Sunday, May 23, 2010

Solemnity of Pentecost - homily by Msgr. Langsfeld

The following is the powerful homily by Msgr. Paul Langsfeld, pastor of St. Stephen Martyr church:


Washington is a city whose name is interchangeable with power: political, economic, and military power. People flock here in search of power. Surrounded by the powerful, we are thankful that we have access to another, very different sort of power. That is the power that Jesus breathes out on the apostles on the first Easter Sunday evening, as he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

It is the power that comes upon the apostles as they are gathered together on the feast of Pentecost. God’s power is the Holy Spirit. The first reading from Acts uses two images to describe the work of the Holy Spirit that leave no doubt that the Spirit is a mighty power. The spirit is compared to fire and wind, both mighty forces in nature.

But the Holy Spirit is very different from the kinds of power people seek after, and different from the power that mother nature occasionally unleashes. From the readings today, we gather that the Spirit is the power of love, the power to join people who are very different from one another into that great communion we call the Church. We heard in the first reading how believers from every corner of the known world at that time were able to recognize that they belonged to the same family of faith, though they were from very different backgrounds. The power of love creates unity where there would otherwise be only difference.

If only St. Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, could see what the universal Church looks like today. Nearly a billion Catholics from every race, language, and way of life, rich and poor, of very different political persuasions, all gathered into one communion of faith—that is the work of God’s power of love, the Holy Spirit. Our own parish, with all the languages and cultures represented here, is a microcosm of the universal church.

The Spirit is the power of life: he hovered over the world at the first creation to generate life and now he hovers over the baptismal font to give us the new life of Christ and make us adopted children of God.

The Spirit is the power that distributes different gifts to all so that each of us can contribute to the building up of Christ’s body. There are many gifts, but one Spirit, who calls us to put our gifts at the service of others.

The Spirit is the power which allows us to open our mouths to confess that Jesus is Lord. The ability to speak is not enough to make that confession. The Spirit has to plant that faith in us.

The Spirit is the power that inspires prophets and evangelists to speak.

He is the power that makes miracles and heroic deeds happen.

The Spirit is the power that transforms bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The priest calls down the spirit by extending his hands over the bread and wine at Mass to call down the Spirit.

The Spirit is the power that continually renews the life of the Church through the witness of saints, even as the Church suffers through countless crises that threaten her existence. The second reading is written against the background of one such crisis. The Christian community at Corinth is torn by divisions, as people boast that their spiritual gifts are better than those of other people. St. Paul reminds them that where the Spirit is, there is reconciliation and harmony. The members, though many, form one body in Christ. Just a few chapters later, in the famous hymn of love, he exalts love as the greatest gift, and he stresses that love is never selfish or divisive.

In St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, he identifies the fruits of the Spirit, the sure signs of the Spirit’s presence in a person. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, fidelity, mildness, and self-control. These qualities are a good gauge for measuring the impact of the Holy Spirit on our lives.

In particular, a clear sign of the Spirit’s presence is the experience of peace, especially in the face of life’s difficulties. Where the Spirit is, we are at peace with God, with ourselves, and with our fellow human beings. At the very moment Jesus breathes out the Spirit on Easter evening, he wishes his disciples peace. The Spirit is most often pictured as a dove, and the dove with the olive branch is a symbol of peace. People in search of worldly power, on the other hand, are never at peace. They are always restless and trying to get ahead of everyone else.

On this Pentecost Sunday, the Church prays for the Spirit to come and renew the face of the earth. We come to Church to have the power of the Spirit we received in baptism and confirmation strengthened in us, and the Spirit looks to us and depends on us to help him in his great work of transforming the world into the kingdom of God.

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