Feast of Pentecost Homily, May 30, 2020 given by Deacon Jerry
Another African American man has been killed by a policeman as he was being arrested this past Monday. Many of us are outraged at seeing the video of an officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes, even though he was already handcuffed and restrained. Bishops from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have called this kind of racism a “real and present danger that must be met head on” and on the eve of the Solemnity of Pentecost, they are calling on all Catholics to pray for a “new outpouring of the Holy Spirit...to touch the hearts of all in the United States and to come down upon our criminal justice and law enforcement systems.” Who is this Holy Spirit and how will praying for His intervention possibly help this awful situation?
This weekend marks the end of the Easter season with the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is the time when we celebrate the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Because we love our God, we try to learn and understand as much as we can about who our God is just as we do with anyone we love. We are limited in our understanding of a God who is so awesome as to have created everything we see in our world but one thing God has revealed to us is that He exists in three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We believe these three persons are one God, co-equal which means that one person is not greater or lesser than another and co-eternal which means all three persons have existed forever. They are all equally worthy of our confidence, worship and praise. Pentecost celebrates the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit and so we hear in our readings today two stories of the Holy Spirit being given to Jesus’ disciples and the effect it has on them. In the first reading from Acts, the Holy Spirit comes in a rush of wind as tongues of fire resting on each of the disciples. The Holy Spirit gives them the ability to speak about God while all those present from all different lands are able to understand them without any translation. The Holy Spirit brought these people from across the ancient world together and allowed them to understand each other and to see past their differences of where they lived and how they spoke. The Holy Spirit brought unity to Jesus’ disciples and the people they encountered that day. Then, in our Gospel reading from John, we hear how the disciples are holed up in a locked room. Mary Magdalene has told them about Jesus’ resurrection but they are afraid of the Jews who might treat them the same way they treated Jesus. The risen Jesus appears in their midst and says “Peace be with you.” Then, very simply, he continues, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” At this, the disciples are filled with peace and understanding. That gift of peace and understanding is given to them through the power of the Holy Spirit. These gifts empowered the disciples to continue the work Jesus started. This is the work of loving God and caring for each other. It is the gifts of peace and understanding from the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for the disciples to carry out this work and to care for each other despite their differences.
Just like the disciples at Pentecost, we too are given the Holy Spirit. God is always sending the Holy Spirit into our world in ever more effective ways. The Holy Spirit we have been given is not just a nice idea and it’s not an abstract concept like we would think of “school spirit” or the “spirit of America.” The Holy Spirit is a Person. He is Almighty God. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to share in the very life of God – it allows us to go beyond reading about God or studying what Jesus did while He was on earth to actually participating in the work Jesus calls us to do. We are called to participate in God’s work of fighting against hatred, bigotry, violence and disunity. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we go from just working on our own limited human life to participating in God’s awesome and unbounded life. We have been given the very same Spirit who empowered the disciples at Pentecost to continue Jesus’ work in the world.
I have seen the Holy Spirit working in my prison ministry at Collins Correctional Facility. On our prison retreat weekends where we strive to bring the love of Jesus Christ to men who feel forgotten and abandoned, I have seen incredible works of the Holy Spirit. At each retreat there are about 10 inmates who act as stewards. Stewards are inmates who have been to a prior retreat and are returning to help out by serving the men who are making the retreat for the first time. On our last retreat, Peter was a steward. Peter gave a witness testimony for the whole group about how his retreat experience had impacted him and how Jesus had changed his life and restored his opinion on humanity. Peter is an older, wise black gentleman who many other inmates go to for advice. Peter told how on the first day of the retreat he was shocked to find out that one of the men on the volunteer team was a retired corrections officer who had worked at Collins. John is the former corrections officer and he is white. Peter said he hated John when he was a guard and didn’t have one good thing to say about him. But through the course of the retreat weekend and then following the retreat at Friday night meetings where inmates and volunteers share their faith in Jesus, he grew to know John, to accept him as a fellow Christian and to actually love him. Peter pointed right to John that day and said, “I can now say that I love that man.” That is the power of the Holy Spirit working in Peter giving him the understanding and courage to go from hate to love. There is no power on earth that could have moved Peter in such a way. He is a man of conviction. Nobody would have been able to convince him to change his mind about John. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
This is the same Holy Spirit the bishops are calling on us to pray for His help. It is the Holy Spirit who moved Peter from hate to love that we need in our world today. Jesus will send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the free gift of God to us. We simply need to ask God to send us the Holy Spirit in faith. Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” In faith, let us ask God to send the Holy Spirit into our own life to heal us from ways we view others that are broken. Let us ask God to send the Holy Spirit into the lives of policemen to touch their hearts and fill them with compassion for people they encounter as if each time it is their own troubled, younger brother they are arresting. And let us ask God to send the Holy Spirit into the lives of our leaders to guide them in making changes to the criminal justice and law enforcement systems which promote the value of human dignity and respect for people of all races. Yes, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to come down and heal our broken world.
Today we offer our prayers for the soul of George Floyd and for all those who have lost their lives in a similar way. Our bishops tell us we must meet racism of all kinds head on and they have asked us to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May this outpouring enlighten each of us, our community and our leaders to fight against racism, bigotry, violence and disunity.
Easter Sunday Homily, April 12, 2020 given by Deacon Jerry
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” These words which we sang as our response to the Psalm this morning are meant to be joyful and uplifting and yet somehow today, with what is going on in our world, they seem almost challenging.
Over the past few weeks, I like many people, have had more time than I’m used to, to watch programs on Netflix. One of the strange things about this time of the coronavirus pandemic is that some of us are bored with having to stay home and having less to do while others are working seven days a week heroically caring for those who are sick or helping supply us with the things we need such as food. As I searched through Netflix looking for something to watch, I came across a 10-part documentary on World War II that I began to watch. World War II was a difficult time for our country and for the world. More than 16 million Americans served in the various branches of the armed forces during World War II and over 405,000 Americans gave their lives to defend our country and our way of life. Cities like London, England were being bombed night after night in an effort to crush the spirit of the British people and despite the destruction and loss of lives, the people there never lost their faith. After watching a couple episodes of the documentary, I was shocked and horrified by the events of that war and yet I continued to watch another episode. As gruesome as it was to see, because, and this is a warning to parents with young kids, there are many horrible scenes in this documentary, there was also something a little comforting about watching it. Why was that I wondered? It was comforting because I knew how the story ends. I know how it all turns out. I know that the war eventually comes to an end and that despite the brutality of what happened, somehow the world was able to move past that and countries that were once bitter enemies went on to be friends. I know things work out. I know World War II is not the end of the world. I know how the story ends.
It’s one of the reasons this time in our history is so unsettling – we don’t know how and when this crisis will end. It’s why the coronavirus pandemic is so frightening. Nobody can tell us exactly how this story will end. A lot of the anxiety we feel in this moment comes from all of the uncertainty. What’s going to happen? Who will get sick? Will jobs come back? Will businesses be able to reopen? When will we be able to celebrate birthdays and weddings together? When will we be able to return to our beloved church and celebrate Mass together? This is an unprecedented time in our history and one that will be remembered for many years to come because of school closings, social distancing, the need to stay at home and the cancelling and postponing of so many events such as major league baseball. The year 2020 will forever be known for the coronavirus. It is a difficult time and it is made even more difficult because nobody knows how this story will end.
In the midst of these difficult times, we faithfully come together this morning to celebrate Mass and to hear the familiar Gospel story of Jesus’ resurrection. We are comforted by hearing once more the story of Mary Magdalene, Peter and the beloved disciple, because we know how the story ends. It doesn’t trouble us to hear that Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple wake up that morning in utter confusion and pain because Jesus, their friend and teacher whom they loved, has died. Mary goes to the tomb that morning and finds it empty and all she can think is that someone has stolen the body. So, she goes to tell Peter and the beloved disciple the terrible news. Imagine how that news affected them and impacted their faith. Don’t you just want to shout to Peter and the beloved disciple as they run to the tomb, “guys it’s all right. It’s going to work out OK.” The beloved disciple looks into the empty tomb and notices the linen cloths and Peter goes inside and sees the linen cloths and the head wrapping set aside and nicely rolled up. Would grave robbers bother to undress the corpse before carrying it off? It’s true, someone has done something with Jesus’ body but it isn’t thieves, it is God the Father who has raised Jesus from the dead. Gradually the disciples’ faith returns and in hearing the story of them moving from unbelief to belief, we feel our own faith soar as together we realize just as it says in the Gospel that Jesus “had to rise from the dead.” And in the final scene, Mary continues to not understand and mistakenly thinks Jesus is the gardener until He speaks her name. Mary! You see, Jesus is the good shepherd; he knows his sheep by name and they respond to his voice. Jesus knows Mary’s name and when she hears Jesus call her by name, she immediately recognizes her Lord and savior. How wonderful to be the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection. We know how this story ends.
But this is not just a story about three people who encounter Christ over two thousand years ago like a story we might hear about some famous person in history. This story of coming to faith and of seeing and being with the resurrected Christ is also our story. It turns out that even in these difficult times of the coronavirus pandemic we do know how this story ends. Christ is risen my friends! Death has been conquered. Jesus has won the victory. Yes, there will be suffering, we do not deny that. And we know it will take all of us coming together and a lot of hard work and prayer to get through this epidemic, but we also know how the story ends. God’s love is stronger than death. Through Jesus’ death, resurrection and return to the Father, He has made new life possible for everyone, a new life of sharing with Him fully in relationship with God, our Father. It forever changes how we can know God in a loving and intimate way. We can now know God as Jesus knows God in a new and full relationship. Just like Jesus knew Mary’s name, God knows your name. My sisters and brothers in Christ, this is our story!
This crazy time of the pandemic is a lousy time for many things, but it is a great time to take hold of this Easter story and make it our own. It is the perfect time to claim Jesus’ resurrection as being central to who we are and how we choose to live. It is the story of what Jesus has done for you, how He has encouraged you, how He has consoled you when you were in pain and challenged you to be the person God calls you to be. As you gather for your Easter dinner today, go around what may have to be a virtual dinner table of family and friends because you can’t be together except via the phone or Skype or Facebook or Zoom or whatever and share your story. Share what Jesus means to you in your life or perhaps ask someone you love to share their story. It may be a time when you felt Jesus’ presence in a special way saving you from a difficult situation or consoling you through a hardship or leading you to move outside your comfort zone to help someone in need. Share your story or ask someone to share their story. Because, this is an extraordinary time in our world and it may be the best time ever to share your story of Jesus in your life.
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” My friends, what a comfort it is to know how this story ends. “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” Let us make this is our story!