The feast of Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church. It was on this day two thousand years ago that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in the upper room and together they were changed forever. These first leaders of the Church were transformed by the Holy Spirit from fear into holy courage that enabled them to proclaim the Gospel with great boldness to people from, “every nation under the sun.” The Church could not exist without the Holy Spirit; Christianity cannot be sustained without the Holy Spirit.
Living By the Spirit
The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In baptism we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit as well as the theological gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity. These gifts make it possible for us to reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity if we choose to “live by the Spirit.”
In the second reading St. Paul describes what it means to live by the Spirit. He says, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outburst of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasion of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” All of these are obstacles to the presence of the Holy Spirit and threaten our salvation. It would do well for us to make note of this list and to use it as an examination of conscience to prepare us for confession. Some of the items mentioned may seem acceptable in our present culture, but they are just as dangerous now as they were two thousand years ago.
How Can I Live By the Spirit?
Paul says, “In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Obviously, we would hope that the fruits of the Spirit are apparent in our lives, but it isn’t so simple. We are not just naturally good. We must make a choice to overcome sin. Paul makes it clear, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit.” Jesus put it a little different. He said, if you are to be my disciples “you must deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.”
This may not seem like the “Good News” but it is. Our Lord desires that we have an abundance of joy in this life, but the key to that joy is his Spirit. With the help of the Holy Spirit we are able to do things that we would not normally be able to do. The Gospel gives an essential condition to receiving the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells his Apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Jesus knows we all struggle with sin, so he gave his priests the power to forgive sin. (Of course, it is Jesus himself who forgives our sins through the ministry of the priest.)
In the second reading, Paul mentioned some of the sins that are obstacles to the presence of the Holy Spirit. All serious sin drives the Holy Spirit from our soul, but we have the means to be renewed in the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Confession.
With the Holy Spirit’s Help
The Holy Spirit will help us to forgive others and to forgive ourselves. He will help us to make a commitment to pray every day, and to do the things we know we should do but find it difficult to do. It is the Holy Spirit who will help us to deny ourselves and make sacrifices on behalf of God, the people we love, and others. Making sacrifices for the people you love brings great joy and deepens love.
Each Christian’s Unique Responsibility
Every day, throughout the day, we should ask for the assistance of the Holy Spirit in the decisions we make and in the advice we give and the advice we ask for. We have received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we should pray for an awareness of which gifts He would like for us to develop for the good of the Church. It is through active participation in our faith community that we will most likely discover the gifts that Our Lord wants to develop in us.
We are created in the image and likeness of God and one of our most important attributes is our spirituality which we are responsible to develop. How much time do we spend in spiritual formation? How much time do we spend in prayer, adoration and worshiping God, Scripture reading and reading the lives of the saints and Church documents?
How much time do we spend talking with others about the truths of our faith? If we do not share our faith with others, we are failing to fulfill our baptismal responsibilities.
Our Community’s Responsibility
In his homily at the Pentecost Vigil Mass, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, a Missionary of the Holy Spirit, stressed three things. He asked the people of San Antonio to pray with great fervor to the Holy Spirit for the protection of religious freedom which is being threatened in this country. He asked that we pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that we all may have a deeper faith formation especially as we approach the “Year of Faith” which begins this fall. And finally he asked that the people of the Archdiocese pray for unity as the leadership team plans for the future of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and of course to pray for vocations.
God has a great plan for humanity and through His Church and His gifts He has made it possible for everyone to discover and live that plan, but we must choose to live by the Spirit.
This blog was originally preached by Deacon Tom Fox as his homily for Pentecost Sunday (B) at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.