Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on June 8, 2019 at the 4:00pm Mass and June 9, 2019 at the 8:00am and 10:30 Masses
I bought this Fitbit recently for a fitness challenge we’re having at work, and I was surprised to find that it does way more than count my steps and heartbeat. It knows a lot about me. It knows where I am. It knows what I am doing (whether walking, running, exercising, sitting, or lying down). When I sleep, it knows how deeply and how long I am dreaming. It knows how well I’m doing (whether I’m in shape or tired). It even suggests on how I can improve myself, to have better eating habits and to exercise in my target cardio zone. It will even complain if I have been sitting around too long without doing anything. It’s actually like having a wife or mother attached to your wrist! Although to be honest, unlike a wife or a mother, the Fitbit can be fooled. I’ve noticed that if I eat desserts really quickly, it actually believes that I’m exercising!
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a Fitbit for our spiritual lives? Something that would help us know where we have been, how well we are doing, and where we need to improve in our relationship with God? There is something like that and today we celebrate the feast of this something, actually this someone, the third person of the Trinity. On Pentecost we celebrate the reception of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in Jesus’ name, giving birth to the Church. Each of us received a portion of this gift from the Church at our baptism (*** except for Stephanie and David’s little Joshua, who will be baptized after Mass tomorrow / today ***) and this gift is made complete at our confirmation.
Often when I am at the store and I am late or in a hurry, there is one person in line who inevitably pays by check. Come on! It makes no sense to have to hand write “one hundred twenty-three dollars and forty-five cents” to pay for your groceries. “I don’t want my identity stolen,” a woman said to me when I politely suggested she get a debit card. Your identity stolen? Your check has your name, address, phone number, and your checking account number printed on it. It kills me every time! But what about if I was literally being killed by someone, as Stephen was in last week’s first reading? Stephen reacted by praying that God would forgive those who were stoning him. I have trouble dealing with someone paying by check, and yet Stephen prayed for his killers? How was he able do that? Last week’s reading explained it simply. Stephen was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit provides us with the courage, wisdom, fortitude, and all the other gifts we need to face the challenges of life. We may never be confronted by an angry mob, but there are many times in our life when we face illness, the death of a loved one, relationship issues, problems, doubts, worries, and fears. In today’s gospel the disciples were afraid when Jesus was no longer with them, but they receive the Holy Spirit and it changed them. Some amazing miracles happened that day, but even more amazing was how a few simple, uneducated men and women were able to spread the gospel, grow the Church, and subsequently change the world! All by the power of the Holy Spirit! That is the gift we have received.
It is no mistake that the Holy Spirit descended on the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish festival of Weeks, or Shavuot. It commemorates the reception of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai by Moses. It occurs 50 days after Passover because that is how long the Israelites had wandered in the desert before receiving the law from God. We know the commandments and teachings of Jesus. So we know what God expects from us, yet often we’re not sure how to do it and what that means for our journey in life. That is where the Holy Spirit comes in: to lead and guide us, to help us to live God’s word in our life, to awaken faith within us, and help us to know the Father and his only son Jesus Christ. I graduated from Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit (its official name) and the school’s motto from John 6:63 sums it up best: “It is the Spirit that gives life.”
We love superhero movies. There are so many: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Justice League, Avengers, X-Men, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and this weekend Dark Phoenix comes out. Yet we fail to realize that we ourselves have the potential to live the life of a superhero through the power of the Holy Spirit we received at our baptism and confirmation. The same divine power that filled Stephen, descended on the disciples, and came upon the Blessed Mother so that she could bear the son of God, is within each one of us. Even Jesus was filled and led by the Spirit. In the gospel of Luke it says, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert.”
We need to acknowledge and utilize the divine power that dwells within us. We often forget that it is there. But it is ready to lead and guide us on our journey through life, beyond all our problems, doubts, worries, and fears. It is ready to transform us and make a difference in our lives and the lives of those around us. Pray and reflect on how the Spirit is working in your life. The Spirit inform you where you have been, how well you are doing, and where you need to go next. It will draw you into a closer relationship with God and reveal to you how he is at work in your life.
Ask the Spirit what God is asking of you this day, the week, this year, and this life. Because it is in doing what God has planned for you that you find peace and joy. The Holy Spirit is the Advocate, and an advocate defends you and supports you. If you are in the Spirit you cannot fail in the mission God has planned for you.
A Fitbit will track your heartbeat and your steps, but the Holy Spirit will make sure that your heart is full of the love of God and your steps are on the path to peace, joy, and our ultimate destination – eternal union with the Father and the Son!
It is the Spirit that gives life!
Rejoice and be glad!