Pentecost at Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Norman, OK
Acts 2, 1-11 + Psalm 104 + Romans 8, 8-17 + John 20, 19-23
May 15, 2016
The Holy Spirit will teach us everything says Jesus Christ in John’s Gospel. That is quite a proposal when you stop to think about as I suggest we do today. I have been, and I suppose in some ways, I still am a teacher. We have all been teachers if not professionally we have been personally. Parents are teachers with or without a degree that says so. We all know what it’s like to be with someone who believes that they already know everything there is to know. There are a lot of people in this world in that category. Perhaps that is why this world is in such disarray right now. I’ve discovered that the best teachers are also the best learners. Many times I learned more from students than I knew before preparing a class often making the class preparation useless. Yet there are also teachers who believe that they know it all, and my experience as a student was that they did not teach very well, and if I learned anything in their class it was sometimes in spite of them. Believing that you know it all is an obstacle to the success of the whole project of learning.
This gift of the Holy Spirit which John describes today is a very profound and important gift necessary for life. It is in some sense a power for transformation, and an actual “spirit” or “attitude” with which to face the world. The gifting of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate today is not the “Birthday of the Church”. That idea has annoyed me for decades. In my opinion if there was one moment to mark the beginning of the church, it was at the Last Supper with Jesus on his knees. But having a “Birthday Party” today is a perfect example of how we have sentimentalized and reduced this power of God to trivial ideas that open us up to ridicule and misunderstanding allowing us to be written off by the secular world that looks upon us as silly dreamers who are trapped in some ancient mythology inspired by this “Bible” which gets used to judge, bully, and insult intelligent people. Something is off the mark with that thinking.
The Holy Spirit teaches the teachable. The Holy Spirit animating a living church raises questions as much as it provides answers. The Holy Spirit is what makes our church intellectual as well as spiritual. The two are not opposed. The Holy Spirit makes our church a place where great minds are awakened to the wonder of God and the mystery of creation. The Holy Spirit awakens the sleepy and disturbs the comfortable, especially those who think they know it all. The work of the Holy Spirit has not shaped a church that says “No” to everything new consecrating the past as something sacred; but rather the work of the Spirit shapes a church that continues to ask what something new means, where it comes from, and what good can come of it. Sometimes it is even the source of that “something new” itself. A people who live in the Spirit are people alive, curious, wonder filled, and seeking the truth, knowledge, and wisdom. A people who live in the Spirit have no confusion or doubt about God like too many in this world today who listen to the noise of the new atheists. But who can blame them when all they see and hear is a people who think God is my “invisible friend”, a security blanket, a mythological creature like Big Foot who may or may not exist! People alive with the Spirit are always seeking a greater and deeper knowledge of God who is not an item in this world. God is not the biggest thing that is. God is the reason for things being. Our Catholic faith is intellectual always seeking new and deeper knowledge and understanding. Our faith is not against or opposed to science as some would like to pretend. Science does not trump religion. The Church is against “scientism”, that idea that science is the only reliable source of knowledge and information. Science cannot prove anything about love, beauty, or truth. Yet our church has always been at the heart of science, and it has provided many of the greatest of scientists in history.
A people alive with the Spirit are a people of peace. Yet one hears again and again the cry that religion is the cause of violence and source of evil. It is an observable fact that this outcry begins very quickly after September 2001. The religious wars of the past have all had their roots in a tragic and serious wrong reading of the Sacred Scriptures. Again, the consequence of thinking we know it all because it’s written in the book, when in fact, we have not allowed the Holy Spirit to guide our reading of that book. The Holy Spirit teaches. What the book says is not always what is being taught by the book. The question is sometimes asked: “Do you believe the Bible?” It’s like saying: “Do you believe the Library?” That is what the Bible is, a “library”, a collection of various kinds of literature each of which must be known and studied for what they are and what they teach, not just what they say.
My friends, the Holy Spirit has come to set us free, free from ignorance as much as free from fear. What we see happening to those first believers is that they began to understand what they were being taught. At first, they thought they knew it all. They thought they knew what a messiah was supposed to be like, and as long as they thought they knew it all, nothing could happen. They could not accomplish anything. Wind and Fire destroy things, and what needed to be destroyed was their made-up minds. The wind and fire came; but like a forest after a destructive fire, new life springs up green and full promise. What Jesus gives and what we celebrate today is already more than we could ever imagine, but it stirs our hopes and inspires our dreams for a new age of wisdom and knowledge, patience, peace, and joy.