Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost
31 May 2020
Cathedral of Saint Raymond Nonnatus
G.K. Chesterton: “what’s wrong with the world?” “I am.”
Fr. Presta: “Hey pal, maybe the problem is you.”
The famous: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”
The Holy Spirit has not come to affirm the way of life he found us living. The Holy Spirit has
come to change us as a people, and we change as a people when we let the Holy Spirit change us
as individuals. To let the Holy Spirit in to my heart that he might soften it, renovate it, and set it
on fire with love and zeal is to cooperate with the work of grace. To resist this, and to remain in
my state of rigidity, fear, discouragement, and pride is, as Luigi Giussani said, to become
“increasingly detached from [my] origin, like a dry branch,” and to end up living a life “which
will leave [me] more disappointed every day, with a bitter taste in [my] mouth.”
In short, the Holy Spirit has come to make possible a totally free, a totally radical, a totally new
way of life.
1. The new way of life determines the way we see everything. The circumstances of our life
don’t change – there’s still work, still death, still car crashes, still unjust murders, still racism,
still cancer, still COVID-19, still homework, still family members who insist on ruining
every family meal by discussing politics, and, yes, still taxes. The circumstances of life don’t
change, but our starting point, the place from where we begin to engage the circumstances
The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of life and breath and not of oppression and misery, and so for
those who have received him and have let him change them, automatically situations of
despair become filled with hope, and situations of fear become marked by trust and
2. These have been stressful months, and we are brought new images on television and social
media that prove that the stress is only growing. In these important, even historic, days, I
encourage you, the Church, to pay special attention to your outlook.
A lot of trouble that the world has with accepting the Church is that we preach and
promise that even in the midst of this stress there is still freedom, joy, life, communion,
All people are looking for a life of freedom, joy, community, and hope in the midst of
life’s trials. So people hear us preach and promise, and then they wait and wait for a lived
witness of such a life. But what do most of these find?
They find what they were already finding in the world: camps, division, politicization and
an obsession with bureaucratic procedures, arguments of left vs. right.
They find those who are supposed to have been set free from sin and from the fear of
death lacing up their boots and applying their armor as they head into battle – not against
the forces of darkness or sin, but against each other, their brothers and sisters, so that their
version of Jesus and of his Church might finally reign. Such a witness actually undoes a lot of the good work we have set out to do.
3. In almost every debate in the Church today, each side claims to be on the side of or doing the
will of the Holy Spirit.
Consider one that is all-too-relevant.
One side says, “The Spirit wants the Churches open as soon as possible!!” The other
side says, “The Spirit wants common sense precautions!!”
I wonder if the Holy Spirit isn’t really saying, “What if I want both?” Then each side
says, “Both!? But, but, but….”
And then the tendency found on both sides to reduce the “other” (which of course in
the family of God there is no them/us, there is only “us”) to merely those “raging
liberals” or those “brain-washed Trumpers” actually reveals that maybe each side has
some work to do in order to discover what the Spirit is really after.
Here’s a good rule of thumb that I am learning particularly in these days: if I leave
prayer with all of my plans, premonitions, proposals, and impressions perfectly intact,
un-changed or un-challenged by the Spirit of the Living God, this usually means I
need to turn right around and go back into that chapel and actually talk to God.
More than likely, I had spent my prayer time praying to the anti-Trinity: it was
me, talking to me, about me…affirming all of my own endeavors and plans for
the ways in which the kingdom of God will come to fruition in this little slice of
But there is, I propose, a “Pentecost Difference” experienced by those who allow the
movement and presence of the Spirit to really change them and usher them into a new kind of
living. Here’s a brilliant description of this difference spelled out by the Orthodox bishop,
Ignatios of Latakia in 1968:
Without the Holy Spirit, God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is dead letter,
the Church is simply an organization,
authority is a matter of domination,
mission is a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy is no more than an evocation,
Christian living is a slave morality.
But in the Holy Spirit:
The cosmos is resurrected and groans with the birth-pangs of the Kingdom
the risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating service,
mission is a Pentecost (n.b. – a pouring out),
the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified.
Metropolitan Ignatios of Latakia, 1968
How does such a difference come to fruition in the Church? As I said, it will come to fruition
in the Church when it first comes to fruition in each of our own hearts and begins to change our
own lives, and the starting point from which we engage our circumstances.
How? Little by little. Sometimes the Spirit comes in power and glory, and converts us in an
instant. But this is rare. Usually, little by little, in the midst of our daily experience there is a
prick, a nudge, a second-thought, an idea, an inspiration.
“Don’t say the thing.” “Don’t do the thing.” “Oh, you’re thinking about Jennifer from down the
street? Text her right now and let her know.” “Maybe go down a different street today.”
“I am with you.”
The Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles and Mary gathered in the upper room. Pentecost
continues, and the Holy Spirit is being poured out upon the Church even in this very moment. If
we want to celebrate this fully, we must do so by living fully the implications of Pentecost.
Because God has given us himself, not just once in Jesus but AGAIN he sends himself to us in
the person of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, to soften our hearts, to let us know that we no
longer need to act out of fear or rigidity or self-defense.
Shortly after the Second Vatican Council Cardinal Leon Joseph Suenens, the former Archbishop
of Brussels, was asked by a reporter, “Why are you a man of hope?” His response: “Because I
believe in the Holy Spirit.” By way of conclusion, please join me in the prayer that Cardinal
Suenens composed for his diocese, which I offer this morning for the Diocese of Joliet as we
navigate these days; I pray in particular for the man out there, whoever he is, who will be our
+ Come Holy Spirit, teach us how to pray.
Give us, O Lord,
eyes for seeing,
a heart for loving,
breath for living.
Give us eyes for seeing,
Give us, we beg, your eyes
to see through them the world and all
to see their history and our own as you see
Grant us to think your thoughts day by day,
hour by hour.
Help us gradually to become that for which
you created us;
let us adopt your view of things, your way of
Make us responsive to your Word which can
enlighten and transform the life of each of us.
Give us a heart for loving,
a heart of flesh and not of stone
for loving God and neighbor.
Give us, we beg, your heart, that we forget
ourselves in perfect love.
We need to exchange our heart for yours,
our heart so slow to love all others but
Let it be you, oh Lord, who loves through us.
Give us a heart to love our Father, to love
Mary our Mother,
And to love your brothers and sisters, who are
To love those who walk beside us here on
And who sometimes are difficult to love.
Give us the breath of life,
That our lungs may be constantly filled with
the life-saving breath and air
to help us walk toward tomorrow without a
backward look or thought of effort;
to prepare for all that the world expects from
to draw fresh hope as if, this very morning,
To struggle against winds and tides, sustained
by your presence and your promise,
Carrying as we do, in us, the hopes and fears
of all the world.
Give us breath to live, your breath that you
send from the Father,
your Spirit, the Breath that blows where it
in gusts or sudden winds, or that light touch
with which you call us to follow.
Breathe on us, inspire in us, that prayer which
rises from your within us,
Calling for you to come in glory, reaching out
as to the fullness of God.
Lord, I need your eyes, give me a living faith.
I need your heart, a love to withstand any test.
I need the breath of God, give your hope to
me and all your Church
that the Church today will bear witness to all
May the world recognize all Christians
by their look of joy and serenity, their warm
and generous heart,
and by the unfailing optimism that rises from
Everlasting spring of joyful hope.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the ways of old,”
says the prophet Isaiah.
“Behold, I am doing something new,
now it springs forth: do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness,
and rivers in the desert.” (Is. 43:18-19)
P E N T E C O S T C O N T I N U E S
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