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Fr. Tim’s Homily for June 4, 2017

Feast of the Pentecost – A

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 Acts of the Apostles 2: 1-11 

1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13

John 20: 19-23 

 

Today is the Feast of Pentecost.  We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples – their Confirmation – the birthday of the Church, and the close of the Easter season.

Pentecost is a Greek word that means “THE FIFTIETH DAY.”  Fifty days ago today was Easter Sunday.

Pentecost was a word that the Jewish people used as well.  That is why in the Acts of the Apostles there were so many Jewish people in Jerusalem for their Feast of Pentecost.

The Jewish Pentecost reminded them that on the fiftieth day after the Passover of the Lord, when they were freed from slavery in Egypt, Moses went up the mountain of Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God.

So fifty days after their release from slavery the Jewish people were given the Law – and became a nation.

And fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples who were gathered in prayer – and the Church was born.

You will notice in that first reading from Acts of the Apostles when the Holy Spirit came upon those disciples, they saw TONGUES OF FIRE over each other’s heads.  That fire was a symbol of the presence of God.

Remember when Moses first went up that mountain, he encountered God in the burning bush – in the flames, which symbolized the presence of God.

There was also the sound of a great WIND.  Wind is also a symbol of the power of God.

You can feel wind and you can see its effects, but you can’t see wind.  It is invisible.

God’s power is always with us.  We see the effects of that power, and yet God is invisible.

Wind – BREATH.  We have in English the word “spiration,” which comes to us from the Latin.  Spiration” means “breathing into.”  “Respiration” means “breathing into again.”

You remember when God created the first man, Adam, out of clay God breathed into the nostrils of Adam, and Adam came to life.

And in today’s Gospel, on Easter Sunday evening, Jesus appeared to the disciples and “He breathed on them and said to them:  ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”

Spiration – “breathing into” – is where we get the word “spirit.”

Many of you, my age or older, remember that when we were children we used to make the sign of the cross as we said:  “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”…and now we say “the Holy Spirit.”

Why?  Because it is a better translation.  “Ghost” comes from the Germanic roots of our language – the word “geist.”  “Spirit” comes from the Latin roots of our language from which also comes “spiration” – “breathing into.”  The Holy Spirit is the Breath of God.

There’s a wonderful hymn of the Church that carries this theme, and here is the first stanza:

Breathe on me, Breath of God.

Fill me with life anew,

That I may love the things you love,

And do what you would do.

Breathe on me, Breath of God, Holy Spirit of God.

We have an expression that we use in English:  “You are certainly ‘A BREATH OF FRESH AIR!’”  My, if anyone says that to you, it is a high compliment!      We ask for the Holy Spirit to give us a breath of fresh air.

         And the breath of the Holy Spirit comes into our lives all the time, if we only notice.  I was thinking about when I was a young priest and in studies at the University of Notre Dame during the summer.

One day I was feeling rather melancholy.  I was missing Saint John’s Cathedral where I was stationed and the priests that I lived with there.  I was anxious to get back home, and just then the phone rang.  It was a priest-friend of mine from Cleveland.  It was so good to hear his voice!  He said, “How about if we get together for dinner?”  I said, “Great – when can we do that?”  He said, “How about tonight – I’m here on campus!”

What a breath of fresh air he was!  My melancholy was gone – the Holy Spirit had taken over.

So many of us have had the experience of sitting in a hospital surgery waiting room, waiting and waiting.  And then the surgeon comes out and says, “Your loved one made it through just fine.  You can come to the recovery room.”  That person still has the breath of life.

When we visit a funeral home and look in the casket, the only difference, really, between ourselves and the one in the casket is that we are still breathing – and they are not.  “Breathe on me, Breath of God.”    

We help to transmit that Breath of God to people around us too – who may be locked behind doors of isolation and loneliness, fear and failure, dependency and despair.  We can help open that door to fresh air and allow the Holy Spirit to take over. 

Peter Paul Rubens was a 17th century Flemish painter.  Often he would look over the shoulder of a student and then take their brush and, with a few strokes, make some little alteration to that student’s work that caused their painting to come to life – that made it seem to breathe.

The Holy Spirit comes to make those adjustments, those changes in us, so that we become the masterpieces that God has created us to be – the best versions of ourselves.  And the Holy Spirit uses us to help other people to become the best versions of themselves too.

Call upon the Holy Spirit today and every day:

Breathe on me, Breath of God.

Fill me with life anew,

That I may love the things you love,

And do what you would do.

         Come, Holy Spirit, Breath of God.  Come.