2023-05-28 - Pentecost Sunday, Deacon Gunther
You may have heard the story about Tom Harmon. Tom was an NFL football player for the Los Angeles Rams. He was also a military pilot and a sportscaster. As a young man he was a star football player at the University of Michigan.
In 1943, during World War II, while piloting a bomber over a Brazilian jungle Tom and his crew were forced to bail out. He was the sole survivor of the crash. He landed on a tree, breaking his only bottle of water. For days he struggled through the jungle of twisted vines and swamps up to his hips infested with snakes and wild animals. His sturdy football legs served him well during those many days of superhuman effort.
But his faith … served him even better. He prayed almost continuously.
Finally, he spotted a path through the thick underbrush and followed it to the hut of a native who showed him the way back to civilization.
When asked how he made his way out, while others usually starved or were eaten by wild animals, Tom replied “The Holy Spirit dwells in my soul. I kept praying to the Holy Spirit to lead me back to safety”.
Most of us can say like Tom “The Holy Spirit dwells in me. After all, he was given to me when I was baptised and confirmed.” But how many of us can say with Tom “I kept praying to the Holy Spirit that He might lead me?”
Today we celebrate Pentecost. Pentecost in ancient Greek means “the fiftieth day”. We rejoice in Pentecost 50 days after Easter Sunday by commemorating the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Apostles 50 days after the Resurrection of Christ. As is wonderfully displayed in the stain glass window at the back left.
Our vestments are red, and some of you are wearing red as well because the colour red symbolizes “joy” and the “fire” of the Holy Spirit.
Now we suspect that the disciples continued to meet in the upper room where the Last Supper had been held. But this time they were terrified. After watching in terror as Jesus died in crucified agony, they were not sure if they were next in line to be put to death. They knew that their lives would be changed, but didn’t yet know how. They were hiding in fear behind locked doors. Shutting out the rest of the hostile world.
And then a surprise! Out of nowhere Jesus bursts into their midst. The very first thing he said to them was “Peace be with you.” This greeting at that time actually meant “May God give you every good thing.”
So, when we are frightened, don’t we too hide behind the locked doors of our hearts?
Like Tom, we too can find ourselves in a jungle of problems. Except that our jungle could be financial or health or unemployment or relationships or temptation. And like the Apostles before Pentecost, we are not always clear about what to do. Yet Jesus comes to each of us through our locked doors. Right in the midst of our fear our pain our doubt and our confusion, and he says “Peace be with you.” It’s an inner peace that flows from his presence.
He walked through the closed door in the upper room. And the disciples were stunned. After all, their conduct over the past few days had not been very brave or supportive. They had denied him, betrayed him, run away, leaving Jesus to go it alone. But Jesus sought them out even in their weakness. He loved them so much. He ignored the doors they thought would keep everyone out, to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit. A Spirit that would in turn give them the grace and strength to break down doors. And send them out to preach the Good News of God’s love.
His presence signaled a new era in which the disciples and Christ are united in their mission through the Holy Spirit. He is showing his disciples their responsibility which can be both terrifying and beautiful. Their mission is to go out into the world to love others just as Jesus loves them.
Jesus breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.” This is another part of his gift of the Holy Spirit. He authorizes his disciples with the power to forgive or retain sins. Therefore, priests are a permanent source of authority to forgive sins, allowing the constantly re-establishing of our peace with God.
God loves us so much he wants us to realize that his Spirit is with us always as our advocate, our companion, our teacher, our source of grace and forgiveness. Whatever Jesus was for his apostles, the Holy Spirit is that for us today. The Spirit who gave his disciples the courage to go out to tell the Good News is the same Spirit that came to us at our baptism and confirmation. We have the same mission as the disciples and the same Spirit within us to carry it out. Jesus wants us not just to be his followers, he wants us to be participants. It’s ok to be fearful and it’s ok to doubt. But we too are sent. We may not be sent far. We may only be sent to our families, our church community, our neighbourhood, our school, or our place of employment. The important thing is that we understand that we are sent.
Our mission, wherever we are is to “love God … love others … and follow Christ”.
Remember, Jesus is in the room. He brings courage and faith where there once was fear and doubt. With Jesus in the room there is laughter and joy where once there had been sorrow and hopelessness. He brings “every good thing”.
So, later on during the Communion Rite, listen closely when Fr. Paul says the words “Lord Jesus Christ who said to your Apostles: Peace, I leave you my peace I give you...” “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” And you all respond with “And with your spirit.” Then when I invite everyone to “offer each other the sign of peace”, remember that this greeting you are extending means “May God give you every good thing.”
My friends, the Holy Spirit heals our hearts and guides our steps that go astray. He renews our spirit as he did for Tom Harmon if we just ask. And, like Tom we can say the Holy Spirit dwells in us today. The Holy Spirit is with us right now during this Mass, together with the Father and the Son. He is ready to help us to be disciples of Christ. To love and to serve others.
By being brave and volunteering in our community.
May God Bless You!