Readings: Acts 2.1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 12.3b-7,12-13; John 20.19-23 (See the readings at usccb.org)
Homily text below:
There were two thoughts that came to my mind when I read this first reading for today, the story of Pentecost. The first thought was this: “I’m so glad I’m not the one having to proclaim this out in public! Thank you very much!” It’s not an easy reading by any stretch. It’s a tough one; all those names and everything, so thank you.
The second, however is a fair bit more introspective. It brought me right back to my last couple of weeks on pilgrimage in Italy. It was a great trip; lots of fun, very inspiring. And I was able to spend a few moments at the beginning and at the end of the trip at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. You’ve seen pictures of this basilica; it’s a spectacular place. Inspiring architecture, artwork that elevates the soul. And people. Tens of thousands of people from all over the place.
We were there for Sunday a couple of weeks ago, for the audience where the Pope prays and speaks to everyone at noon. And there I was in a group with a bunch of people from the United States and Canada. Next to us was a group from Croatia. And there were African nuns walking by. And a German group. And people from the Philippines. and of course a bunch of Italians. And on and on and on… All together, in the same square, worshiping God, hearing the successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis. All these languages, all these people, all gathered together.
There was Pentecost, truly, right there in that place. All these languages. All these people.
Now that really hit me the day before I came home. As I said, I went back to the basilica; went to go and pray for a bit. There were a couple of Masses going on, with all kinds of people there. There were tourists and pilgrims from all over the place. I went to the tomb of St. John XXIII and prayed my breviary.
As I was praying and reflecting on everything and everyone around me, it just hit me, stronger than I expected: This is the nature of the Church, in very a real, in a very mystical way. That in the Church, in the Holy Spirit who is active in the Church, we are never truly alone. We are connected by something that transcends distance, that transcends language, that transcends culture, transcends upbringing, or race or gender or age. In this Church of ours, we are connected, powerfully, to each other by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the Living God is in this world, is in this very room right now, and our bodies are his temple. He raised Jesus from the dead. In him we are more united than we possibly know. In him we are never alone.
It was amazing. As if to drive that point home to me (because I can get a little dense when it comes to me and God) as I was walking out of the basilica that day, a week ago Saturday, thousands of people again in that basilica: a couple came up to me. They were wondering if I could speak English (and you know I kind of can a little bit) and wanted me to bless some rosaries they had bought. They were from Canada. We’re never alone! Thousands of people, and this is who I come across?!
Well, why did this hit me so profoundly at that place that day? Well, I’m going to be honest and a little personal here, so please indulge me for a bit. As I was going through this pilgrimage, we had a lot of fun and see amazing things — saw the Shroud of Turin, which was AMAZING and very humbling — What was in my mind throughout the entire pilgrimage was all of us here. And again, if I can get very personal, I was thinking about this upcoming move that I’ve been asked to make to Saskatoon at the end of June, and how it’s going to be hard to leave. That was going through my mind the entire way.
I may be alone in this — but I doubt it — that any time there is a major change in life, it can leave us feeling a bit alone. A bit isolated. Whether it’s a move or a change in job or change in relationships or whatever — and it can a very happy thing, too! — change can leave us feeling a bit alone and a little bit uncertain and even a bit afraid.
Look at the disciples. There they are, huddled up by themselves in that upstairs room in the house, afraid to go outside. They’ve experienced huge change. Their close friend Jesus died, and then rose from the dead, and went back to heaven. And now they’re all by themselves. But then the Holy Spirit comes. The Holy Spirit comes and fills them. Those tongues of fire above their heads? That’s more like a pilot light, with much more going on within. They become truly united. They have a unity in purpose and a unity in boldness. The Spirit brings them — and the people around them outside the house — brings them together in a way that transcends what is humanly possible.
What I felt so strongly as I prayed that day at St. Peter’s Basilica and, frankly, what I’ve felt here in these parishes over the years is something that speaks to the very nature of the Church. We are united in the Holy Spirit more than we can possibly know. As St. Paul says, we are members of one body.
In a real way, it doesn’t matter if we’re separated by distance — whether it’s the Atlantic Ocean, or Highway 5 to Saskatoon, or separated by language as so many of us were in the basilica, or separated by circumstances or by anything else. St. Paul even teaches us in Romans 8 that not even death separates us from the love of Christ. And in the great tradition of St. Augustine, the Love of God is, literally, the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one body in Christ. Remember back to the theme song from World Youth Day way back in 1993 said, We are one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone.
The same Holy Spirit who was poured out into the world on Pentecost, is the same Spirit who’s here today, working to make us one. May we be open to him: open to him, and let him help us truly live as we truly are. We are one body, one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone.
(For more reflections and background about this Catholic Guy pilgrimage, click here.)
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