Pentecost

Pentecost

Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, a day that’s sometimes called the “birthday of the Church.  It’s the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, just as Jesus had promised.  Some say that this day is just slightly less important than Christmas.  But that can’t be true.  I checked the papers and Macy’s isn’t having their “biggest sale of the year.” Nobody sent me a Pentecost card and I wasn’t invited to any Pentecost parties.  How important can the day be if Hallmark isn’t making money on it?

Obviously, Jesus had to be born and He had to die and rise from the dead.  That’s our faith.  That’s what we’ve been taught since we were little kids.  That’s why Easter and Christmas are our two most important celebrations.  But if the Apostles hadn’t received the Holy Spirit, chances are the Church would have died on the vine.

There are two sets of readings this weekend; one for Saturday, or the Vigil of Pentecost; and the other for the mass during the day.  In the first reading for the evening before Pentecost, the people had all gotten together to build this huge tower so they could “make a name for themselves”.  We still see that kind of thinking today.  Nobody builds a really tall building unless they can make it taller than the tallest building already in existence.  It’s a sign of pride.  “Hey, look at me, my building is taller than your building.”  We do the same with roller coasters, athletic stadiums, and other physical things.

Well, the Lord comes down to see what they’re doing and says, “This isn’t good.  If they do this, what will they do next?”  So He scrambled their languages so they couldn’t talk to one another.  They left the tower unfinished and scattered all over the earth.

Then we have the first reading for Sunday (today).  All the people are gathered together, even though they all spoke different languages.  The Spirit comes down and when the Apostles speak, everyone understands them, in spite of the language differences.  That’s the difference between a world with a Holy Spirit and a world without.  If the Apostles hadn’t been able to be understood by everyone, their influence would have been limited to just Galilee.

Two weeks ago, Jesus told the Apostles in John’s Gospel: “I have told you this while I am with you.  The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

 

 

The Holy Spirit is kind of like WD40.  He can fix anything.  For instance, when Father Paul and I were ordained, we received the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit works in us much differently in us than He works in a little baby at baptism.  The baby has different needs.  He (or she) needs to be cleansed of original sin and protected from future sin.  A baby doesn’t preach (she probably can’t even talk).  She doesn’t heal the sick, or feed the poor.  The baby needs protection.  By being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, AND the Holy Spirit she gets that protection.

A few years later, that former-baby will be ready for confirmation.  Again, she’ll receive the Holy Spirit.  But this time, her needs are different.  She’s reached the age of reason.  She knows right from wrong.  There’s a big scary world out there and she needs an Advocate, that Paraclete that Jesus promised us.  As a teenager she’ll be faced with choices.  Will she have the strength to make the right ones?  She will if she listens to the voice in her head that tells her what to do.  If she cares more about media and peer pressure than she does about her soul, we can only hope and pray.

As adults, we face different challenges, but that same Spirit that we received in baptism, and again at confirmation, is still with us, whether we’re 20 or 90 years-old.  The world we live in makes us wonder sometimes.  Satan is always after us, trying to convince us that his way is the best way, and he has a lot of friends.  Without the Spirit, you and I would be helpless.  Sin is always disguised as something good.  If sin didn’t give us instant gratification, we’d all be saints.

Make no mistake.  The Holy Spirit is part of us beginning with our baptism.  It’s not His fault if we don’t listen.  Maybe you ­were baptized sixty years ago.  But the Spirit remains.  How do we remember to listen to Him?  That starts with prayer.  If we don’t pray every day, especially to the Holy Spirit, we might tend to put Him out of our minds.  Weekly, or even daily mass makes us more aware of His presence.  Regular reception of the sacrament of reconciliation makes us more aware of sin and wipes the spiritual slate clean giving the Spirit more room to work.

I wonder sometimes how people will react when Jesus comes back.  Some of us will be ready; some of us won’t.  More people than we can imagine, including people who call themselves Catholics will say, “I didn’t know.  Why didn’t He warn us He was coming?”  Some of us right here in this church won’t be prepared.

We live in a world where personal responsibility is a thing of the past.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle complain that all our problems are the other guys’ fault.  So many people think that the world owes them a living.  The American dream used to be to work hard, start a business, raise a family, then leave it to your kids when you’re gone.  Oh, and to go to church every Sunday.

The new American dream is to buy a lottery ticket, hit the jackpot, and stop working.  Play golf on Sunday morning.  Some people, if they pray at all, just pray that theirs is the lucky number.

Jesus could have just sent the Holy Spirit to cover the earth and bring everyone to Him.  But He didn’t.  He sent the Spirit to the Apostles to teach them and to remind them, so they’d be equipped to spread the Gospel, one person at a time.  It’s the same thing He asks of us.

Pentecost marks the end of the Easter season.  Now we begin ordinary time.  We’ll take down the Easter decorations and return to the green vestments.  That doesn’t mean anything has to change inside us.  The Spirit is still here.  He speaks to us every day whether we listen or not.  He’s our guide; our protector; our advocate.

Let Him work for you.  Spend some quiet time each day listening to what He tells you. We weren’t created to build the tallest tower. We weren’t created to accumulate as much money as possible.  When the world was in sin God scrambled their language.  When the Spirit came, everyone was able to understand.  Today there are a lot of different languages.  But we all have one thing in common; the love of God.  We don’t need words to profess our love.  All we need is a smile, or to lend a helping hand.  Our actions speak much louder than our words no matter if those words are in English, or Czech, or Chinese.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  That’s what He said.  We have His Holy Spirit to remind us.

So, happy Pentecost and happy birthday to Holy Mother Church.

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

Sometimes you hear people say that the Church has too many rules.  In fact we’ve probably all said it ourselves.  But when you get right down to it, does she really?  Let’s see.  We’re supposed to go to mass at least once a week.  We’re supposed to go to confession at least once a year.  During Lent we have to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat every Friday.

 

We can’t use artificial birth control, or get an abortion. We do have to follow the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.  “Thou shalt not kill” is pretty easy for most of us, but some of the other ones involving adultery, coveting, bearing false witness, and keeping the Sabath day holy may be more of a challenge.

 

You can’t be married in the Catholic Church unless you go through a discernment process that includes marriage classes, natural family planning classes, and meetings with the deacon or priest.  If a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, you have to get dispensation from the Bishop.

 

But all in all, most of what the Church asks us to do (or not do) isn’t that tough.  As most of you know, I’m an adult convert, joining the Church after Vatican II.  My wife tells me that today’s Church is a lot less demanding than the one that she, and most of you, grew up in.

 

In the first century the Church was grappling with an issue that was a little more difficult.  Jesus had told the Apostles to go out and spread the Good News to everybody, Jews and non-Jews alike.  We know that Saint Paul took the Gospel to Greece and Rome, preaching to the Gentiles.  It seems like Jesus’ message was pretty clear.  You didn’t have to be a Jew to follow Him.  The Gospels tell us many stories of Jesus interacting with non-Jews.

 

So, what was the problem?  Peter and his group thought that you had to follow all of the Jewish laws to become a Christian.  Paul and his people didn’t agree.  The real deal-killer was circumcision.  Of course, Jewish men had been circumcised at birth.  But if you were a 30 year old Greek man, that was another story.  You’d heard Paul tell about the Savior’s birth and resurrection, and you wanted to become a follower.  Then you were told, “oh, by the way…….” You might have lost your enthusiasm real quick.  It was a BIG problem.

 

So we read in today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles, that they decided to get together and work things out.  They had a meeting.  It was the first Church council.  Like all the other Church councils, right up to Vatican II, the Bishops got together to solve a problem, guided by the Holy Spirit.

 

Fortunately for us adult converts, they decided that you didn’t have to follow all the Jewish laws to become a Christian.

 

So what did this first council teach us?  First, that we can’t have people running around making their own rules.  The Apostles sent out a letter to the Gentile converts that said, among other things, “Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind….” We’re going to get together and straighten this out.  The Church had already figured out that every preacher must be working from the same play book.

 

It also teaches us that everything we need to know isn’t in the Bible.  In fact, at this time there was no Bible.  Everything was being handed down by word of mouth. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Apostles, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.

 

Notice that when the Apostles made their decision they wrote, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities”  Then they told them to “abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.  If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”

 

Remember that Jesus told the Apostles Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love them.”  Conversely, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”  Just in case we forget, the Holy Spirit is here to remind us.

 

It’s pretty clear that we need the Holy Spirit today, more than ever before.  Not that He’s not here; it’s just that so many people are ignoring him.  Just this week the Food and Drug Administration ruled that Plan B, the so-called morning-after birth control pill, should be available over the counter to girls age 15 and up.  You and I, as God-fearing Christians should be outraged to think that a fifteen-year-old girl can walk into Walgreens and buy an abortion-causing pill along with her fashion magazines and lipstick.  But you know who’s really upset about this?  The abortion-rights people!  They can’t imagine that the government would deny these pills to girls fourteen and under!  They don’t think this new rule goes far enough.

 

The first-century Christians just thought they were living in a hostile environment.  You and I may never face martyrdom, but we do face enemies on every side.  The Church continues to fight the HHS mandate requiring our institutions to provide birth control, and drugs like the morning-after pill for their employees.

The millions of Catholics who don’t react to such an outrage are contributing to the problem.

 

In this Year of Faith, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have called for a nationwide effort to advance a movement for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty through prayer, penance, and sacrifice. Catholics across the nation are being encouraged to pray for rebuilding a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty.

 

During this season of Easter we’re reminded of all the things that happened between Jesus’ resurrection and Pentecost, when He returned to heaven and left us the Holy Spirit to teach us and remind us of what Jesus said during His earthly ministry.  You and I have been left here to live out His mission.  Maybe we don’t feel comfortable engaging in protests or marches.  Maybe we feel like our faith is a private matter and that we aren’t cut out to speak out in public about the things that are happening in the world today.  Of course, if you are comfortable doing that, then you should.  But we can all pray.  We can ask God to enlighten our fellow citizens and to soften their hearts, making them receptive to God’s words.  After all, He tells us today that “Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love them.”  By keeping His word, we’ll remind our brothers and sisters just what it means to be a Christian.

 

So I ask you today to pray and pray hard.  Let God know that we’ve heard His word.  Ask Him to send His Holy Spirit to enlighten us and those around us.  Pray for peace.  Pray for all life.  Pray for religious freedom.  And pray for the sanctity of marriage.

 

Yesterday (Friday) we had a wedding here.  We’re blessed to have this beautiful church and a heritage of Czech families that makes so many young people choose to be married here.  I’ve been blessed to be called to be the Church’s minister to so many sacramental marriages.  I wish all of you could stand where I stand and to see the looks on the faces of these young, and sometimes not-so-young people as they pledge their love to one another.  These are the people who will shape our future, as a Church and as a nation.

 

I’ve left the kneelers out as a reminder of all those men and women who have pledged their love to one another on our altar.

 

They’ve chosen to be married in church, not on the courthouse steps, or in a park, or in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator.  They want God to bless their union, just as He’s blessed every sacramental marriage beginning with Adam and Eve.  Pray for all these young couples and for all married couples, that they may be an example of Jesus’ love for His Church.  Pray, too, that this sacramental union of one man and one woman will serve as an example of what marriage really is.

 

Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “I’ll pray for you.  It’s the least I can do.”  WRONG!!!  Praying for anyone isn’t the LEAST we can do, it’s the MOST we can do.  Kneeling before God and asking Him to intercede for someone is the most powerful thing any human being can do for another.  Prayer is our greatest weapon against the evil one. “Love one another as I have loved you”, Jesus said.  That’s all we really need to do.

 

We can write letters, we can picket the abortion clinic, we can get on a soap box and preach what we believe.  Those are all good things.  But the greatest thing of all is to flood heaven with our prayers.  Nothing is impossible for God.