Another week, another controversy, another boycott. That’s what it seems as of late, where someone’s being canceled or a company is wading into hot-button topics that generate a whole range of reactions. It can be exhausting keeping up with the latest cultural, and political fight that’s going on, which is understandable. Who wants to evaluate if they’re making a statement when they want a beer; or consider whether they are supporting some cause they don’t believe in because they are running to a store. A fatigue factor sets in after a while, so people become numb or just tune it all out.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST -MAY 28, 2023. I appreciate your sharing this 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- Father Jim
This is one reason some may have missed something that happened this past week. The Los Angeles Dodgers, a Major League Baseball Team, have decided at one of their games to honor a group named the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.” No, they are not a group of religious sisters who work in helping the poor, the sick, and the needy. They are a group of individuals who dress up in drag-queen-inspired nun outfits that openly mock Catholic beliefs and, among other things, blaspheme Jesus Christ by depicting him on a cross and doing things I won’t try to describe. Even more disappointing was that the Los Angeles Dodgers had dis-invited the group after learning all this. Still, when they received pushback from some of this group’s “allies” they re-invited them and issued a gushing “apology,” which was staggering to read.
The blasphemy, anti-Catholic bigotry was so blatant that it demanded a response and a reaction from Catholics and others of goodwill. Which thankfully, some commentators and leaders had started to do. So I shared a couple of posts online, which I didn’t think were confrontational or aggressive for the most part. One was calling attention to the controversy, and the other was a statement issued by the Catholic Diocese of Orange, California, that was pretty mild and sober. While, for the most part, the reactions to these posts have been understandably upset and supportive for calling this out, I had this one exchange with an individual that really bothered me. In part because she represents people who had similar reactions to this story that I’ve seen and heard elsewhere. She misquoted everyone from the Pope to Jesus, arguing that tolerance is a virtue and that silence is a loving response to people you disagree with, arguing that supporting a group like this is somehow noble and what Jesus would’ve done.
It’s striking that this controversy has unfolded during this liturgical period of the Holy Spirit Novena – where as a Church, we are in the final days of the Easter Season. That started with the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into Heaven, and now this weekend concludes with the second most important liturgical celebration after Easter, which is Pentecost. What is it that we’ve been celebrating? That Jesus has come to save us from sin and death. Jesus has conquered the devil through His death on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead. And remarkably, we not only can do the same by being Baptized into Jesus Christ, but God Himself wishes to dwell within us by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is what today’s feast is all about.
Many Catholics have lost a sense of the awesomeness of that reality or perhaps never fully understood what this means. Journeying with thousands of Catholics through a Biblical podcast called “The Bible in a Year” a couple of times, one thing that has come up as we’ve done this scripture study, was how many were surprised to learn about the History of God’s presence among His people.
Before Jesus became one of us and one with us, God’s presence among His people was limited to the utmost of sacred places – the Temple in Jerusalem – with the most sacred of items – the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the stone tablets on which God had written the 10 commandments; some manna, the heavenly bread that God had fed the people when they were in the wilderness en route to the promised land; and the staff of Moses brother Aaron which was a sign of the priesthood. These were the most sacred items to the Jewish people. The Ark was not to be touched by anyone; in fact, there were incidents where people instantly died for doing so. The Ark could only be moved by being carried on these poles and by very specific instructions set by the Lord by the Levite priests. When the temple was finally constructed in Jerusalem, and the Ark was placed in what was called “the Holy of Holies,” the scriptures describe this cloud engulfed the temple, as God’s glory filled the same space. That was why the loss of the Ark, the desecration of the temple, and the eventual destruction of the temple had been so devastating to the Jews. When they rebuilt the temple, there was a desperate hope for the glory of the Lord to return.
Which is one of the things that some missed, misunderstood, or rejected at the time of Jesus. That the Glory of the Lord was to be found in Jesus Himself as the new and eternal temple. He was the “temple” that was destroyed and three days later was rebuilt in His resurrection from the dead. Even more remarkably, though, Jesus became the cornerstone, with each of us in our baptisms, becoming living stones of God’s temple. So in our receiving of Baptism and Confirmation, God’s Holy Spirit was poured into us and meant to engulf us, that His glory filled us just as it had in that physical temple before.
That’s what we celebrate today. That presence of God that at one time was reserved and limited to the Ark that couldn’t even be touched, housed in the one temple in Jerusalem – is now in the bodies and souls of all those Baptized into Jesus Christ. That’s not meant for our own edification, our own enjoyment. That’s not a membership card that we place in our wallets. God’s Holy Spirit has been poured into us, and it’s our responsibility to care for Him, to reverence Him, to know and love Him, and to respond to His call to ‘renew the face of the earth.’
This is why some reactions to the LA Dodgers controversy were so troubling. Yes, as Americans, we respect the freedom of speech of others. But that’s not accomplished by our silencing our freedom of speech. But even more, as Catholics, how have we gotten to this place where we fall for these manipulations in the first place. That we need to be accepting of such depravity. That it’s somehow bigoted to call out blatant bigotry. That it’s intolerant when we are offended by blasphemy.
At one point in this particular exchange with this person, she said she was frustrated that I didn’t recognize the importance of agreeing to disagree, acknowledging everyone has their rights and that she was following the Golden Rule. Again, those are talking points that people insist on to shut someone down who doesn’t want to address the main issue. Particularly when you ask are they advocating similar public acts of indecency towards other groups or acts that would be insensitive to other religious groups? Working at a Public, state, secular University, I’m used to such twisted and illogical arguments. But what was worse was that this is coming from a fellow Roman Catholic. Someone who has been Baptized and Confirmed and received Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Which is why it weighed on my heart this week. Because I know the tension, the difficulty, the hassle it is even bringing these things up. I felt the tension and wrestled with even talking about this today, let alone sharing things on social media.
But the idea that things we hold sacred, like evangelical counsels that Jesus gave in the Gospel of poverty, chastity, and obedience; that Jesus Christ himself could all be mocked and derided – for those attacks and those who leveled them to be honored, celebrated, and elevated; and for those who are Catholic themselves to either be silenced out of fear or worse by being twisted by the lies of the devil to think that tolerance is a virtuous, and loving, when they are the exact opposite, it is troubling.
Boycotts, petitions, and raising awareness about how unconscionable all of this is – are important for sure. But I think they are just addressing symptoms we see exterior rather than zeroing in on the problem within. The thing that we should never have tolerated: Lukewarmness, indifference, loss of a sense of reverence for the Holiness of God and His presence and action among us. We’ve gone from those stone tablets with the words written by God Himself in giving the ten commandments that were so revered that they couldn’t be touched – to now the 10 Commandments are not just banished from public view or discourse, but have diminished in importance for the everyday Catholic – whether it’s the one who calls themselves a “Pro-Choice Catholic” to the one who uses God’s very name as a curse.
The easiest thing to do is to ignore all of this, and the easier thing is to try to simply rally outrage at the LA Dodgers. But as a Spiritual Father, preaching a Homily on this Pentecost Sunday, my main concern is your soul and mine. God has poured His Holy Spirit upon us, an amazing, awesome, generous gift. In our receiving that gift, though, there were expectations attached. That’s what those Baptismal Promises were, which we renew every Easter. That we align ourselves with God and that we reject Satan and all His empty promises and empty show. That so much depravity and darkness has not just been accepted, promoted, and celebrated is a reflection on each of us. Perhaps we have grown indifferent, lukewarm to sin in our lives that we are embarrassed or afraid to confront outside.
May this unfortunate story falling during this time of Pentecost be an opportunity for our reflection and asking for the Holy Spirit to renew us. To renew our faith in Him, To renew our commitments to Him. To renew our appreciation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are intended to give us:
– a healthy “fear of the Lord” to acknowledge His greatness and our littleness;
– an appropriate “piety” which moves us to call God “Father” and our responsibility to those around us as “brother and sisters” in acts of genuine and sincere love – not the facade of love peddled in our world of tolerance and acceptance of sin;
– a greater desire for knowledge of the things of God and our Faith;
– the strength and fortitude to endure the challenges, the ridicule, the persecution that comes from being faithful;
– that we lean on the counsel of the Lord -how many times we know what is right and wrong interiorly but allow peer pressure to encourage us to bypass that;
– the understanding to see past the things of this world and have our visions directed to what God desires; and finally
– the wisdom to know and use higher truths to guide our actions.
The more that each of us commits to these things, the less likely a boycott or even such blasphemies and bigotry would occur in the first place. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy fiathful and kindle in them the fire of thy Love. Send forth thy Spirit and they shall be created and thou shalt renew the face of the earth -Amen