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.