Pentecost – June 9, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
As Christians, as Catholics, every time we meet, we must start with a big act of faith. Not just the faith we profess in the creed, not just saying that we believe something, no. “A more existential faith. The faith which consists in believing, in almost feeling, that the risen Lord is here among us. Alive! Here” (Cantalamessa). Right after the Sign of the Cross, what do we hear? “The Lord be with you.” From the very beginning, we recall that the Lord is present among us. So often we can forget that this is at the center of everything we believe as Christians! The Lord is alive, he is here among us. “He was waiting for us.…The risen Lord is fully present.…And the risen Lord rejoices immensely being among us. So let us enter into this atmosphere of being with the Lord, not just listening to some words coming from him. But listen in this presence” (Cantalamessa). The Lord’s presence among us, his real presence among us is at the core of our faith. Why? Because it is only with His presence that holiness is possible, that life takes on a new meaning, that everything can change—that showing up here in the first place means anything.
Immediately after Jesus died, the Apostles were thrown into disarray. Everything they had hoped for, everything they had bet on was gone. The death of Jesus had cast doubt and caused them to forget, it left them in sorrow. And they were alone. They were in solitude. They were hyper-aware of their solitude. And the reason for this is because Christ had awoken them to their own existence, he had stirred-up within each and every one of them a promise, a desire. But then all of a sudden it all collapsed, and all that was left was this hyper-sensitivity to their own solitude. It’s like when you’re lying in bed going to sleep and the air conditioner is running, you have that white noise in the background, and it’s very peaceful. But then the AC shuts off…and its painfully quiet, and you can’t sleep because the silence is so loud. There is this band I listen to called Twenty One Pilots, and one of their songs is about their car radio getting stolen and how having to drive around in the car in silence is violently painful. Why? Well, because in the silence you can’t avoid yourself, you can’t avoid your thoughts, you can’t avoid your own solitude, the wound of your own loneliness. Even when we distract ourselves from it, even when we fill our loneliness with whatever, it’s still there and nothing we can produce will fill it.
This is the situation the disciples are in in our Gospel today: Jesus—the one who had awoken them to life, to their own needs, who had made this promise—Jesus was dead, and they were alone, left in their own solitude. So they gather, maybe remembering Jesus’ words, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20). Perhaps they had gathered to console one another, to remind themselves of Jesus’ presence, to encourage and support one another. But regardless, they gathered. But they gathered in need of a presence, in need of Jesus’ presence. This was the one thing they could not produce or give to themselves! And this was precisely the one thing that they needed most. His presence. And that’s why this story is so powerful! Huddled in that room, in fear, in terror, doors locked, Jesus arrives. And with that simple greeting, “Peace be with you”—with that simple greeting they rejoice.
We all know this! We have all seen those videos on Youtube of service men and women coming home and surprising their family, right? Mom is throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game and what do you know, the catcher turns out to be her husband home from his year-long deployment. Or mom surprises her kids at school after being deployed. Or a girl’s brother shows-up for senior night. Why are these such a big deal? Why do people get so emotional? Why do we watch these videos? Or maybe its just a friend or a family member you haven’t seen in a long time, maybe they were just gone to Mexico for a few weeks, maybe it’s only been two days since you’ve seen your best friend. But when you see them, when they are present, everything changes! Even with FaceTime and video chats, it is still their presence that you need.
Go back to that scene with the Apostles. What they needed was not a lecture or a letter. They didn’t need someone to recite the formulas or the sayings of Jesus. They didn’t need time to make rules about praying or going to mass or anything like that, no. They didn’t even need some mystical vision of him! What they needed was his presence, God’s companionship with them! In the Incarnation, that is precisely what they had: Jesus, God’s companionship.
And so, on that first day of the week, doors locked, trembling in fear, Jesus arrives. With his presence he comes and simples says, “Peace be with you.” Shows them his hands and his side. And the disciples rejoice.
But last week we celebrated the Ascension. And he left. He was taken up. His presence is gone once again. So we’re back at square one, right? Well, no. Even though we’re used to people coming and going in our lives, “Even if all others depart, he will remain, as he promised. [His last words before he ascended were precisely that]: ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Francis, Christus Vivit, 125). That’s why Pentecost is so important! Because at Pentecost, the Spirit comes to be among us! Jesus’ Spirit comes to be among us! And not just in one place and one time, but forever! To be present in the Church, throughout the world, in the heart of each Christian, in the sacraments. Christ’s presence continues! The Church continues to be the presence of Christ in time, it continues the Incarnation here and now. Christ is present! At pentecost, it’s not about the pyrotechnics or the fire. It’s about the spiritual transformation that takes place, the empowerment of the apostles, the renewal of life, the mission! Because the Spirit comes, because Jesus continues to be present through the Holy Spirit, everything changes and is transformed.
The first promise I made as a priest on the day of my ordination was precisely this! The Bishops asked me, “Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood…?” Not, “Do you resolve to do your best to be a good priest.” No, “Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit”! It is only with the Spirit, only with the Spirit of the risen Lord that any of this is possible. The promises I made are impossible without the presence of Christ, without the presence the Spirit. And they are impossible if I do not continue to rely on the Spirit. And it is the same for each one of us! Even if we call ourselves Christians, a life “that leaves no room for the Spirit and does not allow itself to be carried forward by the Spirit, is a pagan life, disguised as Christian” (Francis, Homily, 30 April 2019).
How many of you have met the pope? How many of you have met the president? Exactly. It would be impossibly difficult for people to travel half-way around the world just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. If everything depended on literally seeing Jesus in person, the faith would never spread. But with the Holy Spirit, with the Spirit empowering us and transforming us and guiding us—with Jesus Christ still present among us, still alive and present, everything changes.
The real question is, “Do we seek his presence?” And, “Is the sense and awareness of his presence the most determining aspect of our life?” Because deep down we need this presence! We don’t need a lot, but we need his presence. And with Pentecost, his promise is fulfilled: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The risen Lord is among us. Alive! Here.