"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pentecost Sunday

The following homily was given on May 15, 2005 by Fr. Robert Altier of the Church of St. Agnes, St. Paul, MN. Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1; Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23.

Today we celebrate the great solemnity of Pentecost. It is a feast that in many ways is forgotten, or at least certainly not understood for what it is. On the day of Pentecost—the word means fifty days, so fifty days after the Lord resurrected from the dead—the Holy Spirit descended upon His apostles as they were gathered in the Upper Room. It is interesting to see what takes place within these men as soon as the Holy Spirit descends upon them. These are men who were gathered, as we are told even in the Gospel today, for fear of the Jews because they were afraid of persecution. After the Holy Spirit descended upon them, they became fearless and they went out and began to preach. Their understanding of the truths that Scripture had revealed and the truths that Our Lord had taught them suddenly became clear to them and they were able to present these truths with persuasive arguments.

Of course, the most persuasive argument of all is the one that came only at the end of their lives, as one after the next they were willing to follow their Divine Master even to the point of death. There is nothing that is more eloquent than anything the apostles did than to lay down their lives for Christ. Clearly, anyone would be able to recognize that what they were doing was not about themselves, because if it were, self-preservation would have been their concern. But their concern was Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit had been given to them to lead them into all truth, as Our Lord had told them. Jesus Himself is that truth. And so they were led then into the fullness of Who Jesus Christ is. They began to understand all the things that He had taught, and suddenly the pieces in their minds were being put together to be able to understand not only Who He is in the fullness of His Person but therefore who each of us is as members of His Mystical Body.

That is what Saint Paul talks about in the second reading today, that unity which is ours in the Mystical Body. So we look at that unity that we have, all of us making up one person in Christ, and we look also at what happened as the apostles went out and began to preach. All of these people from different areas of the world were able to hear them in their own language. Even though they spoke but one language themselves, everyone was able to hear the truth communicated to them and to understand it clearly. And so the Fathers of the Church tell us that Pentecost not only is the birth of the Church, but Pentecost also reverses what happened at Babel. At the time of Babel, they all spoke one language throughout the world and they used that unity to determine that they would topple God. They were going to build a huge tower that would go up into the heavens, and from there they would no longer need God because they would have exalted themselves. So God confused their speech. And when they could no longer communicate with one another, they all dispersed and went their separate ways.

But now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what we see is unity. We see that there is one truth, that there is one voice and one language. Not that on the human level the whole world speaks one language; but on the Christian level, if we are truly living our faith, we all speak one language. It is a language of truth and a language of love. It matters not what human tongue we speak in because love transcends all of the words. If we practice the faith that we profess, one does not need words to be able to touch the hearts of anyone with whom one would come in touch. We recognize then that this truth which is given to us by the Holy Spirit is the truth that will actually set us free, which, again, is exactly what Our Lord taught. It sets us free from sin and all of its effects. Look back to Babel and there what you see is confusion, chaos, and disunity. You look now at what we see with the Holy Spirit and what we find is order, clarity, and unity.

So when Our Lord gives the apostles the Holy Spirit and tells them whose sins they forgive are forgiven and whose sins they retain are retained, the forgiveness of sin brings about that peace of soul the Lord was speaking of. And that peace of soul is what brings about the clarity and the order and the unity. If we look around at the world in which we live today, the effects of sin are painfully evident: chaos, confusion, disunity. Everyone is living in their own world. Go anyplace where you have a gathering of young people; each one of them has their own little set of headphones with their own stuff pumping into their ears. And it is not just the young people anymore. You go into the average family home and there are numerous television sets, each blaring out some other variety of filth with various members of the family parked in front of each one. There is no unity, but what you have is non-stop noise, chaos coming from every direction, confusion because people do not even know which way to turn. But in the midst of all of that, if we have the Holy Spirit, we will be able to go inside of ourselves and we will there find peace, silence, clarity, and order.

The choice is entirely ours whether we choose to give in to sin and its effects, with the devil, of course, right there to tell us how fulfilling this is and how exciting it is: "It's fun to be able to listen and watch and do your own thing." To what end? The only end is going to be hell because it is all about the self and that is what hell is all about. Everybody in hell is purely selfish. They are all doing their own thing and it is total chaos, noise, complete confusion, no truth. Everything is relative: "My truth is my own and your truth is your own and we'll all do our own thing." Doesn't that sound like America? "There is no truth, it's all opinion." Clearly it is the work of Satan because that is what defines hell.

We are not called to that. We are called to order, to peace, to truth, to love. We are called to unity in the Mystical Body. If we are going to be able to have that unity in the Mystical Body, it requires that we first understand who we are. And in order to understand who we are, we first must understand Who Jesus Christ is. And the only way we are going to understand Who Jesus Christ is, is to turn to those by whom Our Lord has come to us, and that is His mother and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descended upon Our Lady, not on the feast of Pentecost but on the feast of the Annunciation, and filled her with the Holy Spirit. At that moment, possessed by the Holy Spirit, her Divine Spouse, she conceived the Person of Jesus Christ. At that moment, of course, Our Lord was conceived in a very tiny form. But He began to grow and to develop and to take form in the womb of Our Blessed Lady.

So too, the Holy Spirit now descends upon His apostles on the feast of Pentecost. He did not descend upon Our Lady at Pentecost because she was already filled with the Holy Spirit from the Annunciation. This is the reason why the apostles instinctively gathered around Our Lady after Our Lord had ascended into heaven. She taught them. She prepared their souls for the promise that Our Lord had made to them, that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and fill their hearts with His truth and His love. That same Holy Spirit is given to each of us, and what the apostles knew instinctively is the same thing that we need to do, that is, to come to Our Blessed Lady and ask her to teach us and to form us, because Our Lady and the Holy Spirit have formed only one person – and that is the Person of Jesus Christ. If we are going to ask Our Lady to form us and ask the Holy Spirit through the Immaculate Heart of Mary to form us, they will form us according to the only person that they have ever formed together, that is, the Person of Our Lord. They will form us into the Person of Christ.

It is already there within us because each one of us has been given the Holy Spirit at our baptism, and the fullness of the Spirit is given to us in the sacrament of Confirmation. So there is nothing lacking from God's part; the only thing lacking is on our part, and that is that most of us want to be formed according to our American culture rather than to be formed according to the Person of Jesus Christ. We need to make a choice to be formed according to Christ. If you truly want that, then come and ask the Holy Spirit through the immaculate Heart of Mary to form you. Just as it was with Jesus in the womb of Mary, it starts out in just a tiny form and then begins to develop within us, and we begin to be formed more and more into the likeness of Christ.

As that formation takes place, we will become more like what happened to the apostles. The fear goes away and love replaces it. The chaos goes away and order replaces it. The noise goes away and peace replaces it. We are able to live a truly ordered life, a truly peaceful life. We are able to live according to the truth, and with one voice we speak the truth of love. It is preparation then for heaven, where in heaven everything will be peace, everything will be love, everything will be perfectly ordered, and everything will be one. No one in heaven is selfish. No one in heaven is seeking his own interest. No one in heaven is caught up in anything other than God Himself. It is all about service, the love of God and the love of neighbor.

So we see the two distinctions for eternal life. We can plunge ourselves into what our society is offering and we can prepare ourselves for one branch of eternity. Or we can plunge ourselves into the Holy Spirit in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and we can prepare ourselves for eternity with God. That choice is made in this world, not in the next. It is made before we die, not after. The gift of God is offered to each and every one of us, the gift of God which is the Holy Spirit, Who is willing fully to take possession of us if we are willing to allow ourselves to be possessed by this Holy Spirit. It is not anything that will do violence to us. It is not anything that is going to violate our dignity. Rather, the Spirit of God will perfect our dignity and will help us to live according to that dignity so that the truth and the peace and the order and the unity which the Holy Spirit brings will be ours. In the midst of this world, we will be able to live the life of Christ.

So turn to Our Lady and ask her to intercede for you so that the Holy Spirit will be given to form you in the fullness of the Person of Christ. You will be formed by Our Lady and by the Holy Spirit, and you will become in that way the person God created you to be: a person of love, a person of truth, of peace, of order, of clarity, and all the other things. You will begin living the life of heaven here on earth and prepare yourself perfectly for the unity of the Mystical Body which awaits us, which is the fulfillment of the work of the Holy Spirit, as we prepare ourselves for eternity with Jesus in the Immaculate Heart of His mother, formed into the fullness of the Person of Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit poured out upon each of us as He was on the apostles on the glorious feast of Pentecost.
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