So, there seems to be some confusion in our readings today.
Our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles by St. Luke, tells us the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles on Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. Mighty wind, tongues of fire, everyone hearing their own language, and so on.
But our Gospel, from St. John, has Jesus appearing to the Apostles on Easter Sunday night, shows them His hands and His side, says “Peace be with you.” And then breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” ¿Was Jesus kidding, or did the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit on Easter Sunday night? Then why again on Pentecost?
So, did the Apostles get the Holy Spirit on Easter Sunday night as St John tells us, or did the Apostles wait till Pentecost 50 days later to get the Holy Spirit, or did the Apostles get the Holy Spirit twice? Once to be able to forgive sins and then 50 days later to be able to speak foreign languages, which seems kind of inefficient and sloppy? What are we to think?
Well, let’s settle this the American way and put it to a vote. Did the Holy Spirit come on Easter Sunday night, or on Pentecost, or both? All those in favor of Easter Sunday night raise your hand. OK. All those in favor of Pentecost raise your hand. And all those who favor a double dose of the Holy Spirit, Easter and Pentecost, raise your hand.
Thank you for playing along. Obviously, this homily so far is ridiculous. The question about when the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles misses the whole point of these readings.
They really are NOT about something that happened nearly two thousand years ago, and thousands of miles away from here. Rather these Scripture passages we read today illuminate what happens now, right here. That is what is important. That is what is of consequence. That is what matters.
We gather today to open our minds and our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on us.
When we begin to reach out to those who are different, those who are estranged, those we label as “other”, and we reach out to connect with them, that is the Holy Spirit warming our cold hearts. When barriers are broken down, when walls of misunderstanding are breached, when people begin to seek the way of peace together, that is the power of the Holy Spirit of God acting in us, and it is powerful like a strong driving wind and a raging fire.
A good example of this is the recent tragic event on a public transit car in Portland, OR. A white supremacist began yelling obscenities and religious slurs against two young ladies, one dressed in traditional Muslim attire. Three other men came to their rescue; Ricky Best, an Army vet, father of four and a Catholic, Taliesin Namkai Meche, and Micah Fletcher. Best, 53, and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23, suffered fatal stab wounds in the process.
What motivated these men to intervene to help the girls? Was it not the power of the Holy Spirit, urging and empowering them to go beyond fear and to help another person, someone they didn’t even know, even at the risk, and eventually the actual cost, of their own lives? And their example in turn inspires us.
When inside our hearts we come to greater clarity about why am I here, about what is the meaning and purpose of my life, about Whose am I, about what is the value and purpose of all that we see and experience, about what I am called to do and to be, and that greater clarity leads to the gift of Peace Jesus breathed on His disciples Easter Sunday night, that is the presence and working of the Holy Spirit of God acting in us.
The Holy Spirit brings Peace. Not the absence of trouble or conflict, but rather the strength and wisdom to put all of our priorities in the correct order, especially to put Jesus first in our lives. And then when all our priorities are aligned according to God’s plan for us, we are at peace – even when everything around us is crazy and nutzoid and off the wall.
The readings today are about us, you and me. They tell us about the Holy Spirit, that oh so important and yet so elusive presence of God in our hearts and lives.
It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the inner light to know who we truly are, and Whose we truly are. And without that we can never be fully satisfied, can never be at peace.
St. Robert Bellermine said it well several hundred years ago: “If you are wise, then know that you have been created for the glory of God and your own eternal salvation. This is your goal; this is the center of your life; this is the treasure of your heart. If you reach this goal, you will find happiness. If you fail to reach it, you will find misery.”
The indwelling Holy Spirit, so important and central to Fr Isaac Hecker and the early Paulists, is the fire that puts love into practice, the calming breeze that brings the joy of Peace.
That happens here and now. Happy Pentecost.