Fr. Bryan Howard
Pentecost – 9 June 2019
Today we wait in anticipation of the gift of the Holy Spirit, even as the apostles spent ten days in prayer in the upper room from the time of the Ascension of the Lord, not sure what they were supposed to do next or how to go about doing it. Then, suddenly, with the sound of a strong driving wind, the Holy Spirit appeared to them as fire, which divided and came to rest on each one of them. From that moment on they fearlessly preached the Gospel, until the Good News of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ has been spread to the entire world. This moment was, in a way, the true birth of the Church.
Just like a human body is given life by its soul, so the Church is like a body, with Christ as the head, us as the members, and the Holy Spirit as the soul. Our head, or more specifically our brain, gives direction to the body, sometimes even without us realizing it. The brain keeps the heart pumping and the various organs functioning, but it also consciously controls the body when we flex a muscle to stand up, sit down, run or walk, etc. Jesus Christ directs the Church in so many ways that we don’t see through His grace and power, but He also directs the Church in ways that are more obvious, through the moral laws that He gave us, through the commands to love God and neighbor, and through setting our destination, heaven, and the direction we need to take to get there, the Way of the Cross.
We are the members of the body, each one with our own role and function within the body of the Church. In Sunday’s second reading, from the letter to the Corinthians, we read, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”No one member of the Church has all of the spiritual gifts that the Church needs to accomplish her mission. We have those who serve the Church through a life of celibacy, and those who serve the Church through bearing and raising children in the faith. Some dedicated to a life of prayer for the Church, and some dedicated to active ministries of serving the poor, teaching, evangelization, administration, liturgy, and much more. All of these gifts and offerings have to be directed towards our common goal, eternal life in heaven with God, and they all have to be united in one Spirit.
I’ve been using the analogy of a body, since that’s the analogy that St. Paul uses, but another good analogy is a factory. I used to think of a factory as a bunch of people each separately doing their individual parts, until I spent a summer working at a printing factory on one of the cutting machines. It took the printers, the cutting machine, and the binders to make a single product, but we weren’t all isolated doing our own thing. We had to actively cooperate with each other for it to come out right. If the printing was slightly off, then I might cut off part of the text, and if the cut is slightly off, then it might not bind properly. The Spirit is what binds the Church together, so that we’re not all doing our own thing but working together to bring all of us to heaven. We may be judged on our own individual actions, but no one is saved as an individual; you are saved as a member of the Church.
The story of the Tower of Babel shows us what happens when we deny the Spirit of God and seek to glorify ourselves instead. They weren’t just building a tower, but a ziggurat, a Temple, but it’s obviously not meant to glorify God but themselves, so God confuses their languages and the people are scattered. This symbolizes human pride. When we seek to glorify ourselves over God and over one another, we aren’t united but torn apart. The way of Jesus is the way of service, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.”If the Tower of Babel confused the languages and scattered the people, then the Holy Spirit at Pentecost overcame the separation of languages and united the people in Christ. After the Apostles received the Spirit, they went out to preach and everyone heard them speaking in their own native language, and 3000 people came to believe in Jesus that day.
In the Church, heresy, denying the teachings of the Church, and schism, denying the authority of the Church, tear the Church apart. And what happens to Christian groups that separate from the Church? They continue to splinter, so that today there are tens of thousands of protestant denominations. The same thing happens in parish Churches. We must not let disagreements between one another pull us apart. Even in our disagreements we can be united in love, and even when we’ve hurt one another we can ask for and give forgiveness. Should we defend the truths of the faith? To our last breaths, but always in love and charity. It’s certainly not easy. In fact, St. Paul says that we are “groaning in labor pains”as we wait for“the redemption of our bodies.”
In just a few moments we’ll experience the Holy Spirit come down and transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. We call this Communion, because through it we are filled with the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and are united as one body with Christ. When you receive Communion today, pray for the unity and growth of the universal Church and the continued unity and growth of Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.