“Peace be with you” – in this very short passage of 4 verses Jesus says those 4 words twice… Not only are those words repeated, the gospel passage itself is a “repeat” as well. We just heard this particular scripture on a Sunday just a few weeks ago. The point is we’re not reading an obscure passage that hasn’t been heard for some time, with a message that is unfamiliar. Yet here on Pentecost Sunday 2020 – those words seem distant, foreign to us, unreal maybe? “Peace be with you”
Hi everyone here’s my homily for THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST- MAY 31, 2020. During this time of public Masses being suspended, I invite you to pray with us as we pray for you on our FACEBOOK PAGE cick here Thanks so much for stopping by to read this and even more for sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else people share social media posts and your feedback and comments! For the audio version you can get them at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. Thanks again – HAPPY EASTER! I hope you and yours experience all of God’s blessings today and always! In Christ – Father Jim
All week we’ve seen this horrific video of George Floyd killed in police custody. Those 5 minutes of video are infuriating and devastating to watch at the same time. They put a visual image on some of the ugliest parts of this country’s history and foundation – the wounds of slavery, the wounds of racism – which don’t just disappear because it wasn’t something that some of us didn’t participate in or wasn’t part of our experience. For many in our nation those wounds are very raw and exposed – and this latest video of brutality by criminally corrupt police officers hasn’t just poured salt into those wounds, but created new ones as well. As the video was shown over and over all week each time I saw it, I found myself growing angrier, more tense and outraged…
Peace be with you.
All week, we’ve seen people trying to express their anger and fury over the death of George Floyd being co-opted by others who’s purpose was to loot, to riot, to sow terror on others. The violence that has erupted has nothing to do with those who wanted some outlet to their justifiable outrage over Mr. Floyd’s death be heard. It was equally as evil and in many cases caused greater harm on the same poor and marginalized communities that already identified with George Floyd. As stores burned to the ground, police officers – (the vast majority who are selfless sacrificial men and women equally infuriated by the actions of one of their own and now generally maligned because of those very actions) were attacked, and more innocent people were injured, terrified. Whatever collective outrage the people of the nation felt in reaction to this one man’s death has been eclipsed by these mobs sowing division, fear, grief and anger.
Peace be with you.
Truth be told… it’s not just our attention to these images being broadcast on our screens or in neighborhoods not far from our own that seems to make these words of Jesus feel unreal. There are realities in our own personal lives that are so widespread that make the opposite more relatable. People continue to fight an invisible enemy in this virus that has upended seemingly everybody’s lives and routines… Three months of a viral pandemic has way too many families mourning and grieving loved ones who were taken suddenly and tragically without even the opportunity to be supported by friends and family members as we sit in isolation. People are scared, are worried about everything from physical health to their financial situations as nearly 40 million people have lost their jobs in record time to their mental health – as the number of suicides, suicide attempts, people calling mental health care support lines are at crisis levels as well. Students wonder what will next semester look like – and do I even want to participate in that … There’s no shortage of problems, difficulties, struggles that are all around us. Things that make hearing those words – “Peace be with you” jarring… Insulting? Unreal? Idealistic?
The more we hear and reflect on those words though, the more it becomes clear. “Peace be with you” isn’t a nice greeting. It’s not a statement of fact – it’s not an observation of a current situation. It’s an invitation. It’s a choice. It’s our choice, our decision to receive it. It’s our choice, our decision to utilize it, to live it. And it always has been.
We tend to look at Pentecost, and this Easter season that we conclude today with stained-glass vision. Beautiful, spiritual, transformational events that changed the world and we recall with pride – as this momentous historic moment in the life of the Early Church. I think about the mosaic I first saw in the Cathedral of St. Louis, Missouri of Pentecost where the ceiling of the majestic building has this awesome illustration of the apostles, dressed in their heavenly looking robes, with the Blessed Mother sitting there with a halo and the dove hovering over them with these tongues of fire over each of their heads. It looks so perfect. It looks so amazing. It looks like everything they could’ve wanted or imagined has been fulfilled instantly and completely. And it looks so removed from our experience.
What we miss in images like that was that it was a choice – it was a decision for the apostles, for Mary to be there. They too had been filled with fear. We can’t forget, that in this very gospel, we hear that the room was locked. And St. John makes no excuses for the locked doors, it was for fear of the Jewish leaders who had conspired with the Romans to kill Jesus, and who they feared were after them next. Yet despite the sadness and sorrow which was still looming in their heads and hearts from Good Friday… despite there present real, legitimate fears, they choose to be there.
It’s not like they didn’t have choices. Maybe because we’ve heard this story many times, we tend to think of the apostles as characters in a play that we know how it’s going to play out. Yet they were just like us. They could’ve given into despair. One of the original 12, one of Jesus’ closest, hand picked men chosen to be his apostles had… Judas after choosing to follow the world, and at least finding some sense of security himself with the Romans and the Jewish leaders for turning Jesus over, recognized the horror of that decision. But rather than remembering all that Jesus had said and done… the words of Mercy, the acts of love – the forgiveness to sinners – he choose despair and hung himself.
But Judas was not the only one who made other choices… there are other instances throughout the gospels where we hear of people who walked away from Jesus: The rich young man for one, who after asking Jesus what more could he do to be considered “righteous,” found Jesus’ call to give up all that mattered in the world and devote himself solely to Jesus too much for him to do. Or, the group of disciples who first heard Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood – and couldn’t or wouldn’t hear these words – they walked away as well.
So the 12 could’ve taken off as well after Good Friday, and perhaps some of them were even contemplating it. Yet they made the choice to come together – the made the choice to do what Jesus had told them to do. And so Jesus enters into that locked room; He enters into that fear – already blowing their minds having been risen from the dead – and then He offers them His Peace which is tied to His gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the days that followed that Easter night, the apostles would be confronted again with all kinds of fear. After appearing to them for 40 days, Jesus commissions them to now Go and proclaim His Gospel and then He ascends into heaven. They leave Mount Olivet – they return to the upper room – they had to choose to be there together – to dedicate themselves to prayer – to believing and trusting that Jesus’ promise of sending this “gift” this “Holy Spirit” upon them would somehow enable them to fulfill Jesus’ commands.
And so it happened. The Spirit comes upon them, and we see that the apostles are transformed. There fears disappear – and a new found courage is unleashed…they speak in new languages and the beginning of the Church takes place. But just reading through the Acts of the Apostles – after that event, this would be a daily choice, an ongoing thing that they had to do. They would be confronted with difficult missions, hostile crowds, angry leaders – and ultimately almost all of them would face their own deaths for being apostles of Jesus Christ.
Yet they kept choosing Peace they kept choosing the Holy Spirit and looking to Him to provide the strength, to give them the words, to be their consoler in the moments of darkness when it felt there was no one left in the world to support them.
That’s what speaks to me today. The other night in our summer “Quarantined Catholic” zoom meeting with our students, we talked about our own receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation – when we received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a new way. And I remarked to them that I remember leaving my home parish Church the night I received it as a Freshman in High School somewhat underwhelmed. Speaking new languages? I still struggled learning Italian (let alone butchering my native English) – it felt like not much had changed. But the problem was (and is) so often we are waiting for the Holy Spirit to do something independent of us. To forcibly invade our world, ourselves and make things right. Which is contrary to who God is and who He has created us to be.
Over 90 days ago -we as Catholics came together and received ashes on our foreheads. That was an invitation to “repent” to let go of old habits, sinful ways, things that diminished us from who God created us to be. In the weeks that passed we entered into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and renewed ourselves in Him as the way, the truth, the life that promises us the fullness that our hearts were created for, that they desire. And as we respond to that, as we reach out for that – today’s “finale” to the Easter Season is a reminder that God gives us the gifts to live that life in the midst of this world. He equips us to be followers of Him on our pilgrimage to eternal life.
But it’s our choice to utilize them. It’s a decision we have to make every day, every moment whether to respond to the Holy Spirit within us or not – who is constantly calling, nudging us to live differently – to choose Jesus and His peace.
So when we hear of the latest atrocity, see scens of terrifying hatred, violence and terror – we have to be cautious of our reactions, our responses individually and personally. Do we give into our anger or sadness and let those emotions guide and direct us… joining into the fray with provacative words or actions that create further division and tension? Or do we let choose Christ and let His Peace direct us? Do we share that Peace by asking the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us to listen with empathetic ears and hearts – to speak words of consolation and healing?
When we think of all the personal struggles that family, or friends or even each of us are going through personally – do we let our hearts get weighed down, give into despair, and allow that depression, fear, worry to sow disbelief? Or do we come as we are, looking to the apostles example, and yes acknowledging our legitimate fears, our worry’s but remaining faithful by not giving into them and choose Christ and let His Peace be with us?
That is the difficult place we find ourselves in. We who have received this same Holy Spirit, we already have this precious gift of God within us.
It’s not a distant spiritual reality.
It’s not some confusing theological concept that we need extensive teaching.
Jesus, who remains with us in His Word, in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, in the Church – continues to pour out His gift of the Holy Spirit upon us.
He has promised that He will never leave us.
He has promised that He will continue to do tremendous deeds through each and every one of us who make up the Church.
But it’s still a matter of a choice, a decision on our parts.
We have to want the Holy Spirit.
We have to want His Peace.