given in the spirit

Strange how we come to visit each birthday with diverse sentiments. Years come and go, with ever increasing speed; as surely does the day follow relentlessly the one before and tomorrow will encroach undeterred upon today. While there, on that uncaring page, the calendar so glaringly does so remark that salubrious moment when first one entered upon this earthly stage.


Seventy years have I found on occasion to traverse since I breathed my first breath in protest. And yet, I have few complaints, none for which I could find so egregious as to offer angry words to a loving God. Should I dig deep within my soul, all I would find are of my own making, of my own predilection, all which God has long forgiven and forgotten.

As for gifts, there have always been aplenty, yet so many have been shoved aside, untouched, unwrapped, long forgotten. Yet, as the years and birthdays come as regular as clockwork, new gifts await to be accepted, unwrapped and used, just as St. Paul says, “to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

While we are not given the opportunity to choose the gifts we will receive, we are given ample opportunity to choose if, when, how, and whether we will use them.

The gifts of the Spirit are given in proportion to our willingness to receive them, which begs the question: Do I really want them? They are also given in proportion to our desire to deserve and to earn them, which then begs another question: Am I ready to live in the Spirit, to use the gifts received in the spirit in which they have been given? One thing is certain: There are no automatic answers, nor will the answers ever be easy.

Today is Pentecost, which so happens to be the birthday of the Church. Why is this? Simply put, Jesus had risen and ascended and the Apostles were hiding in fear. There was no Church because the Apostles were cringing in fear, afraid of what might happen to them, afraid to open their hearts and minds, to speak the truth, to preach the Good News to all the nations as Jesus had commanded them.

Jesus had promised them the Spirit who would give them all that they would need to build his Church, but they had not received what had been promised to them.

It was only when Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and then breathed on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained,” that they found it within themselves to go out and spread the Good News.

We hear in the first reading a different account but with the same results. As in the Gospel, the disciples were in one place together when “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house where they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

In this account, the disciples receive the gift of tongues, the ability to speak many different languages in order to be able to “go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

In the second reading, St. Paul adds that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” He then goes on to describe the many gifts one can obtain through the Holy Spirit:

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. To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

It appears as though there is nothing the Holy Spirit cannot do. After all, there is only one God, but three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel we read: “The wind (exactly the same word as Spirit) 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.”

While most of us may find it difficult to imagine tongues of fire descending upon us or feeling the breath of Jesus at Confirmation, there are those who truly experience such life changing events. Whether we have or not, the Spirit moves through each of our lives and fuels our souls with the fire of his love, often in subtle and nuanced ways, but ever as real and powerful as on that first Pentecost. The gifts we have received are there; all we have to do is look for them, unwrap them, and then make use of them in our lives.

When we look back at the first Pentecost, we should do so in order to recognize the power within us, given to us by the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. It is the power to embolden our hearts and to sanctify our souls. It is a gift which never grows old, never loses its power no matter how long it languishes in the corner, unwrapped, unused and forgotten. This gift of God’s self is as fresh and new for us today as it was on that first Pentecost.

Today is a new Pentecost; not because today is unique, but because it is another day in the kingdom of God. He has filled us with His Spirit so that we have the power to go and spread the good news of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit is not some generic force, some one-size-fits-all being, but a person, a relationship, a spirit that has “particular manifestations” to each of us uniquely so that the understanding and the strength that we receive are precisely what we require in our own particular struggles. We ought to ask ourselves: where in our life today do we most need the Holy Spirit to work within us? What spiritual disabilities do we most need help overcoming? We are each broken, we each have our own weaknesses. Today, more than ever, we are faced with many debilitating things: a plethora of distractions, our tendency to see individual fulfillment as our salvation, our proclivity toward ideologies and fundamentalism, and our obsession with sexuality.

Distraction is like a narcotic, it is perhaps the most powerful addictive substance on the planet, fed to us on a daily basis through television, game-shows, sporting events, sit-coms, talk-shows, entertainment, news, scandals reported on a daily basis in our newspapers and magazines, pop music, movies, theatre, etc., etc., etc. All these tend to anesthetize us, especially since we indulge in much the same, day after day, night after night. Slowly, so slowly we don’t realize it, we are numbing ourselves, no longer capable of feeling anything, even that which is good.

Beyond distraction lies another struggle. Aiden Kavanaugh once wrote: “Today our icon is not a city, whether of man or God, but the lone jogger running through suburbia, in order, we are told, to feel good about himself.” We struggle today with individualism and the problem is not just with the obvious, the all-too-common breakdown of our families, neighborhoods, parishes, and communities.

We can no longer deal with the painful give-and-take of ordinary community, the habitual slights and hurts that arise in every marriage, family, community, parish, and civil group. We cannot interrelate without hurting each other. So, we withdraw, jog and bowl alone, not out of an ideology or individualism, but because we haven’t the resiliency needed to deal with the bruises and disappointments that come with associating with any group.

We need a Pentecost which will pour into us the spirit of resiliency, the spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of patience, the spirit of long-suffering, the spirit of understanding.

We need a Pentecost that can help us cope with the ideologies and fundamentalism that constantly beset us like so many nasty viruses. We need new tongues of fire to bring us the spirit of chastity, the spirit of full respect, the spirit of fidelity and the spirit for emotional martyrdom.


Homily #125
Pentecost (A)
Acts 2:1-11
1 Corinthians 12:3-8, 12-13
John 20:19-23

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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