The Spirit Breathes Life

The Solemnity of Pentecost (B); 5-20-18

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.

 

         The meaning of the feast of Pentecost is richly complex: it’s like a multi-faceted diamond whose brilliance takes different nuances when examined from different angles. Today’s readings offer us multiple dimensions of meaning for this Solemnity.   The gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples is one more facet of the awe-inspiring mystery that encompasses Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification.

Indeed, Pentecost is the capstone of these solemnities because Jesus himself 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 became graphically alive fifty days later after the Resurrection at Pentecost, which was an ancient Jewish feast; in the Church it has become the feast of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church. “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 and be empowered to continue his mission: to proclaim the Good News and help bring about the salvation of the world. So that Jesus’ mission may be extended throughout history, 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). 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 salvific plan in the Risen and Ascended Christ.

Sisters and brothers, 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? Jesus Christ has constituted his Church as his Mystical Body according to St. Paul and brilliantly reaffirmed by Vatican II in Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church). And, who is the Church? We are, the People of God, who were initiated into the Church at baptism. That means that Christ 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!

Now, People of God, as we live in the Spirit, our church community will be formed in a unique way that differentiates from any other institution. What way is that?   As John the Evangelist describes the event of Pentecost, he recalls that the disciples “were all gathered in one place.” That place was the “Upper Room” where Jesus had eaten the Last Supper with his Apostles, where he had appeared to them Risen. This room had become the “headquarters” of the nascent Church. The Acts of the Apostles, however, insists that this physical place was special because it reflected an inner attitude of the disciples: “ All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). Notice that the harmony of the community is conditioned by prayer. Unless we enthusiastically embrace public and private prayer, we won’t be “in one accord” with one another.

Brothers and sisters, what was true of the early Church is just as true for us today who are gathered here at St. John the Baptist C.C. If we want Pentecost to be a true celebration of our salvation, we must always be preparing ourselves in devout expectation for the gift of God. God does not come to us by sprinkling pixie dust over us, but he is received by those who humbly and silently listen to his Word; he is received by those who stay at all times with the love that is in their hearts.

At this time in history, we have a particularly difficult challenge, since our increasingly secular culture is pushing God, the source of all life, out of the picture and asserting itself as the center of the universe.

In the hands of such men and women, “fire” becomes very dangerous, which can backfire against life and humanity. Just witness the 100 million lives lost during the wars of the 20th century, the 500 million worldwide lost to abortion since 1973, and the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where atomic energy was used to kill civilians en masse. We can use “fire” to sow death at an unheard scale, which is a perennial reminder that the only “fire” that can give life is grounded in the Holy Spirit. Like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel parable who believes that he can fulfill himself by distancing himself from his father’s house, the modern person has given into the conceit that one can make oneself happy without God.

The Solemnity of Pentecost reveals that the energy that is capable of transforming the world is not a 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 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” (Psalm 104). Let the Holy Spirit speak to you so you can change the face of the earth and bring God alive to all who touch you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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.