Today is the Church’s birthday! Happy birthday, Church!!! We accredit today as the birth of the church because this marks the day that the disciples and those gathered received for the first time the Holy Spirit. For many of us this may have happened at baptism or confirmation and maybe for some of us later on. I remember my confirmation day. For me it happened rather quickly. I had already by that time discerned a vocation to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. It was a joyous day and my pastor was my sponsor before the Bishop. As the Bishop made the sign of the cross with balm and welcomed me into the fold, I knew then that I had had an inner change.
I had been baptized when I was young, around the age of 8, but this was different. I knew what I was doing and what I desired the most. It was my choice, but a choice I did not necessarily make on my own. As the second reading today says, the Holy Spirit, even when I had strayed away from faith or religious beliefs for the most part, had begun in me a calling to come home, to return to a life of faith. But this time the Spirit was calling me to more than just a simple conversion. The Spirit required action on my part in confessing Christ my Lord over all my life, changing from my sinful nature to a nature seeking God in everything, and He called me to a life of service in the priesthood.
Often in our lives we get caught up in being busy about the tasks we have, whether it is serving, working, or with family, so that too often we miss out on everyday miracles. In our first reading, those who were gathered were understanding everything being said. Those speaking were not of the same language of the listeners, or even speaking multiple languages, yet they all could understand in their own individual language. At first they might have missed this miracle that the Holy Spirit had done, but once they realized it and acknowledge that great miracle that God had done before them, they took notice. We need to take time to slow down in our own lives to see the miracles taking place before us and to take part in them.
Back at Easter I had a gentleman who had not received communion or been in church much for about fifteen years. On that particular Sunday he asked if I cared if he joined me for a communion service, and of course I obliged. During the service and at the time of communion, the gentleman began to weep, which, in turn, caused me to weep. He explained to me that He had been angry with himself and been angry with churches for so long. That today was the first time he had taken communion because he no longer attended church but felt the need to receive communion. This gentleman needed something in his life. He need restoration and he needed Christ to break down the walls that he had built up. The Holy Spirit had to have prompted him to make such a request and the Holy Spirit is the one who moved in him to realize such a need.
The Holy Spirit gives us gifts and each of us have a different gift. Some have a gift of words, some a gift of healing, and others maybe a gift of prophecy. Now when I say a gift of prophecy I do not mean seeing the future or something like that, but rather the type of prophecy which refers to speaking truth into someone’s life, the ability, like the great prophet Samuel who spoke the Holy Spirit into the life of David. For me there have been a few people who spoke truth into my life, like Father Kurt Fohn who helped foster my vocation, Bishop Michael who revived that vocation in a new way and helped me get to know myself, and Deacon Matt who pushed me to learn as much as I could. These are just a few who have played the vital role of using their gift of prophecy in my life.
We all have a gift when we allow the Spirit into our lives. If we pray and truly listen to the quiet voice within us, He will show us our gifts. We have to use those gifts that we have been given to help others. You may say, “Well I have a gift but I’m not sure how to use it,” or “I’m not that good at it.” Well you have to practice and hone your gifts. It is like almost anything we do, the more you use those skills and study, the better you become. We have to allow practice and the Holy Spirit to perfect those gifts, which requires us to, every day when we wake up, say first thing, “Yes, Lord I am here. Send me.” We have to give our lives completely to God, for God to use us.
Maybe the Holy Spirit is prompting you to become a missionary in your work place, or a missionary in your own family. If so, it takes prayer, studying scripture, and completely saying “yes” to the Spirit at all moments. I heard it said best, “You become good at only what you practice,” and if we do not take ourselves to the spiritual gym, then we will become overweight Christians. The Spirit calls us to get fit which is done by praying, studying, and believing. We need to work out in that gym, then go, as He calls us, to go out and live it.
The world is in turmoil, seeking love and hope today more so than ever in history, I believe. The church has the best opportunity to be all those things the world so needs, yet we have become so hung up on what we are against, that we forgot Who we are for. Jesus said in the Gospel reading that, “Whoever loves me keeps my word…” yet in our society we have not kept His word. We have forgotten what that word is today in the church. What is the message of Christ? Christ came to teach love, mercy, and grace. He dined with sinners and drank water with adulterers. He became friends with prostitutes and entered houses of tax collectors. He hugged the lepers and gave hope to the blind. Shared food with the poor and welcomed the gentiles. He was beaten, crucified, and died for you and me. What was Jesus’ word? Get out and love everyone and make no excuses for why you cannot speak or fellowship with anyone. If we act in the Spirit, we will do these things, yet, if we ignore the Spirit, we will not.
In an age where people have become so disconnected due to all the technology and being the selfie generation, it is time we rise up and ask the Spirit to descend upon us anew, so that we can ascend to the place Christ has for us. A place to be that beacon in a sea of darkness and a hope in a world in despair. Do we love him? If so, we have to keep His words, and if the Spirit has instilled in us to call Him Lord, then we need to begin to act like it. Right now is the time to do so as we look out amongst so much violence and intolerance coming from both sides of the aisle. Hate is poured into many baptisteries and fonts, yet that water has no anointing because the Spirit is a spirit of love and mercy, not one of ignorance or intolerance. We are a holy people, a chosen people gifted by God through the Holy Spirit to love, show mercy, and grace. If you want to emulate the One you profess to follow, then these should be the hallmarks of your life.
In the first reading you saw that they spoke to all the people there at the time, in all the languages known at that time. I do not think this was pointed out just to show the power of the Spirit alone, but it was written to remind us to reach out to everyone. To go a step further. It was so that we would get the hint to reach out to everyone, but in a way that was uniquely suited to that person. It is saying for us to speak in a language that the person will understand. You may ask, “Well, how do I do that?” Simply by asking the Spirit to come upon you and to abide within you so that you may become an instrument in the lives of those around you.
Lastly but not least, I want to explain that in doing all of this you will face criticism and threats from the world and other so called Christians, but you do not have to fear because the Spirit is also an Advocate and a great protector. He will advocate on your behalf and, like he has to so many, He will give you strength and power even in the things you are not strong in.
He has been given to us from the Father to provide us with all we need and to pass messages on to us from the Father through the Son. Though life may come against us, the Peace He gives and that is His peace becomes our peace. His wisdom, our wisdom, and His power becomes our power. We just have to be willing to say yes to Him and He will work mightily in our lives and those around us.
My prayer today on this feast of Pentecost, as the sequence psalm we recited rings true, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth”. Would that today we receive the Spirit and renew the face of the Earth in such a way that the Earth is a pure reflection of Heaven.