Faith Is an Explosion of Power
June 8, 2003
A woman collared one of the salespersons in a large local bookstore with a complaint. She said, “I keep coming in here to buy books on the best seller list, and every time I come in you’re out of stock. I don’t get it. You are a big national chain. Haven’t you heard of computers? They could help you organize your inventory so that books would be accessible.” The clerk, somewhat irritated, said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, that your book is not in stock, but we’re very good at getting books here quickly. Which book are you interested in?” She said, “The book is called How to Lose Weight and Grow in Beauty.” “Well, that’s simple,” said the clerk. “Look, right now I’m writing up for you a book order for one copy of How to Lose Weight and Grow in Beauty, and I’m going to mark it ‘Urgent.’”
Urgency is not a word that we normally associate with religion. Emotional commitment and enthusiasm are not words that we regularly use to describe the way that we practice our faith. Yet on this great day of Pentecost, as we bring the Easter season to its close, our scriptures are filled with urgency, emotion and enthusiasm. The Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples gathered together as a mighty wind and in tongues of fire. Jesus cries out in the temple, “All you who are thirsty, come to me and drink.” These are not business-as-usual scenes and proclamations. In fact, the whole thrust of the feast of Pentecost is to tell us that if our faith is going to be real and effective, it must be characterized by an urgency, by an emotional commitment, by enthusiasm.
This can be a difficult challenge for many of us, especially those who have been Catholics for our whole life. Although we have faith and our faith is genuine, our faith can become like an old shoe—comfortable, but not particularly exciting; familiar but not anything that occasions an emotional response.
We should realize that such a situation is a strange contradiction. Because if we really think about what we believe and let it shape our lives, it should move us to excitement and enthusiasm. We are alive! We believe that we have been saved! We believe in a God who loves us! We hold a promise of eternal life! These are not just small matter-of-fact bits of information that we store in our heads. These are not parts of our life that we want to file next to our shirt size or the color our eyes. These are great eternal truths, issues of life and death, hope and joy, issues that should in fact move us to profound commitment and deep emotion. Faith, real faith, should be something characterized by urgency and enthusiasm.
So what are we to do if our faith has become ordinary, if our life has become routine? How can we allow the strength of the gospel to shake up our life and move us on a deeper level? There are many approaches one could take, but I am going to suggest two: thankfulness and generosity.
There is not a person here today who does not have reason to be thankful. No matter who we are or what is happening to us, there are still reasons for gratitude in our life. We must claim those reasons. Who are the people who are loving us? What are the material possessions that give us comfort? How does our health help us to live another day? If we take time to reflect upon the ways that we have been blessed, we can begin to feel a thankfulness within us. That feeling of that thankfulness can change us. It can make us people more likely to get up in the morning and say to ourselves, “I’m fortunate to be alive. This is going to be a good day.” When we live our lives with that feeling of thankfulness, we are directing our lives towards enthusiasm.
There is not a person in the church here today who does not have opportunities for generosity. Therefore, we should ask ourselves who needs us, and what do I have to give? By the things that I know, by the things I possess, by the things I can do, how can I make someone else’s life better? When we identify these opportunities for generosity, we should act upon them. For giving is in itself an affirmation of life. There is no more satisfying feeling than knowing that we have contributed to the benefit and joy of another. If we live a life of generosity, we will become people who live lives of urgency and joy.
Faith is not a mental exercise played between the expected confines of the routine. Faith is an explosion of power lived in urgency and enthusiasm. The English word enthusiasm comes from two Greek words which mean “God dwells within.” So let us, as followers of Jesus, live our lives in thankfulness and generosity, so that we can feel the awesome power of the God who dwells in our hearts.
The Kiss of the Spirit
June 4, 2006
John 15:26-27, 16:12-15
We all know the kind of person we want to be, but what happens when we fall short? We all know the kind of life we want to live, but what happens when our real life does not measure up? The short answer to this question is that God adapts. Adapting one’s self for the sake of another is a profound sign of love.
Tom and Alice were young and deeply in love. They had been married for four years and their friends had given up on waiting for their love to fade. These two had the ability to keep their love fresh and alive. They were easy at showing affection in public, and many people would point to them as an example of a couple who knew how to maintain romance in their relationship. Then tragedy struck. Alice suffered a severe stroke that paralyzed half of her body. She was confined to a wheel chair. Tom became the primary care giver. The two struggled to continue loving each other in these new circumstances. One day as Tom entered the room, he found Alice crying. “I’m so discouraged,” she said. “How can I be a partner with you when I am in this condition? I can’t love you like I did in the past. Even the simplest things are taken from me. When you enter the room I want to smile, but I can’t do it. Only a part of my mouth turns upward, whereas the paralyzed part remains a crooked little frown.” Tom thought for a moment and then knelt down in front of his wife’s wheelchair. He carefully twisted his own mouth until it mirrored hers. Then he gently kissed her. “See,” he said, “We still fit.”
Adapting oneself to the needs of the other is a profound sign of love. This is exactly what God does for us. In fact, this is what we celebrate today on the feast of Pentecost. On this feast we celebrate the mystery of how the love of God comes into our lives. Pentecost is the conclusion of the Easter Season. We have already celebrated Jesus’ dying and His rising and His ascension. But all of those powerful acts of salvation are irrelevant if they do not impact our lives. Unless we can carry within us the affects of Jesus’ dying and rising, all the power and grace of that paschal mystery is wasted. Today on the feast of Pentecost we celebrate the truth that God has given us God’s own Spirit to unleash the power of Jesus’ resurrection in our lives. Jesus breathes on the disciples in the gospel and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It is God’s own Spirit that allows the effects of the resurrection to match our circumstances.
It is not by chance that many of the great mystics of the Christian tradition have imagined the Spirit of God as a kiss. God’s Spirit is that place where the love of God touches our lives. The Spirit of God is flexible in that touch. A spirit by definition does not have bodily form. It is not a concrete thing. Therefore, the Spirit of God is fluid and can adjust to our personal conditions. The Spirit of God reshapes herself to meet the contours of our lives.
The good news of Pentecost is there is no place, no situation in which we find ourselves, into which the Spirit of God cannot come. Are you a sinner? The Spirit of God comes to you in your sinfulness and prompts you to repentance. Are you an addict? The Spirit of God enfolds you in your addiction and steels your will to say “no.” Have you experienced a loss? The Spirit of God comes to you in your sorrow and plants a seed of hope. Have you lost the zest for living? Is everything ordinary and routine? The Spirit of God comes into your heart and opens your eyes to see the wonder of creation. Are you experiencing divorce or rejection? The Spirit of God holds your heart and makes you patient to believe that love can still be in your future. Are you dying? God’s Spirit comes to you in your fear and opens your heart to live each day and surrender yourself to God.
There is no place into which the Spirit of God cannot come. There is no circumstance which the Spirit of God cannot invade. The good news of Pentecost is that God takes the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection and adapts it to match the conditions of our lives. This is God’s promise. This is God’s intention. This is God’s gift. To make sure that in every time and place the kiss of the Holy Spirit will always fit our lips.
The Holy Kiss of God
May 27, 2012
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
Throughout Christian history mystics and spiritual writers have at times referred to the Holy Spirit as “the Kiss of God.” It is a striking image, because it conveys not only the truth that God is love but it pictures that love in action. It says that the Love of God touches our lives in an intimate way. So believing in the Holy Spirit, is believing that God has touched us personally and deeply.
What does this touch of God’s Spirit entail? St. Paul is helpful here. He says in today’s second reading, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.” This is Paul’s way of saying that our faith is a gift. If we say we believe in Christ, it is not because we are smarter than, or holier than, or better than other people who do not believe. We are able to believe because God has gifted us with the Holy Spirit who allows faith to happen. This is important. We are sitting in this church today because of God’s gift. Sometimes we think, “I come to church, I am a believer because that is the way I was brought up, or because I want to do what’s right, or because I have an inclination toward the spiritual.” All these things can be true, but the fundamental reason that we are here is because God has given the Spirit to us which allows us to believe. We have been kissed by God.
And the Spirit comes bearing other gifts. Again, Paul is helpful. He says, “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each individual for some benefit.” When the Spirit gives us faith, the Spirit also brings individual gifts which we can use. This is important because sometimes we may be tempted to think that we have no gifts and nothing to offer. Usually when we say “I don’t have any gifts,” we are really saying, “I don’t have his gift or her gift.” But we do have our gift. Paul is insistent. If we have faith, we also have been given something that we can offer. It might be our intelligence, our ability to connect with people, our talent for speaking and explaining things, our openness to listen, or our skill in getting things done. There is no ungifted person. Every person in this church today has a gift. It is our responsibility to own that gift and to use it.
This leads us to the last point. We are called to use the gift we have been given not only for our benefit, but to build the Kingdom of God. We are called to use our abilities not only to earn a living, and make ourselves comfortable (although there is nothing wrong with that), but also to serve God’s purposes. We are called to be sure that our gift is used to serve our family, our church, and our world. We must make a difference in the life of others.
So, we are sitting in church on this Pentecost weekend because God has given us the Spirit who allows us to believe. At the same time each of us has been given a gift to use for the sake of God’s Kingdom. Now, then, is the time to own our gift and use it. Or to put it another way: Since God has kissed us, it is time for us to kiss back.
Engagement with the World
May 20, 2018
Sometimes we imagine that faith in Jesus Christ is a personal matter, a way of coping with the difficulties of living and assuring eternal life. No small part of today’s feast of Pentecost is intended to remind us that this personal approach is incomplete. Now of course, our faith helps us deal with life’s challenges, with sickness, failure, betrayal, and death. But disciples of Jesus know that their ultimate call is to participate in the transformation of the world.
Today’s responsorial psalm sets the tone for the feast: “Lord, send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” Now God’s spirit certainly comforts us in our pain and guides us through our doubt. But God’s spirit is also a fire, intending to burn out and destroy everything in our world that is opposed to God’s will.
And the scope of the spirit is universal. Look at the number of places Luke mentions in today’s first reading. Pentecost takes place in Jerusalem, but it affects people from Egypt, Libya, Rome, and twelve other places. Clearly the role of the spirit is not some local concern, but a universal one. God’s spirit intends to renew the face of the earth.
Our call then, as followers of Jesus, is to become engaged in the issues of our world. To work for justice wherever injustice is found. When the risen Christ appears to the apostles in today’s gospel, they are huddled in a locked room. Jesus comes to tell them they must leave that room behind. He says, “As the Father sent me, so do I send you.” Jesus calls upon disciples to leave the security of the locked room and work for justice in our world.
So disciples of Jesus are meant to be agents of change in our world. What issues, what causes are we called to undertake? There are many choices, and we are free to choose those opportunities that match our experience and our gifts. Pope Francis has spoken eloquently upon the threat to the environment of the earth. What can I do to somehow lessen the waste that is so much a part of our American culture? How can I use my political leverage to ensure policies that will be more protective of our planet? Catholic teaching is clear that every person has the right to immigrate to another country in a just way. How can I lend my voice to the voice of others who are seeking to establish a just and generous immigration policy for our country? Human life in our society is threatened by abortion, poverty and neglect of the elderly. What can I do in my own community to see that human life is protected from the forces that threaten to destroy it?
In our own parish, we provide opportunities for action. Two weeks ago, you heard an appeal to participate in our Adult Learning Center, to help the clients there achieve a high school diploma and build a better future. This weekend, our Pastoral Council again invites you to participate in Neighbor-to-Neighbor meal, which strives to lessen hunger and loneliness. There are many options we can choose. Choose one and act.
Faith in Jesus is more than a comfort and a promise of salvation. Faith calls us to become engaged in the issues of our world. We pray, “Lord send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” It is only reasonable then to conclude that God’s work of renewal will move through us.
The Spirit for the Future
May 23, 2021
John 7: 37-39
There is a frightening line in today’s gospel. Jesus says to his disciples, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” Ouch! This sentence tells us that Jesus knows our future and that there are many parts of our future that are not good. All of us will have to face in our future some kind of tragedy, some kind of suffering, some kind of loss. Jesus knows what those trials will be, but he does not tell us because we are not able to bear it now. Now we can imagine what are trials might be by looking at the experience of other people. Perhaps you know a couple who have lost a teenage daughter or son in a car accident. Maybe someone in your family has been diagnosed with cancer. Maybe you watched a parent die a slow and painful death. With each one of these stories the recognition comes to us that in a month, in a year, or maybe in ten years that trial might be mine.
Now the good news in today’s gospel is that it does not end with Jesus’ frightening statement. Immediately after he points to the future, he promises the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth who will guide us. The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we might have the strength to face the trials that are to come. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence within us giving us the courage in times of tragedy and patience when we must suffer.
Now those gifts are not necessarily given to us today, but we believe that the Holy Spirit will provide them when they are needed. How many times have you looked at other people who are suffering and said to yourself, “I could never face that trial. I would never have the strength to carry that burden.” What you say is true enough, there are trials in life that go beyond the human power to address, but the Holy Spirit is our super-human power. We believe that when the trials of the future emerge, the Spirit will give us the strength we need.
So, all in all, it’s probably better that we don’t know the future. As Jesus says, “It might be too much for us to bear.” But even though we do not know what is to come, we do know who will be with us when it arrives. We have the Spirit of God who can give is courage, patience, and hope no matter what trial we have to face.