A word from Pope Francis ~ “If we want a future of prosperity for all, we need to keep our compass pointing toward ‘true North,’ in the direction of authentic values.”
Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost – the 50th day of Easter. Pentecost began as a Jewish celebration of the wheat harvest in the late spring. No specific date was set – it took place when the harvest was ready.
Gradually it became customary to celebrate the feast 50 days after the Passover (the word “pentecost” is Greek for 50th day). This date gave the feast additional meaning. Jewish scholars had calculated that when their ancestors left Egypt, they arrived at Mount Sinai approximately 50 days later. It was there that God gave them the Law and made the covenant with them: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Thus, Pentecost became a time for the Jewish people to celebrate the covenant that made them God’s chosen people.
For the Christian community, Pentecost is really a double celebration. First, it is a remembering – we remember that event in history when Jesus fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. This happened several weeks after Easter when the Holy Spirit was sent in the form of a mighty wind and tongues of fire. The first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles tells the story. This is a past event though. It happened once in history. Just as on a birthday we do not become an infant again, so too this first sending of the Holy Spirit does not happen again.
But there is another side to Pentecost. We also celebrate Jesus’ constant sending of the Holy Spirit to his disciples, beginning actually on Easter night (our Gospel reading) and continuing into our own day. He quietly appeared to them, reconciled them after their desertion on Holy Thursday night, calmed their fears, and “breathed” the Holy Spirit upon them. Pentecost is really an ongoing event and not just past history. We do more than remember something that happened to someone else at another time, but we take part in what is happening for us today.
The Spirit of God is truly alive and at work in our lives today as we seek to grow as disciples of the Lord Jesus. St. Paul tells us that the gifts of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity” (Galatians 5:22-23). The presence of these gifts is a sure sign of the presence of the Spirit.
We are called to honestly believe that Jesus continues to send his Spirit in our time. The Spirit is not just given to others, but also to us. And we were also taught “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.” Our task is to believe and to ask. Living our lives as disciples of the Lord Jesus is not an easy task. We struggle to make his values and principles a part of our lives more and more each day. And we know that we cannot do this on our own. Fortunately, we have the Spirit to strengthen us in our efforts. Today we ask the Father to send the Spirit upon us in a deeper way than we have ever experienced before. If we ask for the gifts of the Spirit, God will give us these – and more.
I’d like to share an interesting experience I had just a few weeks ago. About a year ago a young man I knew well from a previous parish asked if I could celebrate his marriage at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. He had moved downtown and was a member of Holy Name parish and wanted to celebrate his wedding there. I agreed, he gave me the date and we celebrated his marriage on May 5th. With all of the paperwork and formalities taken care of, I drove downtown for their wedding rehearsal on Friday evening. Holy Name has a wedding coordinator similar to our practice here. She welcomed me and explained the customs of the parish and then left me near the front of the church as she went to the back to get the wedding party lined up for the entrance procession. A Security Officer came down the center aisle with an older couple and asked if I could help them. They told me it was their 45th wedding anniversary and wanted to get a blessing. They had married 45 years ago to the day in Minneapolis and honeymooned in Chicago. They came back to Chicago to celebrate their anniversary. I said that I could do more than give them a blessing – I could renew their vows. As we were walking up to the altar, the husband slipped me a small ring box and said, “She doesn’t know!” After an introduction to our prayer, the husband renewed his vows originally spoken 45 years earlier, followed by his wife. I then opened the ring box, blessed the ring and gave it to the husband to place on his wife’s finger. After drying their tears, they sealed their renewal with a kiss. And then, holding each other’s hand, they walked down the long aisle of Holy Name Cathedral in time for the groom to join me at the altar as the wedding rehearsal began! As the wedding party was walking down the aisle, I asked myself, “What just happened here?” A couple visiting from Minneapolis on their 45th wedding anniversary stopped at Holy Name Cathedral hoping to get a blessing, and I, a priest from the diocese next door, just happened to be there to renew their vows. I was certainly in the right place at the right time! And it was a unique blessing for me to be there for them!
I share this story with you on the weekend I celebrate the 40th anniversary of my ordination as a priest because it reminds me of a pattern I have often experienced as a priest. Many times I have found myself in the right place at the right time! From each one of my parish assignments to the seven years I spent on faculty at Mundelein Seminary to briefer moments like a hospital visit or assisting with a Kairos retreat or celebrating a particular wedding, funeral, or Mass – so many times I found that I was in the right place at the right time. I know that God has guided me in countless ways that I will never understand and brought me to the right place at the right time. I believe that God often works in our world through his timing – getting us in the right place at the right time. This weekend I thank God for 40 years of guiding me to the right place at the right time! And each time I felt the touch of God!
Thank you for your good wishes this weekend. I am blessed to be able to serve here at St. Isidore. I pray God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy