Let’s Get Drunk…on the Holy Spirit!

The Solemnity of Pentecost (A); 6-4-17

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104; 1 Cor 12:;3-7,12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

            Pentecost is not, one could safely say, the most beloved of Christian feasts, though it is of utmost importance since it marks the birthday of the Church! Nonetheless, marketers haven’t found a way to make money off of this Solemnity. It has no Halloween drama. There’s no cute little baby in the manger. There is no empty tomb, let alone a bunny which goes around hiding Easter eggs. Except for the liturgical calendar, there is no build-up to Pentecost. When was the last time you saw an ad that said, 50 days to Pentecost—shop early! Also, there’s not even a secular holiday in which we get a long weekend.

Moreover, the event as described in Scripture is, well, a bit strange, if not weird. Tongues of flames are on everybody’s heads. Think of Michael Jackson times 12. People are speaking in languages they don’t even know, yet they understand each other! To quote the immortal words of Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, “Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!” Indeed, the first Pentecost was so bizarre that folks accused the disciples of being drunk. And, Peter’s defense is not all that convincing: in verse 15, he says that they’re not drunk because it’s only 9:00 in the morning, the implication being that they’ll get drunk at a later hour!

No, these are drunk on the Holy Spirit, not wine. It’s the best kind of intoxication that there is because we are receiving the “Lord and giver of life.” The Holy Spirit reminds us that God is triune—that the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Holy Trinity, is divine no less than the Father and the Son.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is the capstone of the awesome mystery that encompasses Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification. It’s the capstone because Jesus announced that the whole purpose of his mission on earth is brought about at Pentecost. On the way to Jerusalem he declared to his disciples, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49).

These words came true 50 days after the Resurrection on Pentecost when “There appeared to them tongues as of fire….and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4).

The real fire, the Holy Spirit, was brought to earth by Christ so that we could stay in communion with him since he is no longer physically with us. And, the Holy Spirit empowers us to continue his mission: to bring salvation to the world and to proclaim the Good News. So, that Jesus’ mission may be extended throughout history until the Last Judgment, he says to the Apostles on the evening of his Resurrection: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” These words were expressed as “he breathed on them” (Jn 20:22). Brothers and sisters, it’s not that the Church has a mission but the mission of Christ has a Church, which is the Way that God brings about his plan of salvation in the Risen and Ascended Christ.

By virtue of our baptism, we are not merely called to imitate Jesus. We are challenged to become the Risen Christ—to be the second Coming of Christ. Sounds farfetched? No, it’s not; indeed, it’s downright simple. Jesus Christ has constituted his Church as his Mystical Body. And, who is the Church? We are, the People of God, who were initiated into the Church at baptism. That means that Jesus permeates every member of his Body. That’s what Communion means: to be in Christ…to participate in Trinitarian love!

            Do you see what Jesus is doing? He was communicating to us his Spirit—the same Spirit that is the loving energy shared between Him and his Father. God completely gives himself away to us: We are so blessed!

People of God at SJB, the Solemnity of Pentecost reveals that the energy that is capable of transforming the world is not an impersonal, mindless, anonymous, blind force, but the loving action of the “Spirit of God…moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Jesus Christ “brought to the earth” not the vital force that was already there, but the Holy Spirit that is the personal, intentional, loving energy of the Triune God, Who “renews the face of the earth,” purifying from evil and selfishness and setting it free from the dominion of death” (Ps 104). Let the Holy Spirit speak to you so that God can work through you to change the face of the earth and bring God alive to all who touch you.

Amen.

 

 

 

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Making Everything New

Solemnity of the Feast of Pentecost; May 15, 2016

Acts 2:1-11   Ps 104   1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13   Jn 14:15-16,23-26

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

Today, we reflect and re-live the liturgy of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit sent by the Risen Christ upon the Church. I say “re-live” this event because when we listen to the story of Pentecost with open, trusting hearts, the coming of the Holy Spirit can happen again in our day. But, we need to be open to the God of surprises!

The evangelist Luke brings us back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room where the Apostles were gathered. The first thing that grabs our attention is that “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were” (Acts 2:2). Then, on top of that, “tongues as of fire, which parted came to rest on each one of them” (v. 3). What is going on here? Sounds and tongues of fire not only from without but from within. GOD IS TRYING TO GET OUT ATTENTION! He wants to penetrate deep into our minds and hearts. As a result, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a, who unleashed this irresistible power with amazing consequences: they all began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to proclaim” (v. 4b).

What comes next is so unexpected, so surprising. A great crowd gathers, whose members came far and side from the Middle East, Asia, Greece, and even travelers from Rome. They were flabbergasted because they heard the Apostles from the hill country of Galilee speaking in their own language. They had all experienced something radically new, something that had never happened before. And, what is it that they were speaking about: “…of the mighty acts of God.”

As Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz said to her dog, “Toto, we are no longer in Kansas.” Brothers, we’re in C-facility at (New) Folsom Prison, but then, again, if we re-live this story in our time and place, we are entering a new condition, a New Age. Let’s reflect upon the workings of the Holy Spirit, which is linked to making everything new.

Newness can make us nervous. We tend to resist change because we feel more secure if we think we have our lives under control, according to our agenda and expectations. To be sure, this inclination is nuanced behind prison walls, but I suspect that there are a few control freaks in the prison population! So, we like to live according to our ideas, our comfort systems, our own preferences because it places our Ego in the center of our life. When it comes to God, we do the same thing. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only to a certain point. As long as his will meets my expectations then I’m all in. But, to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, to allow the Holy Spirit to be the sole guide of our lives in every decision we make, we start to get cold feet. If we surrender ourselves completely to God, we’re afraid that God may force us to strike out on a new path, on “a road less traveled,” in which we leave behind our narrow, closed, and self-absorbed horizons: our prison within a prison.

The newness that the Holy Spirit offers is not novelty or a diversion to relieve our boredom. No, the newness that God brings into our life is something that draws us into the heart of Trinitarian love. As such, it actually brings fulfillment because through the power of the Spirit, we are really in God, sharing his very nature and Life. This newness gives true joy because we are living in God’s presence. As a result, we experience true serenity because we know that we are being unconditionally loved by God who only desires our good.

Brothers, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not just a promise from Jesus; it’s an experience you can have. Imagine the divine life of the Trinity—divine life itself—filling your heart. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit so that we can share, be transformed into God, who is Love. I think you can truly experience the power of Pentecost when you know, by the grace of God, that you are specially loved by God right here and now! This was God’s aim along. Since God is love it is 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 gives rise to the Holy Spirit who is the loving between the two. Why did Jesus leave us with the Holy Spirit– so that we could participate in this eternal, Trinitarian love!

Brothers, I hope that you have a strong Pentecost experience. I hope that you can say that “I felt loved by God.” I know that this can be hard. Sometimes we can spend so much of our lives with a bitter feeling of not being loved by anyone or not being able to love others. But, be open to the God of surprises who wants to rush into your soul and fill you with his divine life. That’s what God wants for you. St. Paul confirms this when he said, “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). This is what the Holy Spirit is all about. Again, Pentecost will become a reality to you the moment when you realize that you are especially loved by God as his precious son. When that happens, your whole life changes, and you enter into a new way of living. AMEN.

 

 

We Got Spirit–How ’bout You?

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.