Vigil of Pentecost

Today is the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost, the end of the Easter Season.  Tomorrow the Holy Spirit will descend on the Apostles.  Without the Spirit, the Apostles would have just been twelve guys who might not have had the courage to carry out God’s plan.  Believe me, standing up in front of people, preaching the good news of the Gospel isn’t an easy task, especially in the first century, when there was a very real threat of death for preaching this radical new faith.

 

Today is also the day when Archbishop Carlson ordained twenty men to be permanent deacons.  One of several questions he asked the prospective deacons was, “Are you resolved to discharge the office of deacon with humility and love in order to assist the bishop and the priests and to serve the people of Christ?”  The key words here are “humility” and “serve”.  These words remind the deacon, just as tomorrow’s celebration reminds all of us that we must be humble, and that we must serve one another.

 

As followers of Christ it’s easy to fall into the trap of pride.  After all, we’re all chosen people.  We must be pretty special.  But none of us is more special than anyone else.  The only thing that makes any of us different from anyone else is our particular talents, and those talents are given to us by God.  If we ever forget that, then we fall into the sin of pride.

 

Part of my calling is to preach.  Most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death.  But my call doesn’t make me special.  It just means that God has put me in a position to expand on the day’s readings.  Trust me, that’s all the Holy Spirit.  I’m just His spokesman, repeating what He wants you to hear.  I’m not afraid to speak because the Spirit is with me.

 

Here’s what the Archbishop said today in his prayer of consecration over the new deacons, “Lord, look with favor on this servant of yours, whom we now dedicate to the office of deacon, to minister at your holy altar.  Deacons have an office, just as priests, religious men and women, and all of you have an office.

 

“Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace, to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry.”  Before I was ordained, I did some public speaking.  I guess I was ok at it. I got paid for it.  But I wasn’t inspired.  I guess I had some talent, but I didn’t have the gift of the Spirit.

 

The Archbishop uses the words “unassuming authority” and “May he in this life imitate your Son, who came, not to be served, but to serve, and one day reign with Him in heaven.”  All of us, deacons, priests, and lay people, are called to serve, just like Jesus came to serve.

 

We all received the Holy Spirit when we were confirmed.  For most of us that happened a long time ago.  We may not remember what was said.  The bishop’s prayer for us was very similar to the prayer of Ordination, “My dear friends, in baptism God our Father gave the new birth of eternal life to his chosen sons and daughters.”  There’s that word, chosen.

 

Let us pray to our Father that He will pour out the Holy Spirit to strengthen his sons and daughters with his gifts and anoint them to be more like Christ, the Son of God.”

 

“Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide.  Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.  Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”

 

Judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe.  These are the gifts we receive; the same gifts the Apostles received on that Pentecost so many years ago.  Today we acknowledge those gifts and pray that we never lose them.  Jesus promised that he would never leave us alone; that the Spirit would be with us as our advocate.

 

After mass tomorrow, we’ll take down the Easter decorations.  We’ll put away the white vestments and return to wearing the green of ordinary time.  With a few exceptions we’ll wear the green until November 30, when we’ll put on the purple of Advent.  But in the modern use of the word, there’s no such thing as an ordinary Sunday.  Every Sunday is extraordinary because we have the Eucharist.  It’s another gift that Jesus left us.  With the gifts of the spirit, judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence wonder and awe, we’re called to share our faith.  We’re called to be disciples, and to make disciples.  We’re called to do it with humility, remembering that all we have and all we are are gifts from God.

 

The fact that sometimes we don’t have a priest to celebrate with us is another sign of God’s will for all of us.  Only the priest can consecrate the Eucharist, but we’re all empowered to share it with one another, even when a priest isn’t present.  We can still approach the altar with wonder and awe, knowing that we all have a part in Jesus’ ministry, and that we’re in His Presence.  Any of us can assist in the distribution of Holy Communion.  Any of us can take Communion to the sick.  Any of us can share God’s Good News.  Any of us can be the disciples we’re called to be.

 

Before the Apostles received the Spirit on Pentecost, they were scared; scared to death.  But the Spirit gave them the courage to do what needed to be done.  On this vigil of the Pentecost, our prayer is that the same Spirit will empower all of us to share the Good News of the Gospel.

 

Please stand and renew your baptismal promises.

 

Phil stands his ground

Last night Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.  You may recall that Phil got in hot water last January for comments he made in an interview with GQ Magazine.  I’m still trying to figure out how a guy who dresses in camouflage and has a waist-length beard got into GQ, but I digress.  (See Why Phil Robertson is the Most Dangerous Man in America.)

It’s no surprise that Phil hasn’t changed his views, especially after winning his war with A & E Network and Cracker Barrel.   It’s great to see a TV star stand on his Christian values and not be intimidated by big money.

Here’s an excerpt  of his Hannity appearance.

Ascension

This is my homily for the Feast of the Ascension.

Today we celebrate Ascension Thursday. I know it’s Saturday (Sunday). But a few years ago the Church decided that it was OK to move Ascension Thursday to Sunday, giving us one less Holy Day of Obligation. I’m not sure I understand it, but then there are a lot of things I don’t understand, so I’m happy to defer that decision to people who are much smarter than I am. Anyway……

 

Today we celebrate Jesus’ return to heaven. He ascended into heaven so we call it the Feast of the Ascension. We confirm our belief every weekend in the Creed. “He ascended into heaven.” Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus appeared to the disciples many times during the time after His resurrection, proving that He was still alive. Then “He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak.” In other words He wanted them to stick around until Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would descend on them.

 

But, once the Spirit did descend on them, Jesus told them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then He ascended into heaven. He was gone! But not before He gave them their final instructions, according to Matthew’s Gospel, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

So, what exactly is a disciple?   According to the dictionary, a disciple is a follower or a student of a teacher. When Jesus commissions the Apostles to make disciples of all nations, He tells them to baptize and to teach. Then each new disciple is called to make more disciples. That’s how we got from twelve men to over a billion Catholics in the world today. But, are all those people disciples? No, they’re not.

 

In order to be a disciple you have to have a personal relationship with God through His Son and His Holy Spirit. Who is Jesus to you? What has He done in your life? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? He said He “would be with us always until the end of the age.” What does that mean to you?

 

I went to a three-day Catholic conference last week. Some of the things we heard were encouraging but some weren’t. We learned some statistics that are very startling. While you and I may be focused on our own problems and issues here in Soulard, the state of the Church in the United States isn’t all that great. I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of statistics, but here are some of the more scary ones.

 

Talking about mass attendance among people who say they’re Catholics, 45% age 65 and above go to mass. Of the next group, the Baby Boomers, age 47-64, only 20% go to mass. But like they say on the infomercials, “wait. There’s more.” Of the Generation X Catholics, age 26-46, only 13% attend mass. And of the youngest group, age 18-25, just 10% go to mass. Once they’re out of the house, nine out of ten Catholic young people stop going to church.

Think about that for a minute. How many of us are 65 or older? [hands] We’re the group most likely to go to mass, and even then, less than half of us do. What’s going to happen in the next ten years? The next twenty? I hate to be so blunt, but in twenty years most of us who raised our hands are going to be dead. If things stay the same, the age group behind us isn’t going to pick up the slack. One out of five of them are going to mass today. This beautiful church which as been around for more than a century will be just another vacant building in the City of Saint Louis.

 

I could give you a lot more of these statistics, but I just wanted you to have an idea of what we’re up against. But there IS good news. Whenever you hear statistics about Catholics, they probably are from a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2008. But something very dramatic has happened to the Catholic Church since 2008…….. and his name is Francis. For the last two years, since Francis’ installation as Pope, there has been a surge in positive feelings toward the Church, especially among young people. We have a tremendous opportunity to both be disciples and to make new disciples. Francis is the public face of the Catholic Church and people are liking what they see.

 

Remember that Jesus promised to protect His Church. His spirit guided the Papal Conclave to select this South American Cardinal to lead our Church at the time when we need him most. This holy man is opening doors that have been closed for a long time. Just this week he arranged a meeting between the leaders of Israel and Palestine at the Vatican. Jesus is alive and well and working through his new Vicar.

 

But, what about you and me? I said earlier that we must have a personal relationship with Christ if we want to be His disciples. I asked four questions: (1) Who is Jesus to you? (2) What has He done in your life? (3) Do you have a personal relationship with Him? (4) What does His statement ‘I will be with you until the end of the age” mean to you? I can’t answer for you, I can only answer for myself. Each of us has a different experience. But, if we’re going to be true disciples, we have to know our answers. If you and I are going to invite our fallen brothers and sisters back to the Church, they’re going to want to know your answers.

 

God answers our prayers. As you can imagine I pray a lot for things that will help keep this chapel going. This week I got a phone call from the Archdiocese. Jesus answered another of my prayers. He’s sending His Mother to visit us on June 21 and 22 in the form of the icon of the Black Madonna. This is a huge deal. The icon has traveled all over the world promoting Pro Life. It’s going to be in Saint Louis for two days. It will visit two churches.   It will spend Saturday morning at the Cathedral Basilica then will come to Saint John’s Saturday afternoon and Sunday. This is very exciting. June 22 is the day of our barbecue and picnic. Expect to see a lot of people here that day. You can’t tell me that God doesn’t look after us. Our prayers to the Infant of Prague have been answered again.

 

God isn’t some cosmic force who doesn’t care about us. He may have created our huge universe but he takes a personal interest in every one of us. That includes you and it includes me. We have a relationship with Him whether we know it or not; whether we want it or not. He loves us with a love that’s beyond our human understanding. All He asks is that we love Him back. If we do, then we’ll be genuine disciples.