Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost
and Confirmation of Wil Kiley
22 May 2021
Cathedral of Saint Raymond Nonnatus
I, Ezekiel, prophesied as I had been told,
and even as I was prophesying I heard a noise;
it was a rattling as the bones came together, bone joining bone.
I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them,
and the skin cover them, but there was no spirit in them.
Then the LORD said to me:
Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, son of man,
and say to the spirit: Thus says the Lord GOD:
From the four winds come, O spirit,
and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.
I prophesied as he told me, and the spirit came into them;
they came alive and stood upright, a vast army.
Scripture is outrageous sometimes. The Bible is filled with beautiful story after beautiful story, and various interpretations of confounding parables and ancient wisdom have filled millions of volumes throughout history. And yet, there in plain sight, in one little phrase, everything we need to know is given to us.
“I prophesied as he told me, and the spirit came into them; they came alive.” What did Jesus come to do? He came to save us from ourselves, free us from sin, reunite us with the Father, and make us totally new. He tells us with no ambiguity, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) He desires to anoint us with the oil of gladness, that is, with the Holy Spirit; he promises us an advocate, a helper in all things, who will fill us with hope and breathe into each one of us the breath of new life.
The Holy Spirit is God, and yet we focus so little on him. Who is the Holy Spirit?
Who is this dove, this flame? In our Sacred Tradition with its robust Doctrine of God (mostly pertaining to the Father) and a truly radiant Christology, the third member of the Trinity remains somewhat mysterious…and not the good kind of mystery, either. For many Christians, the Holy Spirit and the raw, latent power that he brings with him is something that remains shrouded in confusion. The Spirit of Jesus and Advocate of the Father is often given a supporting role in the practice of our faith, and an encounter with him is sometimes explained away as fuzzy feelings or an emotional experience. And yet, the Christian implicitly knows the Spirit is so much more than this.
The Holy Spirit takes up residence within the Christian soul at the moment of baptism, and the gifts of his power become full and overwhelmingly efficacious when the Christian is sealed with the oil of gladness, the Sacred Chrism, at the moment of Confirmation.
Before the Crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples that he must go away from them in order to send them the advocate, who will accomplish two tasks for them: the Holy Spirit will “convict the world concerning righteousness and judgement, concerning sin” so that those who believe in Jesus might be free from the bondage of sin and death, and therefore be captivated by the “Spirit of Truth, who will lead you into all Truth.” (Jn. 16:7-8, 13) The completeness of Truth is synonymous with newness of life.
It is true that the Holy Spirit wishes to come upon us and seize us, take us over, but in God’s mysterious way the being-seized by the Holy Spirit only makes us more free. And who is the new person we’ll be changed into, the “new man” mentioned by the prophet Samuel? That’s Jesus. We are seized by the One who is the Truth, and are invited to share in his own divine life. And yet, as the Second Vatican Council taught us, by welcoming us into a share of his divine life, our true selves are more fully revealed to us. (cf. Gaudium et spes 22) The Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus, and it is Jesus who brings us with him to the Father so that we might be free to become fully his children; by living more completely the life of adopted son- and daughtership with the Father, we become fully ourselves. St. Irenaeus so famously quipped, gloria Dei homo vivens – the glory of God is the human person fully alive.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is a dynamic and effective reality, and he often comes unannounced as a “shock of grace”, bringing life to dry bones and making even the stoniest heart fleshy and alive. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatios of Latakia wrote about the “Pentecost Difference” in this way:
Without the Holy Spirit, God is far away.
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a 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 [sentimentality],
Christian living is a slave morality.
But in the Holy Spirit:
the cosmos is resurrected and groans with birth pangs of the Kingdom,
the risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating service,
mission is a Pentecost, a pouring out,
the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified.
We need the Holy Spirit. We need to beg for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who is truly the “Lord, the giver of life.” The world looks at Christianity as a dead letter, as the cause of sad, and grey hearts. The world has always believed that true freedom is achieved only in the absence of bonds and rules. The Christian knows that the truest freedom is achieved only in the absence of sin, and, if we decide to follow Jesus in sincerity of heart, we know the joy of holy freedom even on the journey away from sin.
We look out into the world, and we see dry bones. The language Ezekiel uses is extreme: a giant plain, filled with bones. Dry bones, dead bones, a lifeless place. The human mind sees something more potent than death: decay, finality; but the divine mind, the voice which speaks to Ezekiel sees something else: “Can these bones come to life? Prophesy over these bones so that they may come alive.”
How is the Pentecost difference accomplished?
How does the Christ move from being dead in the past to risen and in our midst?
How does the Church become refashioned from a merely bureaucratic organization to becoming the continuation of Christ’s presence in the world?
How does the mind shift its perception of authority from being a matter of domination to being a form of liberating service?
How does the Church’s mission of evangelization move from being a matter of propaganda carried into the world by hypocrite ministers to becoming a true pouring out, a gift of oneself in all the person’s strength and weakness?
Because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Life, and the Power of God. The Holy Spirit is wind and flame, and this Spirit desires to come upon us as he first came upon the disciples in the Upper Room – in a surprising way, in a raucous way, in a way that interrupts and reorders and makes us question everything about the way we are living, about what our priorities are.
Too many of us – us! The so-called faithful – too many of us are going about Christianity according to the “grey way” proposed by the world. Christianity, we have been told, is a matter of domination, of submission, of oppression of even the most basic and healthy desires.
We echo the words spoken by the dead bones of Israel: “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.”
In this dryness, in these feelings of hopelessness or discouragement, I want to reassure you: the Holy Spirit is living and active among us, and in the whole Church. Everything comes from the Holy Spirit!
“It is the Spirit of God who gives the possibility of being struck positively, and even fervidly, by vocation, by the grace of God in life-because vocation is the grace of God in life. It is through the Spirit that every person, like every being, enters into a vast design, as vast as the Father conceived it.” (Giussani)
Wil, today you are responding to an invitation made to you by the Father, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Your life – like the life of everyone here – is part of a vast design, conceived by God. Your ultimate place in this design is still unknown to you, but I invite you to have trust and confidence that God the Father has something marvelous in mind for you.
Wil, You have chosen as your new patron the illustrious St. Sebastian. Sebastian died as a young man – 33 years old (the same as Christ) – when he died during the persecutions ordered by the Emperor Diocletian in the year 288. He was tied to a tree and shot with arrows, but miraculously survived. In a moment of zeal, Sebastian went to the court of Diocletian and tried to preach the Gospel to him, and Diocletian had Sebastian clubbed to death. Like you, Wil, Sebastian was an athlete and a man of great virtue; he put all of that at the service of Christ and the Church.
Throughout Scripture, whenever a person is given a new task or a new identity, he or she is also given a new name. Abram became Abraham, Simon became Peter, and today, Wil, we change your name also. From this moment, your name will contain the reminder of this Sacrament and we will know you as Wil Robert Sebastian Kiley.
To all of us gathered here this day, I remind you: Jesus Christ is proposing something great for your life! Plans for a future full of hope and not of woe. He does not propose to us the miserable “grey way” of “pray, pay, and obey.” He proposes the means by which our lives might be full of color and light, a truly wholehearted and abundant life.
Christianity is not a matter of telling other people what to do. Christianity is a matter of telling people what God has done for them in Christ. What has God done for you in Christ? By living your life, and dying your death, and by rising from the dead and ascending into heaven, and now – today – by sending you his Spirit: God, in Christ, has recreated you. He has set you free from everything that keeps you stuck in the same old life, doing the same old things in the same old ways.
He has unlocked the gates of heaven for you, and has made it possible that the life of heaven is possible even here, in this life.
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.