Sunday June 3, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Pentecost Sunday
Reading I (Acts 2:1-11) Reading II (Romans 8:8-17)
Gospel (St. John 20:19-23)
Today the Church celebrates the feast of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit. The word 'Pentecost' actually means fifty days. It was fifty days after our Lord had risen from the dead that the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples as they were gathered around Our Blessed Lady. There, the Holy Spirit descended upon them as tongues of fire, which is why we wear red when we have Mass in honor of the Holy Spirit. We wear red because Our Lord reminded us that the disciples would be baptized with water and fire, with water and the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who provides for us within our hearts the fire of love, because the Holy Spirit is the love of the Father and the Son. He is the One who unites the Two to make the Trinity. It is said that the Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the love which unites Them. We see that the Holy Spirit is the outpouring of the love of God. God is love, so we can say the same thing of Jesus: He is the love of God in human form. He came down to teach us how to love and He gave us a new commandment: We must love. He gave us the ability to do it as well because He sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts. In fact, to demonstrate this most clearly, Saint John says simply in his first letter: "God is love."
In creation, we are told that we are made in the image and likeness of God. If God is love and we are made in His image and likeness, that means we are made to love and be loved. Jesus commands us to love and then He gives us the Holy Spirit so we can call God "Father." We share in the divine nature, we share in the divine life. The Holy Trinity dwells within and the Holy Spirit, the love of God, is poured forth into our hearts so we can call God "Father" - so that we can love. We could not call Him "Father" if we did not share in His nature; we could only call Him "God." We could call Him "Almighty" or we could call Him by any generic term, but to call God "Father" means that we share the life God has given us. Not natural life, but supernatural life. Not human life, but divine life. That is the reality that every one of us shares. We have been raised, elevated, from a natural level of thinking, being, and acting to a supernatural level and a divine level so that we can act as sons and daughters of God Himself.
To call God "Father" is not merely a privilege we have, it is the reality of who we are. We need to allow that to sink in, to sink in very deeply. Most of us tend to keep this at an arm's distance because we do not really want to make the changes that will be required if we accept it. But to reject it is to reject who we are. Saint Paul makes it clear that if we are children of God, we are members of Christ; and, as members of Christ, we are heirs of God and heirs of Heaven. But he said, "Only if we suffer with Him, so as to be glorified with Him." We like the glory part, we like the idea of going to Heaven, we like the idea of all the beauty, all the joy, and all the glory of Heaven. But if we are members of Jesus Christ, we have to remember that He went to the Cross. Saint Peter says that He left us an example so that we will follow in His footsteps. It is the Holy Spirit who does that for us. In fact, Saint Peter even makes it clear that when we suffer for doing what is right, then the Holy Spirit, in His fullness, has descended upon us. If we are pushing away the sufferings that the Lord sends into our lives, we are pushing away the Holy Spirit. If we are saying, "I do not want a part in Calvary," we are saying, "I do not want a part in Christ." And if I do not want a part of Christ in this world, then I do not have a part of Him in the next, either. It all works together.
What we have to understand is that we must be incorporated fully into Christ. On one level, we can say that has already happened in Baptism. But what happened in Baptism must be lived in our day-to-day lives. We are called to lives of holiness. We are called to imitate Christ in all things. The only way that this is possible is in the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul tells us: "No one can say that Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit." If we profess that Jesus Christ is Lord, that means we are His servants. It means He is the master and we will be obedient. We are not to be blindly obedient because Jesus told us that He would give us the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth and He will teach us all truth. Even the things of God that lie hidden, the Holy Spirit will teach us. It means we are being obedient to the truth. If we consider the fact that God is truth and we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we are made also for the truth, just as we are made for love. So, the truth is our dignity. "The truth will set you free," Jesus said.
Americans think that the truth will set you back. But the truth will set you free. We want real freedom, not this false freedom that our society gives to us. That is the freedom they would consider license: "I have the freedom to do anything I want." That is not freedom. Jesus said, "Whoever sins becomes a slave to sin." Sin is the opposite of truth; therefore, sin is the opposite of freedom. It is the opposite of love because it is the opposite of God. If we are children of God, made for truth and made for love, we are to act in truth and in love. That means we are to embrace the truth. Jesus is the truth.
We have been given all truth - it is found in the Church. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, just as each one of us has a soul that is within and the two faculties of the soul are the mind and the will so that we can think and choose. The Church is Jesus Christ and it is the Holy Spirit who possessed Christ. Christ has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts, but also to be the Spirit within the Church, to be the soul of the Church so the Church thinks with the mind of Christ, and wills with the will of Christ. Every single thing the Church teaches is truth. We are not talking about the things that individuals within the Church do, because some of those things are not truth. Just because someone has the position of a bishop or a priest or a sister or even a baptized Catholic, it does not mean everything that person will do is truth. It does not mean that everything you hear preached from a pulpit is truth. But every single thing the Church teaches, objectively, for the belief of the faithful, is absolute truth. That is something you can trust unswervingly, no questions asked, because that is inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us to lead us into all truth.
We have the Holy Spirit given to us. The truth, then, is not far from us; rather, it is within us. That is a promise that was made in the Old Testament: God would write His law in our hearts and on our minds. It is no longer the law written on stone, but rather it is the law written in the heart because it is the law of love. "Love," as Saint Augustine says, "never wrongs the neighbor." The love of God and the love of neighbor are the two greatest commandments because love never does anything wrong. Love is not selfish. This, again, is what the Holy Spirit leads us to: to be selfless, to be holy, to be filled with charity. That is what each one of us truly desires. The problem is doing it, acting on it, making the choices to actually live what we profess. That is the hard part. But as the psalmist said and as we repeated in the responsorial psalm today: "Lord, sent out Your spirit and renew the face of the earth." That is what we each pray, that the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts to renew us, to fill us with the love of God so that we will be overflowing with God's love. That is what is held out for us today.
I should also point out (because of what is in the Gospel) that when Saint Paul reminds us that we are heirs of Heaven and heirs of God, and we are children of God, and we call God "Our Father," all of this is possible because we are in the state of grace. If we are in the state of grace, then the Holy Trinity dwells within us. The only way we can be in the state of grace is precisely what we see in the Gospel when Jesus said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins you hold bound, they are held bound." When all mortal sins are forgiven we are in the state of grace, which is a consolation beyond all our wildest imagination. If you know that you have confessed your sins to the best of your ability, you are living the life of prayer, and you are trying to follow the commandments and live a holy life, then you can have relative certitude that you are in the state of grace and that you are heading toward Heaven. What a beautiful gift! That, too, is the work of the Holy Spirit.
We live, now, in the age of the Holy Spirit. If you look at Scripture (it is a wonderful thing) right in the very first verse of Scripture we see the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters, right at the time of creation. The Old Testament beyond that is really about the revelation of the Father. Then, the Gospels are the revelation of Christ. Now, in the Epistles and in the life of the Church, we have the revelation of the Holy Spirit. We see the Trinitarian life in the Scriptures. We must live that in our own lives. So we pray: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.