Easter’s Grand Finale
“Cum complerentur dies Pentecostes….” So begin our Scriptures today, fifty days after the Resurrection: when were completed the days of Pentecost…, bringing the Church’s longest liturgical season to a spectacular conclusion. We extinguish the Paschal candle at the end of Mass, singing the double Alleluia after the dismissal one more time, recalling the Alleluias of the Easter Octave seven weeks ago. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, 1,980 years old today, born at that first Pentecost and renewed each year on this feast. Perhaps we should have a birthday cake for Holy Mother Church with 1,980 candles on it.
Two Stories of Pentecost
Scripture gives us two accounts of this birth of the Church. Our First reading, from Acts 2, gives us the more familiar story, truly spectacular. On the 50th day after the resurrection, the apostles were praying around Our Lady when a blast like a strong driving wind—a howling, whistling sound—came from the sky, filling the building, rocking its foundations. Sheets of fire appeared in the air, descending on each of them, and they began to speak in different tongues. But, marvelously, the people could understand these strange languages—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Egyptians, Romans, Lybians, and Arabs. Babel was reversed! From many languages, one word, which all peoples could understand: Jesus Christ is Lord! The Church was born, and it was born Catholic, a universal Church, a Church for all nations, as it is very much so even unto our time. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, Mass is said every Sunday in 49 different languages. And what did these Parthians and Medes and Egyptians hear, in their own language? The “Mighty Acts of God.” If only we could speak of the mighty acts of God to the non-believers of our time in a language they could understand! We can indeed, but only through the Holy Spirit. Let us never cease praying to him for the gift of tongues.
The Second Story of the Holy Spirit’s coming is found in our Gospel, from John 20. Not 50 days after the resurrection, but the very evening of that same day, Jesus walks through the walls of the apostles’ hideout. He bestows upon them the fruits of the Spirit, Love, peace and joy: “Peace be with you,” Jesus says, “and the disciples rejoiced.” He breathed on them, and then sent them out to bring peace and joy to others. How? By hearing confessions. The first task he gives them, immediately after imparting the Holy Spirit, is this: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…”
Life in the Spirit
And so the Holy Spirit brings the Church into existence, and continues, infallibly, the work of Christ on earth. It is for us to live spiritual lives, as St. Paul says in the second reading. Those in the flesh cannot please God. They cannot even please themselves. Joy and peace will elude whoever lives a merely carnal life, apart from the Holy Spirit. “We are not debtors to the flesh,” Paul insists. If you live according to the flesh, you will die. Yet most of us do live a good deal of our lives in the flesh. Consider: what do you think of when you get up in the morning? Breakfast, of course. What do you think of after breakfast? How long until lunch, of course. Other tyrannies of the flesh, more nefarious, besiege us too. If we live “according to them,” life is not worth living. “We will die” in the words of Paul—we are already dead. We must continually insist on our spiritual lives, our prayer lives, and discipline the body with penances and mortifications. Only a son who works hard and sacrifices himself can call God “Abba, Father.”
Our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit
In this month of May, we turn to Our Lady, spouse of the Holy Spirit. No human being knows the Third Person of God better than she, who submitted her body and soul to him at the Annunciation. As she brings us to her Son, so she brings us to her Spouse. When we pray “Hail Mary, Full of Grace,” we pray to her who is full of the Holy Spirit. Please, Blessed Mother, bring us to the Holy Spirit, that our lives may be spiritual, pure and beautiful, like yours.
Homily: Right Relationships
Most of our time and money are spent cultivating “relationships,” and rightly so. Man is a social animal. We cannot be fully human without relationships. From conception, I develop in relationship to my mother, sensitive to her moods and physiological states. I can hear her voice and feel her heartbeat. At birth, I nurse at her breast, and then begin to cultivate relationships with other people—my father, my siblings, aunts and uncles, friends. I begin to understand myself as reflected in their eyes. As I grow into adolescence and adulthood, I begin draw very close to some individuals—best friends, kindred spirits, and for most of us, eventually a spouse and then children of my own. My happiness, my well-being, my sense of myself, all depend on right relationships. But if my relationships are dysfunctional, I will be dysfunctional.
The Holy Trinity: A Community of Persons
Today, Holy Mother Church celebrates the deepest truth God has given us: the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. God is one, but he is never alone. God is a community, a relationship of persons. Three persons in one God. God is relational, and that is why we are hard-wired for relationship, for we all made in his image. The relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a right relationship, and it reveals to us what our relationships can be. The Father gives to the Son rather than takes from him. Life is about giving, not taking. We call this “stewardship.” The Father gives himself to the Son, who receives him; the Son gives himself in return to the Father, who in return receives him.
Our own relationships are dysfunctional to the degree that we reverse this divine model. When I take from another person rather than giving, I turn the divine pattern on its head. On the other hand, when I refuse to receive the gift of another person, I refuse happiness. If we want right relationships, and the vitality that comes from them, we must imitate God’s relationship to himself.
Believing and Doubting Each Other
How do we know that God is a trinity? This we know, for the Bible tells us so: “All power has been given to me,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel. Given by whom? By the Father. “The Father and I are one,” Jesus often said. Jesus and the Father are one, but they are distinct persons. The closest anyone comes to this is in marriage, where two persons become one flesh, one in mind and heart, while remaining distinct individuals.
“Go, therefore,” Jesus continues, “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus names the three divine persons. And then he extends his eternal relationship to us: “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.” God will always be in relationship to us, even as he is eternally in relationship to himself. Will we be in relationship to him?
A curious verse occurs here: “When the disciples saw Jesus, they worshipped, but they doubted.” We believe in God, or we wouldn’t be here. But we doubt. When really bad things happen to us, or when much is asked of us, we are not absolutely sure God really exists, or that he cares about us. In fact, when a human relationship fails us, we often give up on our relationship with God. Few Catholics maintain their relationship with God through a divorce, or the death of a child. “What kind of a God could do this to me?” we say.
Submitting Our Relationships to God
Yes, I believe in my relationship with God, but I doubt. I believe in my relationship to my spouse, but I doubt. I’m not absolutely sure she really loves me, or that my father really cares about me, or that my children will be there for me, or that my friends understand me. “Women, you can’t live with them; you can’t live without them.” we men say.
The solution to this dilemma of human relationships—we believe but we doubt—is our relationship with Christ. If my friendship with God is alright, my friendships with others will be perfectly alright. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all else will be given to you.
Do you want your marriage to flourish? Do you want a free and life-giving relationship with your parents or your children? Do you want effective relationships with employees, co-workers, and your supervisor? Do want supportive relationships with friends and associates? Do you want a right relationship even with yourself? Then work for a right relationship with God. Take the trouble to pray, to listen to God and even speak with Him, to spend time with him. If I am a man of prayer, my personal relationship with God will be right, and if my personal relationship with God is right, my human relationships will be perfectly alright.