2020 was a year of unprecedented, unexpected things that we all encountered – most of which we probably would like to erase forever from our minds.  But a handful of life-changing gifts have reminded me that despite something as horrible as a global pandemic, God’s providence was still and is always at work.  One happened during a meeting with my 80-something-year-old spiritual director, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal (the order that Fr. Benedict Groschel founded back in 1987).  At one point in our meeting and I forget what prompted it, but I’m sure it was in response to my own listing of things that had saddened, frightened, and/or angered me that year, of which there were ample things to choose from – he said to me “have you heard about this show ‘The Chosen.’I explained that I had “heard” about it…  our FOCUS missionaries, these young men and women who are recent college graduates who sacrifice those first years after they’ve earned their degrees, fundraise their salaries all to share the Gospel with their peers – these four young men and women had been stuck in quarantine with me at the Newman Center.  The FOCUS missionaries had invited me at least three or four times to watch episodes of this new show on “the bible.” From mishearing them thinking they said “The Bible,” which was a mini-series from 2013 to being so proud of my one-liner, “I’ve read the book, the book is better,” I completely dismissed it out of hand in favor of probably more hours of “Fear-porn” that the cable news was peddling.  But now here was my 80-year-old Franciscan Friar spiritual director getting up and going to his desk and pulling out a DVD of the First Season, which was 8 episodes, and handing it to me saying, “Take this, it’s yours – you must watch this.” The only reason I keep emphasizing his age and his religious order was Franciscan Friars don’t have TVs – let alone DVDs or DVD players – and that now I had people in their 20s and their 80s recommending it, that perhaps a guy in his (then at the time, late 40’s) could be humble enough to take their suggestion.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST May 19, 2024.  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

Suffice it to say, I became an instant fan.  To promote their first season they had what they called a “Binge Jesus” campaign, and that is exactly what I found myself doing. That first night, I ended up staying up till well after midnight taking in the first 4 episodes and finding myself reduced to tears multiple times over and over again.  It’s an amazingly creative take on the Bible.  Bringing the characters to life with artistic license based on context and plausible assumptions we can make from the scriptures themselves to help make the stories so well known by so many of us seem incredibly new.  Portraying with dramatic flair and memorable lines and scenes that sound like they could be scripture.  Like after depicting Mary Magdalene’s conversion and exorcisms, when she’s trying to explain what has happened they have her saying: “I don’t understand it myself, but here is what I can tell you – I was one way and now I am completely different and the thing that happened in between, was Him.”

The Him, being Jesus, who is played so lovingly and accessibly by the actor Jonathan Roumie.  Of the many things that make this record-setting, colossal hit so successful is undoubtedly Jonathan Roumie’s portrayal of Jesus, whose smile and laughter capture the warmth of Jesus that has been captivating for the millions who’ve seen the show.  The fact that Roumie is a devout Catholic whose own testimony of how Jesus saved him; how he ultimately surrendered his life to God and made Him the center of His life is another curious providential part of the creation and execution of this global phenomenon that is “The Chosen.”

What’s been fascinating, though, in the four years since it first debuted, and seeing how popular the show and the actors have become, is listening to Jonathan Roumie sharing stories of how he’s encountered people in public.  It’s not the usual celebrity sighting that, say, Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts experiences where people awkwardly interrupt them at a restaurant looking for a selfie or an autograph.  Upon seeing Roumie out and about, on more than one occasion, people will go up to him:  some in tears, some asking if they can have a hug, some talking about how he’s changed their lives.  Roumie has spoken of the challenge this has been for him to try to find this balance where people have obviously been impacted by his character on the show, but that it’s a show – it’s not the Gospels, it’s not Church, it’s not the Sacraments or the Eucharist… it’s entertainment that the creatives hope will bring people to those things, but it’s not those things.

In one interview, he described being approached by an overly emotional fan who seemed dumbfounded, speechless, and seemed to be acting like they were having an actual beatific vision of Jesus before them.  Roumie stopped, approached them and spoke face to face, eyeball to eyeball, and said, “Hi, my name’s Jonathan; what’s your name?” and then, proceeded to engage them in a meaningful conversation where the person could share some incredibly personal things they had experienced, how much this show has meant to them, and how seeing Roumie like this was almost like an answer to a prayer.  But how much they appreciated his genuine time and sincere care in just spending those moments with them.  So much so that they didn’t ask for an autograph or a picture from him.

In Jonathan Roumie’s commencement address last weekend at the Catholic University of America, he shared this observation with the graduates: “You don’t need to play Jesus for the world in order to be Jesus to the world… I’ve realized that just because I play Jesus on a TV show doesn’t mean I can or I should stop being Christ to everyone I know when the cameras turn off, and neither should you [and] Just because you’re not an actor playing Jesus or a priest or a nun doesn’t mean you’re not meant to represent him at all times, wherever you go.”

Those words are at the heart of what today’s Solemnity of Pentecost is all about.  We could argue that this day is the climax of the Church Year.  Which I grant you, seems odd since there are no Pentecost Day sales at stores going on for months in advance as we see before Christmas… and we’ve heard that Easter is the most important day in the history of history – that quite simply, no one would care about Jesus’ birthday to celebrate Christmas had He not been risen from the dead, as He was on Easter.  While all those celebrations and the preparations for them are essential, we’d be mistaken to think this isjust  some “finale” to the Easter season.  Now we can get back to life as usual, ordinary time as the Church so matter-of-factly labels it.

The Holy Spirit coming down on Pentecost didn’t change everything as in the past tense – The Holy Spirit changes everyone who receives Him in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation – The Holy Spirit continues to take an ordinary, broken, sinful human being to be a priest – uses him and his voice to change ordinary bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood – and invites all of us to receive Him, consume Him and moves our hearts to adore Him in these most humble of appearances… The Holy Spirit is who makes us able, as St Paul highlights in the second reading in his Letter to the Corinthians, enables us to say Jesus is Lord – not a moral teacher, not an ethical person that we’re inspired by, not one of the great thinkers of all time that we look to for inspirational quotes from – Jesus is Lord is kind of the shortest and most concise of creeds that divides who is a Christian and who isn’t.  Black and white…  The Holy Spirit enables us not just to hear from others about God but empowers us with the mind of God ourselves and unlocks the rich treasures of God that Paul was talking about, where each and every one of us has been entrusted with something precious of Him, of God Himself to share with one another, so that we become the Church, we become the Body of Christ, and we bring that to 2/3 of the world who doesn’t know or believe in Him, and renew those in that other third who perhaps has forgotten Him and how gifted they have been to receive Him themselves.

God has enabled each of us, lowly, broken, imperfect creatures, to enter into His divine life.  That’s not just a hope or ideal that we hang on to for some distant day in the future.  That’s what we celebrate with Pentecost:  that has been made real for us in the Holy Spirit being poured out into the Church, into each and everyone of us and calling us to draw closer to Jesus… to become Jesus ourselves.  As much of an impact that “The Chosen” and Jonathan Roumie has had which is great that it inspires and uplifts people and what makes it great entertainment.  But as a fellow Catholic Christian Roumie reminds us what’s essential: being here at this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where we encounter the real message of hope and salvation that comes from the Gospel, the Church and the Eucharist… and then becoming what we receive – becoming Christ to those who may not even know it is He who they long for.    May this celebration of Pentecost reignite our hearts to hear anew the Holy Spirit calling us and enablig us to be Jesus to the world; being Christ to everyone we meet; representing Him at all times, wherever we go.