When you think of the Holy Spirit – what comes to mind? Maybe you have different images from these scriptures and can remember making artwork in Catholic School or CCD – of a dove, flames of fire… Maybe you have memorized the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit from preparation for Confirmation (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord… in complete honesty, I had to look those up again) Maybe you think of stories of Saints: people like Mother Teresa whose life so radiated the Gospel, or martyrs like St. Maximilian Kolbe who have died for the faith – obvious examples of people who’s lives animated such heroic virtue and examples of holiness that we can see how the Holy Spirit was working in and through them.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for PENTECOST SUNDAY -June 5, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
Any of those are great starting points for considering the Holy Spirit, but sadly, for a lot of people, He remains the mysterious member of the Trinity that seems removed from the ordinary lives of ordinary people. Someone who is almost dismissed as being just for Holy People, or whose acts are limited in sacred spaces – which are all lies of the devil who wants the Holy Spirit to be distant from our lives – or wants us to keep Him limited.
Thinking about those lies, and how to break them, a somewhat non-traditional individual came to mind as an example and witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. He was an actor from the last century who was not as notable or famous for his movies or television shows as some of his contemporaries like Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, or Dean Martin. In fact, it took so long for his early career to take off that he tried something very bold and unique for those in the entertainment industry, he went to a Catholic Mass. One day, in particular, he had a lot on his mind apart from not being able to actually work in this creative field that he felt so passionate about: His wife was about to deliver their firstborn. So there he was at Mass, and as he got caught up in prayer, he put the last of the cash he had to his name, $7 in the collection basket. Realizing what he had done, rather than trying to tackle the usher down, he simply prayed for a way to take care of his family. The next day, he was offered a role that paid 10 times the amount he had given (and back then, $70 did more than just fill up a tank of gas). It was one of the most powerful experiences of prayer that the actor had ever had.
A few years later, thankful for the moderate success but still far from really “making it”- he found himself praying again -looking for clarity, and direction. He went to his local Catholic Church, and was in front of a statue of one of the apostles, and read about this Saint’s life and his intercession where he made the promise “help me find my way in life and I will build you a shrine.” Soon after, his career began to flourish. He moved his family and things continued to take off with different opportunities coming his way. He never forgot his prayer and promise to honor the Saint who helped him find his way. What or how would he do this?
It was then in the early 1950s that Danny Thomas started talking with friends and family about how he could fulfill this pledge to St. Jude, the Saint whose statue he had prayed in front of, who is the apostle known as the patron for hopeless causes. The title “Patron of Hopeless causes” is thought to have come about because St Jude Thaddeus shares that first name with the infamous Judas Iscariot. So it was thought that he was not the first of apostles’ names that people would invoke when asking for prayers – that someone had to have been so desperate to get down to #12 of the apostles. So Danny Thomas felt drawn to do something big to call attention to the Saint of “hopeless causes” whose prayers had been so helpful in his own life – but how. There was any number of ways and ideas that came to mind. As he thought about the poor, and the sick, he felt led further and further to think of children diagnosed with cancer and wanting not just to take care of them, but to create a space that would try to defeat this evil that has devastated so many lives.
By 1955, the idea finally came into view St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital would be devoted to curing catastrophic diseases in children. This would be more than just a treatment facility, this would be a research center for the children of the world, regardless of race, religion, or financial status. When St. Jude’s Hospital first opened, the overall survival rate for children diagnosed with cancer was 20%. Today it is at over 80%. And they continue to honor their promise that they will help any family that faces some of the worst news they can ever receive that their son or daughter has cancer that they will treat them whether they can afford it or not.
It’s not hard to imagine times when Danny Thomas saw some of his peers being mentioned in entertainment news, getting cast for roles, and winning awards that might have caused some feelings of jealousy or maybe even doubt. Yet the legacy of this man, the impact that this hospital has made for families, for research, for just doing good in the world – the realization of that one simple prayer and the effect it’s had is nothing short of amazing. And to me is an example of the power of the Holy Spirit. Because look at what he was praying for. Danny Thomas wasn’t looking for a tit for tat or quid pro quo – God get me this role and I’ll tithe my salary for the project. No, listen to those simple words again: “help me find my way in life …” There was surrender to God, there was openness, there was docility, there was trust, there was faith. Danny Thomas could never have imagined kneeling there in that church over 70 years ago and how the Lord would answer his prayer and how yes he would be a successful actor, but so much more than that and do so much good for so many people.
On this celebration of Pentecost, we come to the end of the 50 days of the season of Easter. For 50 days we’ve focused on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 50 days where we reflected on how the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changed history forever. But with Pentecost, Jesus unleashes how He will continue to change history in every day and age that would follow.
In this Gospel, Jesus clearly talks about how He and The Father want to dwell within us by pouring out the Holy Spirit… and in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see how that happened that first Pentecost. These men whose lives up till now included failures, and sinfulness, were still prone to fear, after Jesus’ Ascension they responded to His word and remained united in prayer. Now they receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and begin to share the Gospel, to bring Jesus’ very presence and offer Him, work His miracles to begin to bring God’s saving message to every corner of the world.
In our hearing this Gospel today, in our celebrating Pentecost today – how is the Holy Spirit looking for our invitation to use us, to transform us, and helping to continue in that mission of bringing God’s saving message to every corner of the world? Too many see the Holy Spirit as something we received at Baptism and Confirmation – but that’s it. It’s the gift that many of us never opened the box to truly utilize or read the instruction manual on how to use.
But the Resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t something that’s part of ancient history. We as Catholics believe that at every Mass, at this altar, calvary is made real and present. The Passion, Death, and Resurrection are made real and present as we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharistic Host. So as we come forward to receive the Body of Christ – we come face to face with Him and receive Him into our bodies and souls.
That’s not meant to be a momentary encounter. This isn’t meant to be a drive-thru where we simply eat His flesh and then move on unchanged. But we have to want that change, we have to cooperate with Him. The first apostles, sans the one Judas, all encountered the same Jesus, but they had to choose to continue to turn to Him. They had to choose to go and receive forgiveness from Him. They had to choose to remain rooted in prayer and ask for this Holy Spirit to come upon them, remain with them, and re-direct them. That’s what enables them to speak in foreign languages, to go to distant places and foreign people, and continue to have their horizons broadened in ways they never could have imagined as God kept moving them forward… Further, than they could ever have conceived of those moments they had first encountered Jesus.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “wherever the Spirit of God enters he puts fear to flight; he makes us know and feel that we are in the hands of an Omnipotence of love: something happens, his infinite love does not abandon us… despite the limitations and sins of men and women, [the Church] continues to cross the ocean of history, blown by the breath of God and enlivened by his purifying fire.”
For Danny Thomas, his prayer wasn’t looking simply to be cast in a certain role but touched far deeper into the depths of his identity as a beloved child of God help me find my way in life. God’s answer went beyond the wildest dreams of any agent or director casting a role for a film. What can it, will it be for each of us? How is the Lord nudging you to be selfless, sacrificial… To forgive… To be bold… To testify and witness… To love recklessly… May that be the desires of our hearts as we open ourselves to Him in a new way as we pray “Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth”.