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May 24, 2015

Click here to listen to this homily (.mp3 file)

     Did you notice that today’s readings gave us two quite different versions of how the Holy Spirit first came upon the disciples?  Luke, in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, told us that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, and that’s certainly how we think of it.  John, however, as we just heard in the gospel, told us that the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit fifty days earlier -- on Easter evening -- when Jesus had burst into the room where they were gathered and greeted them with “shalom,” “peace,” and then breathed on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

     Can both these accounts be true? Yes, they can.  I believe that the Holy Spirit was already with the disciples on the morning of Pentecost, but that the Spirit within them was stifled by their fear.  And I find that very believable because, no matter how powerful God’s Spirit, God’s grace, is, fear can get in the way.  And so, even though the word they had heard time and again from their risen master was “peace,” and “do not fear,” those disciples were still fearful. They were fearful of the world outside that room; fearful, too, of the Spirit inside them.

     Then came the day of Pentecost – the mighty wind and the tongues of fire.  That was the game-changer. The disciples’ fears were consumed in a flash and they poured out of that locked room, fired up with a message they couldn’t contain, a message that has changed the face of the earth.

     My friends, I believe that our own stories parallel that story.  In one way or another we all know the story of the Spirit received but stifled by fear.  Just as the Easter gift of the Spirit lay dormant in the disciples until it was liberated by the wind and fire of Pentecost, so, too, the gift of the Spirit we received at our baptism and confirmation is often asleep within us -- dormant, the prisoner of our fears, of our cautiousness. The Spirit within us needs to be liberated.  That’s why we celebrate Pentecost, why we need Pentecost.

     But liberation can be a frightening thing.  Liberation means freedom but it also means change.  It means leaving our comfort zones, letting go the tried and true.  It means standing up, and speaking out.  It means surrendering control and allowing God to take us in new directions.

     Look at what the liberating Spirit of Pentecost did to the disciples. The Spirit sent them out into the streets, out into the crossroads of the world – to conquests but also controversies, to triumphs but also to great trials.  Ultimately, the Spirit turned their lives into near replicas of their master’s -- which is hardly surprising because it was His Spirit that was leading them and driving them!

     In light of this, is it any wonder that we might prefer the safety of locked-up lives? Calm, carefully regulated, undisturbed lives -- where the Spirit remains quietly and comfortably dormant in us?  There is safety in such a life, and a kind of peace.  But there is no fire, no passion, and Pentecost has not happened.

     But, my friends, Pentecost has happened.  Or maybe I should say Pentecost is happening.  Look at the Cathedral today!  Look around at each other!  God’s Spirit is here.  Within us! Waiting to be released, longing to be released -- the Spirit of fire, not of fear -- urging us, propelling us to take the gospel to new places. Listen to these words of Pope Francis: “We cannot simply remain in our own secure world, we need to go out. Amid the world’s darkness, we need to be men and women who bring hope to people on the margins, evangelizers who proclaim the Good News not only with words but above all by lives transformed by God’s Spirit, God’s presence.”

     But this can be scary. I know it can be for me. But fear doesn’t have to have the last word. Let me tell you about someone who proves the point: Archbishop Oscar Romero, beatified by the Church just yesterday. Romero, Bishop of San Salvador -- courageous, outspoken prophet of justice and champion of the poor and oppressed, who was murdered – martyred -- in March of 1980 while celebrating Mass.  When he was first made a bishop, Romero was a lot like the disciples before Pentecost: timid, cautious, careful. But then, a friend of his, Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest and outspoken advocate for the poor, was brutally mowed down by the machine guns of government snipers, and that’s when Romero found his voice and began to speak out fearlessly about the terrible human rights abuses and injustices that were being visited on the poor by the government and the power elite of El Salvador.  Just yesterday, Oscar Romero was beatified in a ceremony in San Salvador near the very place where he fell victim to the assassin’s bullet. It cannot have been an accident that his beatification took place at Pentecost! 

     My friends, the disciples began their Pentecost huddled in fear, and that may be true for us, too.  But the same Spirit that set the disciples of Jesus on fire, and Oscar Romero, too, is alive in us -– maybe a little dormant, but alive.  There is only one thing in the way: fear.  May God’s Spirit and the transforming power of the Eucharist we now celebrate and receive, consume our fears, fire us up, and truly set us free!  

     Father Michael G. Ryan



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Seattle, Washington  98104
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