hear, “Oh, deacon, it’s hard live a Christian life in prison. If you show compassion and mercy, you’re seen as a wimp, which you can be preyed upon.” Look brothers: Jesus lived this way and he was no wimp! Jesus is not offering us an alternative path that we can choose among several options: Jesus is LIFE itself and you will be most human when you follow his Way. And, there’s nothing that can overcome the Kingdom of God. Indeed, we know how the story ends. Through the Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, he has conquered sin, death, and the power of Satan—they are all subject to his authority. Nothing trumps God and His Kingdom—nothing inside or outside these prison walls. So, yes, you are being challenged to follow the Strange Way of Jesus in most demanding of situations, but it can be done because the power of the Holy Spirit dwells within and among you. And, that power can transform any evil condition.
Brothers, all you have to do is to call upon the Holy Spirit to empower you, to safeguard you, to advocate for you to God and against your enemies. On the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, which in Hebrew means “breath,” rushed upon the assembled Apostles and they fearlessly went forward to spread the Good News throughout the world. You can access the same Power. If you’re being threatened from without or within, call upon the Holy Spirit; let the Holy Spirit rush upon you, enfold you with his energy, and go forth and witness that Jesus Christ is Lord!
Brothers, you have to take a stand. We can’t have it both ways: as Jesus reminds us—we’re either for Jesus or we’re against him.” If we’re for him, then we are going to avoid those evil spirits which scatter people and bring death. In our second reading, Paul speaks of “hatreds, rivalry jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, actions.” Does that sound familiar? Since the Holy Spirit is the loving energy of the Triune God, He is a gathering, unitive force. There are things that divide and scatter us, and set us against each other; these are necessarily opposed to the Holy Spirit. Are you cultivating resentment, vengeance, hatred for anybody right now? Perhaps someone who’s hurt you in the past; someone who has been cruel, violent, or deeply unfair—well, do something about it because if you don’t, you’re operating according to the flesh You’re contributing to divisions, factions, and rivalries. Ask yourself: are you one who likes to stir the pot, to agitate conflict, to take sides of one group against another. Are you beset with jealousy, noticing when others get recognized and receive preferential treatment or advancement. Well, you’re not working under the aegis of the Holy Spirit.
Brothers, the Feast of Pentecost reminds us that through our Baptism and Confirmation we have been called to discipleship in which we are transformed into Christ and sent to proclaim the Good News and baptize all nations. I hope you have a sense of Being Called to Discipleship, of Being Formed in our Catholic faith, and Being Sent to share in Jesus’ Mission through the power of the Spirit. I hope you are enthused about your real journey with Jesus, and His Father, and the Holy Spirit. Because if you do that, you can only give away what you have become. And you’re going to have plenty to give away then because you have been so generously blessed. Through you, God will transform other people—that’s how conversion works. As you get closer to Jesus, His presence will just rub off on other people. His presence will come out of you almost in spite of yourself just by walking your journey…just by the way you make decisions…just by the way you joyfully exercise ministry….just by the way you make decisions by the panoramic, Gospel way you read reality.
At Baptism you were anointed in the Holy Spirit. May you live out of that reality. May you be energized by the Holy Spirit so that you can enthusiastically proclaim the Good News to the world. Go in peace.