Monday, June 13, 2011

Pentecost - homily

Lord, send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth”. (Psalm 104)

In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited his native Poland one year after becoming the first Polish Pope ever. While this was a very meaningful trip personally for His Holiness, God planned it to be more than a sentimental nine day tour. In fact, He used the visit as a way to bring the fall of communism. In your study of the fall of communism in Europe, have you ever seen the Holy Spirit’s name mentioned in a history book? And, yet, He should get the most credit. At one of the early Masses on the trip, the Holy Father began his homily with our psalm: “Lord, send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth”. This wasn’t just a nice prayer that the Pope thought sounded nice; he was actually calling down the Holy Spirit upon that gathering…upon the million people there...upon the whole nation of Poland. His prayer was that the Spirit would renew the face of the earth in Poland. He called the Spirit to renew the people in freedom and in truth.

It worked. There would be evidence that the powerful and awesome Spirit of God descended upon the Polish people and renewed the face o f their country. Millions of people came to see the Pope; the rest of the country listened to him on the radio or watched him on TV. And, they took to his message…big time! He connected with them about Christ…about freedom…about the Cross…about truth. During those incredible nine days, the Polish people were so inspired to work toward living freedom that the Solidarity movement arose not long after. Communism fell first in Poland and then throughout all of Europe by 1989, ten years after the Pope’s visit. Looking at that incredible turn of events, we see that the Pope’s prayer was answered: the Spirit renewed the face of Poland and all of Europe.

It was really like Pentecost. It wasn’t as dramatic as “tongues of fire” as we heard in the first reading. But, ultimately, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall is pretty dramatic stuff. It’s all the same Spirit. It was the Spirit who renewed the Polish people. It was the Spirit who renewed the Apostles. They were cowering in the upper room, afraid to even be seen in public because people might identify them as followers of Jesus. Then, the Spirit came upon them as tongues of fire and they went out preaching the risen Christ to no end. 3,000 Jews were baptized that day and the Catholic Church officially began. The Spirit has been renewing the face of the earth through the Church ever since.

We should pray that prayer often. “Lord, send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth”. Renew the face of our family. Renew the face of our marriage… of my priesthood…of my life…of this campus. We began last school year at the GW Newman Center with a Mass to the Holy Spirit and asked Him to come upon us and renew the face of the campus. Boy, did this happen this year! The Spirit gave us definite signs that He has begun to renew the face of our campus for the better. Pretty incredible stuff from the Spirit at GW.

The Spirit is often imaged as the “breath” of God. Another translation of today’s psalm says, “Lord, send forth your breath”. God breathes His Spirit on us and in us (at Baptism). He breathes life on us. He creates life through His breath of the Spirit. He re-creates life through the breath of the Spirit. We are recreated…renewed by the Spirit. We are made new again. In today’s Gospel which is John’s Pentecost, Jesus breathes on the Apostles and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. What He says next is very significant for us as Catholics. He says, “ Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” We know it’s the Spirit who renews us. Now we know how: through the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit makes us new by forgiving our sins and wiping them clean. He does this primarily through the Sacrament of Confession; Confession renews us. Every person who comes out of the confessional is made new…a “new creation”, as St. Paul would say. Even if we confess the same sins over and over again…the person who confesses sexual sin walks out of the box a chaste person! Jesus gives priests the power to forgive sins (and this Gospel – John 20:19-23 - is the main Scriptural basis for the Sacrament of Confession) so that His people are made new again. I offer confessions so often to GW students and to the parishioners here when I can so that you will be made new.

Finally, in a few moments, I will call down the Spirit on our gifts of bread wine, and ask Him to make them holy. It is through the Spirit that they become the Body and Blood of Christ. It is at this and every Mass that we are renewed by the Spirit in the Eucharist. As we approach Holy Communion today, let us say this prayer in our hearts so that we will be renewed: “Lord, send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth”.

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