[A homily from Pentecost 2002.]
When Christ sends his Holy Spirit, it’s because He’s got work to do: inside each of us, and through us, for the sake of the whole Church. Therefore, many are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Today is kind of a “spiritual Christmas.” On December 25 people give each other gifts; but today is God’s Christmas. God gives us gifts today because He’s sending us the Holy Spirit—the Gift, Himself, but He also comes bearing many other spiritual gifts. We heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that the first recipients of these gifts of the Holy Spirit were the apostles and the other disciples, Our Lady, and the other women. They were all gathered in the Upper Room and waiting in prayer, for Christ had said, when He ascended, “Wait here for the Spirit, the promise of the Father, and you will be clothed with power from on high.” So they were waiting for the Holy Spirit to come, and the Spirit did come, bringing many gifts.
Now, we often look to the Holy Spirit to give us gifts. And that’s OK. But now, what kind of gifts does the Holy Spirit bring? On that first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down, did He give St. Matthew a fancy home on exclusive beachfront property on the Lake of Galilee? Or, did He give St. Peter a bag of gold coins? No, the Spirit didn’t give them those kinds of gifts. Why not? Peter made a point of it in the next chapter; he said, specifically, “Gold and silver I do not have; but I give you what I do have”—and he healed the cripple.
So, the gifts that the Spirit doesn’t give—why doesn’t He? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with material goods and even money, in themselves. Well, the reason the Holy Spirit doesn’t give those gifts, aside from the fact that they can be occasions of certain sins, is because they don’t last. “Moths and rust corrode; thieves break in and steal,” said Christ about earthly possessions, when He was counseling us to store up heavenly treasure for ourselves. The Holy Spirit is concerned for our salvation, our eternal life and joy, so He gives the gifts that last.
When John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest men in the world, died, someone asked his accountant, “How much money did Rockefeller leave behind when he died?” The accountant wisely replied, “All of it.” That’s an important lesson. You can’t take it with you. And if you’re focusing on those gifts, material possessions or other things to give you a certain satisfaction or comfort right now, then you’re going to be without gifts, without provision for the life to come— which is the most important one.
Another one: I recently read this story about a man who had a very severe financial disaster in his life. So he went to his pastor and just plopped down in a chair and said, “I’ve lost everything.” And the pastor said, “Oh! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your faith.” The guy replied, “Well, I didn’t say I lost my faith.” “Oh, OK; I’m sorry to hear that you lost your family and your health.” He said, “Well, no; they’re still there.” Then the pastor said, “Gee, then, I’m sorry to hear that you lost your character, and your moral conscience.” The man replied, “No, I didn’t say I lost those.” So the pastor said, “Well, then! It looks like not only did you not lose everything, you didn’t lose anything of real importance!”
One of the messages of Pentecost is that God wants us to focus on the things that really matter, the things that the Holy Spirit brings to us, and wants to give to us, and wants to teach us. The Holy Spirit has a job to do, which is enlightening us and reminding us of everything that Jesus said. As Christ Himself said before He left, “This is what the Holy Spirit’s going to do: He’s going to remind you of everything that I said.”
We see in the gospel today, when the temple guards went out to arrest Jesus, they came back without Him, and their superiors demanded: “Where is He? Why didn’t you bring Him in?” They replied—such pious gendarmes!—“No man has ever spoken like that before!” They didn’t dare lay a hand on Him because they saw that He was a holy man. This is what the Spirit is trying to tell us: “Listen to Him, because no man has ever spoken like that before!”
Things like this have happened sometimes in history, and something similar to that happened, I think in the 1980s. Maybe some of you have heard the account. It was during the apparitions of Our Lady at Hrushiw in Ukraine, and crowds were gathering all around this church, and the Communist authorities, of course, sent out the police to disperse the crowd and make a few arrests, to make sure the people were suitably intimidated. So they went out to do that, and at a certain point one of the policemen went back to his superior, and his superior said the same thing: “Why didn’t you bring anybody in?” He replied, “Because I saw the Mother of God, too!” So he handed in his gun, and that was the end of his police service.
There are these moments when God breaks through into our lives, and this is the work of the Spirit, telling us, “Hey! No man has ever spoken like that Man before.” And Christ said, also in this gospel, when He was talking about giving the gift of the Holy Spirit, that it is something generous, abundant, overflowing: streams, rivers, of living water flow from those who receive the Spirit. This is God’s gift to us. Today, at Pentecost, the sluices of Heaven are open, and the grace of the Holy Spirit is coming down, and the Office even says that it rained enlightenment upon the apostles! He wants to give us this gift, He wants to let it pour out, this flooding of goodness and love and grace and gifts to us. But there’s still one person who can stop you from receiving that, from receiving that fullness of his gifts and his life…. you!
We’re the only ones that can get in the way, that can stop the flow of divine grace that gives us the Holy Spirit: through our sin; through our closing ourselves off to God; through our negligence, our just not paying attention, or not caring, or not valuing the gifts of God for what they are. We can do that, unfortunately. We have a choice. Either we’re going to have in us the Spirit of Truth or the Father of Lies. There’s no middle ground. And if we have the Spirit of Truth, we stand in God, in the Word of God, in the righteousness of God, and nobody can say anything against us, nobody can do anything to us. And whatever they want to do, even if they do do something to us, if we’re standing in God, and the Spirit of Truth is in us, come what may, it’s like the children in the furnace in Babylon. They were about to be thrown into this fire and burned to death, and they said to the king: “If our God can save us, then He will. But even if He doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. We’re not going to serve you or your gods! So do whatever you want! We’re standing for our God, our Savior.”
That’s how we have to be, living the life of the Holy Spirit. Come what may, we’re not going to serve other gods. We heard this last night, at Vespers, in the reading from Ezekiel. The Lord said, “I will cleanse you of your impurities and of your idols. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit; I will put my Spirit in you.” Now what kind of spirit is He going to put in us? I said the “Spirit of Truth,” but there’s something else—and I got it this morning. Believe it or not, God spoke to me this morning! At least, somehow or other, something got into my head or my heart. I asked a word from God for this Pentecost, just to know what’s on his mind at this moment, and I opened the Scripture. At first I thought it was a dud, because I opened and there was just an illustration on one page, and then footnotes on the other! So I thought, “There’s no word of God here!” But there was; at the bottom of the picture, there was a little caption, a passage from the book of Nahum, and it said, “The Lord is a jealous God.” That’s what He’s saying. I thought about that for a second, and then it came into my head: “Go to James!” OK, I go to James and see: “The Spirit He has made to dwell in you yearns unto jealousy.” So, God is a jealous God.
But this divine jealousy isn’t something petty, like a jealous human lover or a jealous husband. God made us, created us, wants us to love Him the way He loves us, and He does not stand for any competition. No idols, nobody to get in the way. He wants us! He guards us jealously, and He deals with us in that way. He will not tolerate other gods, other people or things coming in to take the place where his Spirit is meant to be and wants to be. It’s not like: “I’m a jealous God, and I’m going to kill you if you do such and such.” No; it’s: “I’m a jealous God, I love you! I yearn for you! Why don’t you love Me back? Why don’t you do for Me what I do for you? Why don’t you give your whole self to Me, like I give my whole Self to you?” This is what the Spirit is saying; this is what it means. The Spirit yearns unto jealousy—the Spirit whom God has sent to dwell in us.
So let us take this to heart, as we celebrate Pentecost, that the gifts of God are available to us, flowing like a river. We can open ourselves up to them; we can receive them. We just have to say “yes.” They’re there for the taking, or rather, they’re there for the asking, because we have to come to God with open hands and open heart. We have to seek the things that really matter, the things that are important in life, the things that go on, endure unto the next life.
This is the message of Pentecost now; this is the time to begin to live this life! He sent the Spirit on the apostles and said, “This is my Church now. Go on and start living what I preached to you for the past three years. The Spirit is going to help you do it. I’m going to be in you through the Spirit.” That’s what the Spirit gives us: the main gift is Christ whom He brings to us. Christ has ascended to the Father; the only way He’s with us now is through the Holy Spirit. So, whether it’s the Holy Eucharist, the other sacraments, or the word of God, or any other way Christ is present to us, it’s through the Holy Spirit. We have to connect with the Spirit, we have to receive and respond, knowing that this God, this Spirit dwelling in us, is a jealous God and wants us all for Himself. And that should make us happy! I mean, that should be the best news we’ve ever heard! Not “Oh, no! I’ve got a jealous God, so I can’t get away with anything!” No, it’s rather, “Thank God, that God is so interested in me, that He loves me so much He doesn’t want to let go of me for one minute! He does not want me to go to anybody else or anywhere else where I could possibly lose Him and my eternal happiness!”
So let us rejoice in this feast, receive the Holy Spirit and everything that God wants to give—be open, surrender, let Him do whatever He wants for you, and you will reap the rewards in this age and in the age to come.