Deacon Pat's Books

Deacon Pat's Books

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Pentecost Sunday – Year B

 


Pentecost Sunday – Year B

Original Author Unknown (Adapted)

There is a famous story about the prophet Elijah in the First Book of Kings.

He has made powerful enemies and is hiding in a cave.

The Lord tells Elijah to stand outside and wait for the Lord to pass.

There is a strong violent wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by fire, but the Lord is not in any of these.

Then comes a “light silent sound,” also translated is some versions of the bible as a “still small voice.”  

Sometimes, especially at a retreat, for example, there is a tendency to take this story to mean that God always comes quietly.

But, nothing could be further from the truth.

Look at what happened at Pentecost.

There was “a noise like a strong driving wind,” and “there appeared to them tongues of fire... and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

What about the earthquake?

In chapter 4 of Acts we read, “As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, the Lord can manifest himself in any way he pleases.

In John 3:8, Jesus says to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Would it surprise you to learn that in this verse the same Greek word is translated as “wind” at the beginning of that verse and “Spirit” at the end?

It is this unpredictable Spirit in whom, as we recite the Creed, we profess faith as “the Lord, the giver of life.”

In ordinary usage, the first, most obvious meaning of “giver of life” would refer to parents, whose loving union gives life to a new human being.

But that is only the beginning of their giving of life.

If all goes well, they will continue to give life, under a variety of forms, for many years.

Nor is it only the parents.

There are grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and others, all of whom “give life.”

“Giving life” is clearly much broader than “bringing into being.”

We can engage in many “life-giving” activities with respect to persons who are already alive, because we understand life to mean more than simply being alive.

Blood donors and organ donors are givers of life.

So are those who dedicate their lives to the service of others, or those whom we honor on Memorial Day who gave their lives to and for their country.

The prayer of St. Francis describes many other such activities that any of us is capable of—

·      bringing hope in the midst of despair,

·      light in the midst of darkness,

·      pardon after injury,

·      faith in a time of doubt, and so on.

Francis identifies these with being “instruments of peace,” and peace is one of the nine “fruits of the Spirit” listed in St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

Even those who provide hospice care to the dying bring life through the respect and dignity with which they endow the situation.

Think of Mother Teresa, finding persons who were left in the gutter to die and bringing them into a place where they would be surrounded by love in their final moments.

And returning to the idea of life -

The first sign of life in a newborn child is “inspiration,” i.e., when it draws its first breath.

The first sign of death is the final “expiration,” i.e. when you exhale your last breath.

Would it surprise you to learn that the Latin word “spiritus,” from which these words come, means breath, and that “Holy Spirit” could be translated as “Holy Breath?”

What do we see in the Gospel?

Jesus “breathed” on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

What do we see in the creation of Adam: “Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

It’s all about giving and what is given.

The Spirit is the “giver of life.”

The Spirit inspired Mother Teresa.

The same Spirit inspired St. Francis.

The same Spirit is alive and well and active in the Church today and giving life in whatever form it is needed.

Giving, of course, implies receiving, accepting, and putting the gifts to good use.

Putting the gifts to good use.

That’s where you and I fit in.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Lent - Walking into the Desert

 Are you ready to walk into the desert? - Prayerful Path

 

Homily -  1st Sunday in Lent, Year B

Today, we hear that the “Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.” 

What a great passage this is to begin the Season of Lent! 

Jesus didn’t just get up off the recliner and decide to go into the desert. 

He didn’t go out there on a walk-about, trying to find himself. 

No, the passage tells us that the Spirit drove him into the desert, and that’s why he was there. 

This past Wednesday, we ourselves were driven out into the desert of this season, our own forty days in the desert like that of Jesus. 

And I think it’s important that we meditate on why we’re here.

Usually, the thing that sticks out in our minds are the disciplines of fasting and abstinence. 

When I was a kid, we never ate fish outside of Lent, so I could always tell we were getting close to this season when my mom would buy fish sticks out of the frozen section in the grocery store. 

The Church asks us to take part in these disciplines. 

Abstinence of course is that practice whereby every Catholic 14 years and older abstains from eating meat. 

Fasting, on the other hand, is that practice in which every Catholic adult is called to eat noticeably less than normal. 

Now, fasting is only required of us on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday here in the United States, but nevertheless, we’re each encouraged to fast of something during Lent. 

Thus, you get the traditional practice of “giving something up.” 

In some ways, though, our tradition of fasting has gotten a bit watered down. 

Lots of people see their Lenten promise as an activity in self-improvement or a test of some kind. 

It becomes less of a discipline, and more of a question of “how strong am I?” 

It gives people a goal to work towards, something that stands out from the normal routine. 

Now, none of this is bad, but what is the real meaning of fasting?

Fasting for a Catholic should be more than just some exercise in self-help or self-discipline. 

Really, Lent is supposed to be here for spiritual discipline. 

If it’s about self-help, we are driven out into the desert of Lent by ourselves. 

If we focus on the spiritual discipline of Lent, however, we are simply answering the call to be driven out to the desert by the Holy Spirit, as we hear of Jesus in the Gospel. 

There are two purposes to fasting during Lent that I see. 

The first is that fasting is an act of penance. 

Whether it’s something like giving up chocolate during Lent, drinking only water during lunch, or even something big like having bread and water for dinner a few days a week, the meaning is the same. 

What it boils down to is that we’re freely choosing to deny ourselves. 

We don’t do this to show others how tough we are or to exercise our self-help muscles. 

But by acknowledging our tendencies toward self-centeredness and self-indulgence – our tendencies toward sin – our self-denial makes a statement to the Lord. 

Through our fasting, we tell the Lord that we’re truly sorry for always thinking of ourselves and our hungers and our desires, and we strive to change that spirit of self-centeredness into a spirit of self-giving. 

In that way, fasting really is penitential.

But the other reason I see for fasting is that it’s an opportunity for us to grow in our relationship with Christ. 

We’ve shown that we’re sorry for our sins, and that’s really the first step. 

But the second step builds on that. 

It’s easy to start our Lenten practices and it’s easy for about a week or two. 

But after that, you know there will be days when you find yourself hungry, or when you really want that chocolate that you gave up, or when you really want that juicy porterhouse steak on a Friday. 

But really, fasting offers us an opportunity to turn that physical hunger and that physical desire into a spiritual one. 

In a sense, you could think to yourself, “Lord, I really want that chocolate right now, but I want you more. 

Lord, I really want that porterhouse right now, but I want you more.” 

And through this practice of fasting, when Easter comes, and you can sink your teeth into a nice Hershey’s bar or a juicy steak, you can celebrate not only the greatness of the taste, but the great joy of the resurrection of Christ.

Pope Benedict talked about this in 2009 during Lent. 

He said “Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word.”

“And that through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God… “

He also added: “Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person.”

 

So maybe the question we can ask ourselves today as we begin this season of Lent, is what has led us here. 

Have we been driven into the desert for ourselves – as an act of self-help, or pride, or just because we feel we have to jump through the hoops? 

Or have we been led out into the desert by the Holy Spirit – to offer these sacrifices solely for the love of God? 

Take a moment and reflect on your Lenten plan, are you responding to the call from the Holy Spirit, or from something else?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as we enter this season of Lent,

may our works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving be things that lead us to repent of our sins,

and ultimately to help us to grow in our desire for and relationship with God