May 30, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Pentecost
Reading I (Acts 2:1-11) Reading II (Romans 8:8-17 )
Gospel (St. John 14:15-16, 23b-26)
Today the Church celebrates the solemnity of Pentecost. The word Pentecost means “fifty days”, so today is fifty days after the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord and it is the fulfillment of His work. Not only did He rise from the dead and ascend into glory, but now He has fulfilled the promise to send the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to give to us everything that we need, to fill us with the truth, to lead us into all truth, to provide us with divine life, and to bring us to the glory of heaven. There is nothing lacking at this point; we have absolutely everything we need. The only question now is on our part: Are we willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit?
We hear in the Gospel reading, as well as in the second reading today from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, that God has sent His Spirit into our hearts. In the Gospel reading, we hear about the indwelling of the Holy Trinity. If we are in the state of grace, God Himself dwells within us. Remember that wherever one Person of God happens to be, all Three are present because there is no separating the Persons in God. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit is present within us, so are the Father and the Son. We are temples of the Lord; we are the dwelling place of God. And through the power of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us, we have all the grace necessary to be able to live according to the fullness of truth.
The gift of the Holy Spirit given to us at Confirmation allows each and every one of us to live an heroic Christian life. In this day and age, that is exactly what is necessary. We have to live heroic lives, lives of heroic virtue. The times that are soon to come upon the world are going to require that we are living our faith to its fullest because that is the only possible way anyone is going to make it. We recall Our Lord speaking about that time and He says, If the time were not shortened, even the elect would fall astray. But it is through the Holy Spirit that we will have the grace necessary to be able to live through that time, that we will be able to maintain our faith, our hope, and our charity.
We have the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been given to us to enlighten our minds and to strengthen our wills. There is nothing lacking, but the problem is twofold. One, the Holy Spirit has pretty much been ignored or forgotten over the centuries, at least in common practice and devotion, even though in the Church He has been anything but forgotten. We know it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that forgiveness of sin comes about; that is part of the prayer of absolution in Confession. We know also that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that the bread and wine at Mass are transformed into the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. In the part of the Mass that we call the epiclesis, as the priest places his hands over the chalice and over the bread, he calls upon the Holy Spirit to come down upon these gifts in order to turn them into the very Body and Blood of the Son of God Himself. The Holy Spirit, Who is the Spirit of the Church, is the spirit of Jesus Christ; and the Church is Jesus Christ, so the Holy Spirit animates the Church. The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church. And so the Holy Spirit is not forgotten by the Church, but has been forgotten by the vast majority of people, at least in common devotion.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have those who want to call upon the Holy Spirit; and many are doing so in very good manner, cooperating with the Holy Spirit so that the gifts of the Spirit are very much at work. But then there is another element that is calling on a spirit looking for extraordinary things to happen. In the vast majority of those situations, it is not the Holy Spirit who is at work, but rather a very unholy spirit who can also provide lots of miraculous things. One can look, for instance, at the first reading and ask the question, “If the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles so they went out and spoke in various tongues, why don’t we see that now?” The fact is that we do. The truth is spoken in every single tongue around the world. The apostles needed to be able to speak so that all the people who were there would hear the truth spoken in their own language. Today the Church is spread throughout the world, and therefore the truth is still spoken in every language of humanity, not necessarily by one individual, but rather by the Church. And so the Holy Spirit continues to spread the truth. The Holy Spirit is given to us to lead us into all truth and to remind us of all the things that Our Lord has taught us, and that is done in and through the Church.
One could ask, “Why don’t we see the extraordinary things happening?” But we do. What more extraordinary things do we want when we have the forgiveness of sin, we have the consecration at Mass, and we have the sacraments? The most extraordinary things in the world are happening right within our own souls, but because we do not always see the external manifestations, we begin to doubt the reality that the Holy Spirit is at work, or perhaps we have just simply forgotten. It is true that the Holy Spirit even today continues to pour Himself out in extraordinary ways. There are people who are able to speak in various tongues. There are people who are miracle workers. There are people who can do extraordinary things by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is not going to be everybody; it is those whom God has chosen to do those things. But each and every one of us has the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is going to work within each one of us according to God’s own providence and according to our own states in life. The Holy Spirit is going to lead us into the fullness of truth.
Now if we do not want that fullness of truth, what we have done is to reject the Holy Spirit Whom God has given to us. If we do not want to be perfectly united with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is there but we are keeping Him at an arm’s distance and saying, in essence, “No, thank you. It’s nice of You to offer, but I know better. I have a better way of doing things. I don’t need any help; I can do it all by myself.” Good luck. The Holy Spirit was given for a reason – and it is because we cannot do it by ourselves. But the problem for most of us is not that we think we can do it by ourselves; the problem for most of us is that we do not want it. We do not want union with Jesus Christ, because if we did, we would have to change our lives, we would have to be living truly holy lives, we would have to be immersed in prayer, we would have to do things very differently than the way we do in our day-to-day lives. And I think if we were truly honest with ourselves, most of us would have to say, “I don’t want to do that.” What a tragic statement. It is a rejection of the gift of God.
So what we need to find is where that true middle ground is, to seek the Holy Spirit, to ask the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts. That beautiful prayer to the Holy Spirit, part of which we heard in the responsorial psalm and part of which we heard in the alleluia verse – Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love; send forth Thy spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth – we need to pray that prayer. We need to be willing to open our hearts, to let the Holy Spirit fill us with the fire of the love of God, with the zeal for serving God, with a true desire for holiness, and with the willingness to do whatever God wants us to do.
Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, when he talks about the latter times and talks about the apostles of the latter times which are soon to be upon us, says of these apostles that they will be blown by the Holy Spirit wherever He wills just as clouds are blown aloft upon the winds. All you need to do is ask yourself, “Am I willing to do that? Am I willing to do whatever God wants, just to drop everything and go? Am I willing to go wherever He wants me to go, whenever He wants me to go?” It is not an easy thing. Read the prophets and you will find that God would ask them to go different places and do different things that are not easy. Look at the Holy Family. God did not wait until morning to wake up Saint Joseph and tell him that it was time to go to Egypt – it was in the middle of the night! And he got up immediately, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and went. We realize that, if we are going to follow the Holy Spirit, He is going to lead us on the perfect path – but not necessarily on the path we would have chosen if it were up to our own selves. So we really need to ask, “Am I willing? Do I want it?”
We have been baptized into Jesus Christ, and therefore we have already vowed to God that this is what we are going to do. But now the Lord is leaving it up to us to make the act of the will. We are not on our own to do it, but God is not going to force us either. The Holy Spirit has been given to us and we need to cooperate. And God continues to ask the question. It is not going to be enough just to go to prayer one day and say, “Okay, Lord, do with me whatever You want.” That is a very good prayer, and the Lord is going to take you up on it, but because He will never violate your dignity, every time He is going to do something, He is going to ask you, Are you willing to accept this? Are you willing to do this? And we have to continue to respond over and over and over again, “Yes, Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy word,” as Our Blessed Lady said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
It is beyond us by ourselves; it is not beyond us with the help of the Holy Spirit. But we have to answer the first question: Are we willing? … Are we willing? The only way we are ever going to be able to do it is through prayer. We need to be deeply immersed in prayer because the things that God is going to ask of us have to be first of all discerned, because the unholy spirit is going to present lots of things to you as well. The devil is going to try to keep you very busy so that you do not have time to pray. He is going to give you lots and lots of very good things to do just to keep you from doing what God wants you to do. It is easy, looking on the natural level, to say, “I must be doing God’s Will because everything I’m doing is good. How could God be displeased with what I’m doing, everything is good?” But God could be looking at you, saying, But I’m asking you to do something different, and we respond, “But what I’m doing is good; it must be Your Will.” You see, the only way we are going to know is if we pray. If we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in prayer, He will teach us what we need to know. He will help us to be able to discern what is of God and what is not. He will enlighten our minds and our hearts so that we will be drawn into the very love of God Himself and be willing to do whatever God wants us to do. No matter how ordinary or extraordinary it might seem to us, it matters not; the only thing that matters is that we are doing God’s Will, that we are on the path that is going to lead us into the very heart of Jesus Christ and into eternity with Christ.
The only way we are going to be led along that path is through the Holy Spirit, Who is the Spouse of our Blessed Lady. With the two of them leading us, we cannot go wrong. But if we choose to do it our own way, then we are like a ship that has lost its compass and is blown around on the winds; it has no direction. The Holy Spirit has been poured forth into our hearts so that we can cry out, “Abba! Father!” If we are going to call God our Father, we also have to live the life that is required of us, to be children of God, members of Christ, heirs of heaven, and all that follows from it. All of those things are given to us through the power of the Holy Spirit, Who has been poured forth into our hearts.
It is time that we let the guard down, that we quit pushing the Holy Spirit out, but rather that we open our hearts and allow Him entrance into the very depths of our being so that we will be able to live according to the ways of God, so that we will know and do the Will of God, and that we will be willing to do anything God asks of us. That is a scary proposition for most of us, but just keep in mind that God only wants the very best. And if God only wants the best for you, there is nothing at all to fear. God loves you perfectly; He is perfectly merciful. He is not going to ask anything of you other than what is the very best. That might be the cross, but if the cross is the perfect way to heaven then that is what He is going to ask. And so, we need to get down on our knees and we need to beg the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and to give us the grace to say “yes” to God, to truly be children of God, to live according to the ways of God, and allow those gifts of the Holy Spirit to work within us. Not necessarily to speak in foreign tongues or to do extraordinary things, but to do the greatest thing of all; that is, to embrace the truth and to live the truth in the love of the Holy Spirit.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.