“In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… And we were all given to drink of the one Spirit.”
“As a body is one though it has many parts, all the parts of the body, though many are one body, so also Christ.”
“Jesus breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
As I look out at you, yet unable to see you, I know that in Christ Jesus we are one. Each and every one of us is important, is a unique child of God whether we realize it or not.
This is the great mystery and grace of Pentecost. As we heard last Sunday before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
We are here because of those apostles first disciple. We are here because the promise of Jesus to send the Holy Spirit was fulfilled on Pentecost. We are here because throughout the ages men and women have not been afraid to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We are here because the Holy Spirit fashioned the Catholic Church to be the Body of Christ in and for the world.
It was 6:50 AM Saturday morning as I was writing this homily when I first heard the thunder. I looked out my office window and saw how dark it was to the south. I then saw a flash of lightning, so I decided to go outside and look. It was amazing.
Growing up in Chicago we had awesome thunderstorms during the summer. It would be so hot and humid. Some days in the late afternoon, big black clouds would roll in. The wind would kick up and then the lightning and the thunder. Slowly large drops of rain would begin to fall. We would stand outside as kids looking up at the sky. Then it was as if the sky just opened up and we were drenched in seconds, refreshed!
As I stood outside watching the lightning hearing under draw closer and closer I was mesmerized. So seldom in the Northwest do we get thunderstorms like this. All I can say to myself was, “Whoa how cool is this?”
In the midst of the thunder and lightning Fr. Lou texted me, “How exciting!” Yes, how exciting it was.
Pentecost, how exciting! Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost the beginning of something absolutely new, yet the fulfillment of the promise of God throughout the ages.
“And suddenly there came from the sky, a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.”
A thunderstorm, even in the Northwest, is not Pentecost. Yet, even a thunderstorm can open us up to what God wants to do with us.
God wants to fill us anew with the Holy Spirit so that even in these dark days of Covid-19, we, as the Body of Christ, can proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Jesus Christ is the fullness of the revelation of the Father and that Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church to go make disciples.
This is the rest of the homily I wrote yesterday. But something happened to me.
It has been such a blessing to be able to have the church open for private prayer and the sacrament of reconciliation. It took me a while yesterday, like looking out the window in the morning and seeing the lightning, to realize was happening. Like a thunderstorm of a different sort, I knew I needed to change my homily.
As people came to confession and poured out their hearts to the Lord, with me being such an unworthy instrument of God’s grace, I heard anxiety, worry, restlessness, impatience, sadness, hurt and anger. People’s lives and faith were suffocating because they weren’t able come to Mass and receive Holy Communion to nourish and strengthen their souls. My heart was filled with such compassion.
Later I read the news feeds about the protests and violence over the death of George Floyd. One headline this morning read, “Protests and unrest spread across the US after cities impose curfews.”
As I prayed last night and this morning, images of being a third-year college seminarian in Chicago in 1968 came to mind.
Our nation was embroiled in protests against the Vietnam War. There were riots and protests in cities throughout the world. It was the year that Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. It was the year of the Democratic national convention in Chicago and the brutal police violence against protesters. It was the year that I thought the world just might explode and fly apart.
My pastoral assignment that year as a college seminarian was working in Presentation parish on the west side of Chicago. A beautiful church and school built by Polish immigrants was dying because so many moved out of the city to the suburbs. They called it, “white flight.” The neighborhood had radically and racially changed. The pastor was trying to reach out to the neighborhood that had changed so quickly and was struggling with 50% unemployment, out of wedlock children, family disintegration, gangs, drugs, poverty and violence.
Just days after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, I went into the parish to see what I can do. I went to the one small block that I have been working with, visiting people, sitting and talking with them. I had established a few relationships, though many people were skeptical of me.
I went to the apartment of the block leader. I knocked on the door and spoke my name loudly so they would know who it was. I stood rather nervously in the dark hallway wondering what might happen to all the community and parish work that I was trying to accomplish.
The door slowly opened, just about halfway. Rena, a single mom with three kids looked at me and said, “Get out of here, son. It is no longer safe for you. I’m sorry. You’re one of the good ones, but you can’t be here anymore.” Then she closed the door.
As I walked back to the parish office to tell the pastor what happened, fear began to fill my soul. I no longer saw a neighborhood, but rather a battle field. It erupted two days later.
That was over 50 years ago. And it’s happening again. They are planning protests today in Seattle. Their most likely will be some protests here in the capital city, Olympia. I pray that they may not be violent, but rather focused on the need for justice and societal transformation.
“And Jesus came and stood in their midst, though the doors were locked out of fear of the Jews, and he said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ He said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”
My sisters and brothers, our world, our nation, our neighborhoods of Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and beyond will never know that peace unless we allow Jesus to breathe anew his Holy Spirit into our hearts today.
Then we in turn must breathe the Holy Spirit of Jesus’ peace into others by our words of peace, our actions of peace, and most importantly our prayers for peace.
Spouses, if you need to bring reconciliation and healing in any way into your relationship, please take some time today to be with one another and speak from your heart. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform any feelings of hurt, anger, bitterness, bickering, resentment or whatever – into words of peace. Then draw close, very close and then breathe into the face of the other and speak these words, “Be filled with the peace of Jesus Christ.”
Parents, do the same with your children. Teach them peace by breathing reconciliation, forgiveness, understanding, gentleness with one another by your words and actions. Today, hold their faces close to yours. Breathe on them and speak these words, “Be filled with the peace of Jesus Christ.”
There was a bumper sticker that I preached on a number of years ago. It read: NO Jesus, no peace. KNOW Jesus, know peace.
Let us pray today at this Eucharist for peace and reconciliation in our nation. Let us pray for our elected leaders so that they might KNOW Jesus so as to know how to bring about right justice, true reconciliation, deep transformation and a peace that the world cannot give.
May we pray with St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”